If you’re aiming for a career as a human resources manager, a master’s degree in HR – one of the highest-paying master’s degrees – will help you on your way. HR manager isn’t a career in which you have to meet legally mandated requirements and acquire a state license to work in the field as a physician or lawyer would. However, to be qualified to work as an HR manager for most employers, you will need some amount of formal college education as well as work experience in the field and, often, professional certification.
Generally, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum level of formal education you need to become a human resources manager, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It is also the most common level of education in this occupation. According to O*NET, 74 percent of human resources managers report a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education. Most bachelor’s degree programs in HR encompass coursework in organizational behavior, human resources employment law, recruitment, training and development, labor relations, compensation and benefits and the systems and technologies used for HR management. This HR major curriculum usually builds upon a business core that provides a broader foundation in business studies.
Earning a master’s degree in human resources isn’t a requirement for most employers, but there are some companies and some positions for which you need to go to graduate school, the BLS reported. Nearly one in ten human resources managers report having a master’s degree, and the same is true of post-baccalaureate certificates, O*NET reported. You can earn a master’s degree in human resources, but you could also pivot your graduate school education slightly. Some human resources managers either earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a graduate degree with a broader business curriculum, or opt to focus more narrowly on an area of HR like labor relations, according to the BLS. Regardless of the title of your graduate degree program, as an aspiring HR manager, you might take advanced coursework in talent and organizational development, strategic human capital management, diversity and inclusion management or global HR management.
If you want to advance your education beyond the bachelor’s level but you’re not ready to commit to a master’s degree, a shorter post-baccalaureate certificate program in HR might be a better fit for you, covering the management and leadership essentials you need.
Work Experience in HR
By the time they reach the level of human resources manager, most HR professionals have five or more years of experience in this field, the BLS reported. Human resources specialist is a common starting role for HR managers. You might be able to land an entry-level HR specialist role directly out of college and gradually acquire more complex and specialized job responsibilities. Some human resources managers start out in more specialized roles, such as recruiter, labor relations specialist or training and development specialist.
Some employers will consider promoting you to HR manager without a degree if you have enough experience, particularly if you attain professional certification. To get certified without a degree, you’re going to need a lot more experience than someone with a degree.
If you equate qualifications with professional certification, you’re not alone. Numerous organizations award certification to professionals in the HR sphere. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) is, perhaps, the best-known organization for the certification of HR professionals. Other organizations, like the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans and WorldatWork, offer specialized certifications in compensation and benefits.
The first level of certification available through the SHRM, the SHRM-Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) credential, is available to HR-related bachelor’s degree holders with just one year of experience or master’s degree holders currently employed in a human resources role. With four years of experience in addition to a bachelor’s degree in HR or three years of experience in addition to a master’s degree, you can apply for the SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) certification.
The HR Certification Institute offers credentials at the associate, professional and senior levels, including international credentials. The Associate Professional in Human Resources credential is knowledge-based, requiring a passing score on an exam but no minimum educational or HR experience requirement. To meet the eligibility requirements for the Senior Professional in Human Resources exam, candidates need four years of HR experience with a master’s degree, five years of experience with a bachelor’s degree or seven years of experience with no degree.
Employers can have drastically different expectations for HR manager candidates. Some companies require graduate degrees and the highest levels of professional certification. Others care more about experience than formal education and certification.