In the following guide, we will explore the most promising professional destinations for human resource managers and how to reach those destinations. The nuances of one’s educational path as well as one’s chosen specialization will all contribute to the professional opportunities that meet students upon graduation.
As we explain comprehensively in the sections below, many human resource management career paths do not require a human resources degree specifically. So if you are interested in other paths to management specialities, or if you wish to review comparable options–consider these resources on management education and specialization:
Management Degrees Options: General Questions
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What is a Career in Human Resources Management?
Human resource managers coordinate the administrative operations of an organization. As one might suspect given the broad definition of this role, human resource managers work in a variety of industries and organizations, fulfilling an array of professional functions depending on the specific needs of a particular enterprise.
Human resource managers employ research and theoretical models based in psychology, sociology, and business management. Though many HR Managers specialize in a psychological approach that is meant to maximize the efficiency, productivity, and overall wellness of an organization’s workforce. To put it simply–HR managers focus on maximizing the human element of an organization’s daily operations.
HR Managers monitor various metrics of performance of a working group beyond those concerned with productivity. In other words, HR managers work to evaluate metrics of both performance and healthiness to determine whether a work environment is conducive to the health of professionals–mental, emotional, and physical. This is why a background in psychology offers a great start to HR management.
The exact daily regimen of an HR manager’s workload will depend on the particular organization and the industry in which the organization is positioned. But typically, HR managers are tasked with responsibilities such as the following:
- Scheduling employee shifts
- Interviewing potential hirees
- Conducting exit interviews
- Coordinating the development of new departments or work groups
- Working with leadership to develop and instate workplace policies
- Conducting performance reviews
- Insuring workplace-law compliance
- Presenting performance evaluations to leadership
- Offering or coordinating therapeutic services
- Developing recreational events
- Developing team-building programs
- Developing wellness programs
- Allocating HR department budgets
What is an Education in Human Resources Management?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the most common degree holding for human resource managers is a bachelor’s. Prospective human resource managers do not need to major specifically in human resources. A major will suffice so long as it establishes a strong foundation in business or psychology. For instance, any of the following bachelor’s degrees would work well:
- Bachelor of Business
- Bachelor of Management
- Bachelor of Psychology
- Bachelor of Business Administration
- Bachelor of Economics
While a Bachelor of Arts is not necessarily a bad choice, the HR profession as a whole is based on research, the scientific method, and applied science. So with this in mind, it is advantageous to earn a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Applied Science in one of the above majors. Though of course an ideal undergraduate education will be any undergraduate program designed specifically for prospective human resource managers such as a Bachelor of Human Resources, or a Bachelor of HR Management.
Undergraduate human resource programs are tasked with a difficult objective–they must successfully fulfil all the prerequisites of an undergraduate education and provide a foundational education in business, all while providing a comprehensive introduction into the field of human resources. In other words, it is a lot of ground to cover. Specifically, human resources programs typically cover the following topics:
- Labor Management
- Employment law
- Employee Development
- Business Management
- Psychology of Work
- Business Administration
- History of Business
Master’s of Human Resource Management programs typically have a list of prerequisites in business, labor law, and psychology. So students interested in pursuing graduate education should confirm that their bachelor’s program fulfills these requirements. Another helpful distinction to consider is the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) certification, which is required for many upper echelon HR management positions.
Both bachelor’s and master’s human resources programs will explore relatively similar topics. The difference between the two is the degree of depth in examination. Undergraduate students for instance will study and explore human resource related research, but will likely not participate in the development of studies or experiments. At the graduate level of education however, students will take on a more active role in conducting research and experiments–enforcing students’ ability to target high value queries and glean actionable answers from resulting data.
The Difference between an MBA and a HR Management Degree
The difference between an MBA and an HR Management degree is a subtle but important one. While an MBA prepares students to take on executive roles of leadership in a commercial enterprise, an HR Management degree prepares students to organize and cultivate an organization’s workforce. While both degrees prepare students for roles of leadership in business, the difference lies in the scope and intention of the coursework therein.
MBA program coursework will focus more comprehensively on topics related to salesforce management, business administration, and marketing. An HR Management degree program focuses more comprehensively on the management of an organization’s workforce in its entirety. In other words, an MBA is more product-focused while an HR Management degree is more human-focused.
An MBA is designed so that graduates can take any product, any organization, and build a strong business operation. An HR Management degree program is designed so that graduates can take any organization’s workforce and build a strong business operation. The human element is the primary concern of an HR program.
For students who want to combine the focus on the human-element with the MBA program’s product and sales oriented curriculum, an MBA in Human Resources Management might be the ideal option. These programs employ HR research and models to drive optimization in key areas of business. For instance, a graduate from an MBA in Human Resources Management program might specialize in managing large sales forces–absorbing the responsibilities of both an HR manager and sales executive.
If this path sounds interesting to you, then consider the following ranking:
For other MBA information consider these resources:
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- Accelerated MBA Programs
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- Is an MBA Right for Someone Without a Business Degree?
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- The Ultimate MBA Guide for Military Veterans
- What Career Can I Expect With an MBA?
The Difference between Human Resources and Human Resources Management
As mentioned above, human resource management is an intrinsically business-focused profession. Human resource managers leverage their expertise of the human element of business to drive productivity, profitability, and the wellness of an organization’s workforce. This profession implies a level of leadership positioned in the successful management of said workforce, however the human resource profession offers many paths outside of the managerial scope as well.
For students who do not desire to take on a role of management in the business sector, there are many opportunities for HR professionals to specialize in other areas such as research, education, and consulting. HR Research experts conduct experiments to determine the various factors concerning health, efficiency, and productivity in the workplace. Other HR professionals specialize in leveraging research to function as consultants for client organizations. HR professionals can also work in the education industry, specializing in work environments positioned in universities and school systems.
Human Resources Management Degree Specializations
As one might expect given the broadness of the human resources profession, the particular focus of a program’s curriculum will depend largely on its desired intent. Human resources management degree programs for instance might focus more heavily on psychological research, on business management, or on employment law. This focus is typically conveyed through a program’s standard curriculum, but many programs empower students to choose their own area of focus by offering a large catalogue of electives and projects to choose from.
Students who wish to specialize in the human-performance element may wish to specialize in psychological research, while students who wish to specialize more in business management might want to pursue more coursework in the areas of business administration and operations.
While this is not an exhaustive list, students should be able to earn a human resources management degree specialization in any of the following areas:
- Compensation and Benefits
- Financial Management
- Organizational Leadership
- Training and Development
HR Management: Compensation and Benefits
This speciality is designed to cultivate in students an expertise in managing employee compensation and benefits packages and policies. The success of any business venture depends on the success of its employment policies, and HR Managers who specialize in this area will always be highly valued. Programs conferring this specialization will be based on a curriculum that explores workplace law, compensation policies, and various models of employment.
HR Management: Financial Management
HR Managers who specialize in an organization’s financial operations will be in high demand as well. These HR Managers specialize in various budgeting and financial strategies beyond the scope of employee compensation and benefits. These professionals can end up running entire financial departments if they have the necessary training. Programs conferring this specialization will be based on a large selection of accounting and finance coursework.
HR Management: Recruiting
One of the largest areas of the human resources industry is the field of recruitment. A company is only as good as its employees, and an HR Manager who specializes in recruitment will typically oversee a team of recruiters who work to ensure that an organization’s workforce consists of the best professionals in the job market. Programs conferring this specialization will train students in various recruitment strategies and how to evaluate prospective employees.
HR Management: Organizational Leadership
HR Managers who specialize in Organizational Leadership will work in one of two capacities. Either they will work as consultants for an organization’s managers, or they will work as managers themselves. The programs that confer this specialization will do so through coursework based on business management, administration, and leadership.
HR Management: Training and Development
If an organization is only as good as its employees, then training and developing employees is as, or even more, important than recruiting talented professionals. These HR Managers specialize in training and developing current employees so that they become more productive and successful over time. In many cases these professionals groom employees to take on positions of leadership as an organization expands.
The Human Resources Management Industry in 2021 and Beyond
In earning any degree, students need the assurance that the job market they are entering after graduation will be healthy enough to provide opportunities of sufficient compensation. In the case of human resource management, the job market is looking quite healthy. We have compiled a profile below based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- 165,200 jobs as of 2019
- Growing at a rate of 6% from 2019 to 2029
- Earn a median salary of $116,720 annually
- Top 10% make $205,720 annually
- Bottom 10% make $68,300 annually
- Equates to hourly rate of $56.11
- Bachelor’s degree is typical for entry level employment
- 5 years or more required for management position
The national average for job growth in the United States is 4%, so the growth of jobs for HR Managers exceeds this average. The BLS attributes this growth to the growing number of new companies, all of which require HR management professionals to manage their workforce once they reach a certain level of size and success. For this reason, the HR management job market is directly related to entrepreneurial and business development sectors.
The BLS also reports that HR Management professionals who specialize in certain operations hold a median salary of $120,960, roughly $4,000 more than median salary for standard HR Management professionals. This means that HR Management professionals who specialize in a specific type of commercial operation will receive a distinct financial benefit. This is particularly good news in the case of a student enrolling in a specialized HR Management degree track that costs more than a standard track.
Along these lines, there is some quite large variation in compensation to consider, specifically in the salary gaps between top-end and low-end positions. Similarly, some industries seem to offer much stronger compensation packages:
- Professional, scientific, and technical services
- Median Salary: $131,340
- Management of companies and enterprises
- Median Salary: $129,510
- Median Salary: $115,000
- Median Salary: $102,660
- Healthcare and social assistance
- Median Salary: $99,380
According to the BLS, the most lucrative area of employment for HR Managers is the industry entitled Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services. HR Managers interested in working within this industry will likely want to specialize in specific sectors within the industry. The BLS suggests that the industry consists of the following sectors:
- Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping, and Payroll Services
- Advertising and Related Services
- Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services
- Legal Services
- Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
- Scientific Research and Development Services
- Specialized Design Services
- Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services
Promising Trends in Human Resources Management
Much like every other industry of business, the field of HR Management (HRM) is being strongly influenced by the development of artificial intelligence and automation technology. What this means for HRM professionals is up for debate, but there are some clear trends to recognize.
With automation being able to conduct low-level performance evaluations and analysis, there is a call for HRM professionals who work in this area to become more specialized. So that they can either offer more comprehensive evaluation and analysis, or so that they specialize in the using automation software more effectively and efficiently.
While there may be some threat to entry level HR positions, these tools do offer some strong benefits to professionals as well. For instance, many HRM professionals report that using automation software and AI tools has significantly improved their productivity. With this in mind, there is a distinct need for HRM professionals to establish at least a cursory understanding of IT tools and software.
Some research suggests that HRM professionals who specialize in recruitment use up to 10 different systems simultaneously. This points to the HRM field becoming increasingly dominated by the technology systems. For this reason, students interested in truly staying ahead of the curve may want to earn a degree specialization such as a Master’s of Human Resource Management with a concentration in Information Technology, Data Science, or even Software Development.
Most Lucrative Jobs for Human Resource Managers
As established above, some of the most promising areas of the human resource management industry require specialization. And specialized degree programs often come with the most demanding price tags. So with this in mind, below we list some of the most lucrative positions that will certainly justify investing in the requisite specialization:
- Vice President of Human Resources
Median salary: $214,427 per year
A VP of Human Resources is more than just a manager, these professionals oversee all of commercial enterprise’s operations–beyond the scope of personnel and employee management. These professionals work at the very top of an organization to ensure daily operations match the macro goals of board members and other leadership. As the compensation suggests, this position is an end-point goal and represents one of the most competitive positions in the job market.
- Human Resources Director
Median salary: $142,860 per year
This position represents a step up from a human resource manager position. A director is typically in charge of multiple teams, whereas a HR Manager is typically tasked with one large team or several small teams. HR Directors incorporate elements of project management in order to enact large policy changes or bring business objectives to fruition.
- Change Management Specialist
Median salary: $126,741 per year
A change management specialist is an HR Manager who specializes in reducing the negative effects related to change within an organization. Oftentimes when a company is sold or purchased, a change management specialist will help ensure that the transition occurs peacefully and productively. Similarly, these professionals are employed when companies undergo large scale mergers, or have to enact sweeping policy changes.