Although it is one of the top degrees for the highest-paying business careers, the companies where you might find employment with a master’s degree in HR are somewhat more limited than you would find in other fields. Any business that has employees – that is, not a sole proprietorship or an exclusively family-run business – likely performs at least some degree of human resources function. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every company fitting this definition has a need for a high-level HR leader with an advanced degree. Companies of different sizes tend to have different levels of human resources needs. To find the best opportunities with a graduate human resources degree, you may need to look at organizations that are on the larger size.

What sized companies would be more likely to have a need for someone with a Master's in HR?

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The HR Needs of Businesses of Different Sizes

When and how companies should begin worrying about human resources has been a subject of considerable research. Although there’s no clear consensus on what steps a company needs to take when – in part because each business grows at its own rate of speed and follows its own unique path of development – what experts generally agree on is that companies should begin considering the management of its human resources as early on as possible, even if they don’t yet employ dedicated HR personnel.

Further compounding the matter is the question of what counts as a small business. Under the U.S. Small Business Administration’s guidelines, companies with 500 employees and earnings of $7 million per year can still be considered small businesses, and “very small businesses” are those with fewer than 15 employees and less than $1 million in income per year, The Houston Chronicle reported. Companies with 15 employees will likely need some amount of human resources planning and management, since laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) apply to organizations of this size. Ideally, businesses with 500 workers should have multiple human resources personnel on staff.

The Edward Lowe Foundation for entrepreneurship examines the question of when to hire a human resources manager from a complex and multifaceted perspective. Although there are specific numerical benchmarks companies could look at, like 15 employees, 27 employees or 65 employees, there are also other factors that affect how important it is to have a human resources manager onboard. For example, companies that are growing rapidly would likely benefit from hiring an HR specialist or manager, the foundation reported. So would businesses that are consistently facing questions pertaining to employment laws and practices or that are bogging down existing staff with personnel matters at the expense of their primary job functions.

In general, the recommended number of human resources workers a company should have ranges from 1.7 to 3.4 HR personnel for every 100 people the company employs, depending on who you ask, according to HR outsourcing company Stratus.hr. Although that’s a pretty big range, it proves that even a “small business” with 500 workers has a need for a human resources team – and, often, a highly-educated HR manager to lead that team.

Companies that have no dedicated HR department or generalist should still create a human resources plan that addresses their most pressing issues, including developing hiring strategies and getting familiar with labor laws. Companies can also outsource HR.

The Best Jobs With an HR Master’s Degree Are in Large Companies

Human resources job opportunities vary depending on the size of an organization. The smaller a business, the fewer HR professionals it is likely to employ and the more diverse the job duties of those professionals are likely to be. A small business may have a single dedicated human resource generalist who handles all aspects of the company’s HR matters. You could certainly work in a job role like this with your master’s degree in human resources, but if anything, there’s a chance that you could be overqualified for this role. You might not have occasion to use the advanced skills and knowledge base you developed in your graduate studies, and you probably wouldn’t see the kind of pay rates typical of high-level HR managers.

A larger company that has a big enough workforce to necessitate a full HR department may divide human resource specialists’ responsibilities into more focused positions, such as corporate recruiter, personnel officer, human resources analyst, benefits specialist and training and development specialist. You are also more likely to have supervisory duties and command the six-figure median wage that the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported for HR managers if you work for a large corporation with a sizeable human resources department.

A graduate degree in HR doesn’t outweigh the need for professional experience. Having years of work experience to draw from, measurable successes to point to, and professional certifications can help you get the most highly desired HR opportunities.

Additional Resources

What Is the Demand for a Degree in Human Resources?

How Advanced Does My Degree in Human Resources Need to Be to Get a Good Job?

Is Being a “People Person” Really That Important of a Trait in HR?

Is a Master’s Specifically in HR More Useful Than a General MBA?