Most new employees will pass through a company’s human resources (HR) office for applying, interviewing, and onboarding. For others, the HR department is the end goal.
A career in human resource management can take you in many directions and into companies and organizations of all types and sizes. This article will lay the groundwork for a career in HR management starting with educational and workplace experience Then, we’ll explore some of the many possibilities available, whether it’s to hire a small start-up’s earliest employees or lead training initiatives for a global corporation.
Getting Started in Your Human Resources Career
Before moving into a management-level position, you might hone your human resources skills and gain more job experience in other roles. Many professionals get their HR feet wet in positions such as:
- Human resources generalist.
- Recruitment specialist.
- Compensation specialist.
- Benefits specialist.
- Labor relations specialist.
- Records and information specialist.
- Position classifier.
- Training specialist.
In a smaller company, your HR duties may encompass multiple aspects of employee relations, from screening applications to administering benefits. In a larger organization, your position might be more specialized; for example, managing a health care plan as part of a larger benefits team.
Not only does working in one or more of these roles help build your background, but a deeper knowledge of various day-to-day duties will allow you to better understand the employees you might one day manage.
While a bachelor’s degree isn’t always required to begin a human resources job, college coursework is definitely beneficial in the short term for finding initial employment — and in the long term if you plan to advance in your profession. As you move up in the field you may discover that earning a master of human resource management will open more doors.
Human Resource Management Careers & Salary: Entry-level to Executive
After a few years of general human resources experience, you might start to think about moving into HR management.
Taking on more responsibility often comes with an increase in pay. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides salary and job details for several HR management careers. Actual job titles will vary based on your company’s unique structure and culture, but we’ll take a look at a few occupations as they’re officially classified by the BLS:
- Human resources manager.
- Compensation and benefits manager.
- Training and development manager.
- Chief human resources officer.
Keep in mind that some companies with larger HR teams might also have middle-management or other supervisory positions available. For example, assistant director of HR, senior benefits administrator, and other roles that demonstrate upward growth within a company.
Human Resources Managers
Median annual wage: $113,300, national; $142,870, California.
Any company with employees needs someone in charge of human resources. An HR office oversees many critical aspects of employment and employee relations including recruitment, hiring, compensation, benefits, payroll, training, compliance, safety, staff relations, and other related people and budget issues. An HR management professional often works closely with top executives and department heads on overall talent development, including assessing productivity and managing growth.
Under the general human resource management umbrella, the BLS also includes a few more specialized roles such as payroll managers, recruiting /staffing managers, and labor relations directors. Labor relations managers are most associated with unionized workforces; however, they help create, negotiate, and administer labor contracts in both union and non-union settings. They also manage complaints and grievances between employees and management.
To become a human resources manager, you’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree and several years of experience; in some organizations, a master’s degree is preferred or required.
Compensation and Benefits Managers
Median annual wage: $121,010, national; $150,480, California.
The importance of this title speaks for itself: most people work to earn a living, and this area of HR management ensures employees are paid. Professionals in this realm help develop fair and competitive compensation plans, build pay and incentive structures, choose and manage benefit providers, and oversee pay distribution and other related tasks. A compensation and benefits manager may also supervise other employees, such as a payroll coordinator.
Typically, compensation and benefits managers have a bachelor’s degree in human resources, business administration, finance, or management, as well as at least five years of HR experience. Analytical skills are also key.
Training and Development Managers
Median annual wage: $111,340, national; $132,910, California.
A successful, productive workforce should be adequately prepared and supported. Most new employees, no matter what their position or industry, will receive some sort of training. Larger companies may often have a structured or formal training program with a team devoted to staff development.
In addition to leading actual training, managers in this area also help build, maintain, and update internal programs. For example, they might work with colleagues in other departments to determine what type of training or retraining employees might need. Or they might work with senior leadership to ensure training aligns with a company’s mission and strategy. Training and development managers also develop training materials, measure the effectiveness of their programs, and oversee other corporate trainers.
Typically, a training and development manager will have a bachelor’s degree in human resources, business administration, education, or a related field. Some organizations might require a master of human resources, organizational behavior, or a similar degree.
Top or Chief Executive (Chief Human Relations Officer)
Median annual wage, top executive: $104,980, national; no data for California.
Median annual wage, chief executive: $200,140, national; $228,270, California.
Many larger corporations include a human resources professional on its executive team. What this senior leader is called can vary from place to place: chief human relations officer, chief people officer, director of human resources, VP of human resources, or other similar titles.
The BLS doesn’t break down salary data by type of top or chief executive, so the numbers shared here reflect senior leaders in general.
HR Management in a Changing Workplace Culture
How companies manage their people and practices often looks different today than in years past. Sometimes traditional titles are traded for creative position names to fit a company’s personality. Other times, new positions or programs are developed based on industry shifts, technological advancements, policy/law changes, regional growth, social awareness, and other factors.
Let’s first look at some of those non-traditional titles. Companies, often technology or entertainment start-ups, may adopt “quirky” management-level HR positions like:
- Chief people officer.
- Chief happiness officer.
- Chief learning officer.
- Head of employee experience.
- Director of employee engagement.
- Director of rewards and recognition.
- VP of strategy and culture.
- People analytics lead.
- Vibe manager.
While titles like these might be trendy and even off-putting to more conservative industries, using them demonstrates that HR teams can become more employee-centric. No matter what they’re called, though, human resources professionals still play the same vital role.
Addressing how HR offices can evolve in their scope of work, a growing number of companies have leadership positions that focus, sometimes exclusively, on one area such as:
- Diversity and inclusion.
- Workplace safety.
- HR information systems.
- Workforce intelligence.
- Risk management.
Certain organizations may also have HR management positions that revolve around its specific business type. For example, a university human resources office could have a director of student employment who oversees the work-study program. A software development firm might have a management-level HR position charged with maximizing employee efficiency; this could be done by implementing and managing a specific framework, like Scrum. (Scrum master is even an official title.)
Additionally, HR managers can find leadership positions at recruitment agencies, career development programs, employment software companies, payroll or benefits vendors, training providers, or even serve as an independent consultant. If an HR manager is drawn to the nonprofit sector, in addition to a traditional human resources role, serving as a volunteer director could be an ideal fit.
Along with top executives, HR managers can help companies plan for and navigate how the workplace responds to new demands, developments, and challenges. Today’s human resources professionals might be keeping an eye on issues such as:
- Artificial intelligence.
- Aging workforce.
- Skills gaps.
- Gig economy.
- Work-life balance.
- Remote employment.
While you’re in a master of human resources online degree program such as the one offered by National University, you will discuss current and relevant topics like these to supplement your existing coursework.
Human Resource Management Master’s Degree Programs
Many job listings for top HR leadership positions are looking for candidates with years of experience and a graduate education. Online degrees such as National University’s Master of Arts in Human Resource Management offer busy professionals the opportunity to attend classes while still working full-time.
In a master of human resource management graduate program, you will take courses such as:
- Theory and Practice of Human Resource Management.
- Legal, Ethical, and Safety Issues.
- Workforce Planning, Development, and Outsourcing.
- Compensation and Benefits.
- Employee Relations.
- Training and Development.
- Organizational Behavior.
- Integrating Performance Management.
In addition to theories and principles of human resource management, today’s top master’s degree programs will address relevant workplace concerns. One of the most attractive parts about attending a program geared toward working professionals is that you and your peers will learn from each other as you share first-hand experiences during class discussions.
Some HR management programs may offer electives or the chance to focus on a specific area of human resources. For example, at National you can specialize in organizational leadership by taking required elective courses such as Developing Groups and Teams; Leading Change and Adaptation; and Conflict and Power Dynamics.
Related Degree Programs & Positions
While they don’t have “human resources” in their official title, degrees focusing on leadership and management also provide skills, training, and knowledge that might prove useful in certain HR management careers. National University’s offerings in this area include:
- Bachelor of Arts in Management.
- Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership.
- Master of Science in Organizational Leadership.
- Master of Business Administration.
The BA in management is a versatile, well-rounded program. It covers a range of topics relevant to business operations and personnel, including finance, economics, marketing, leadership, business law, and strategic business management. Of interest to those vying for a human resources career in HR management, National’s bachelor’s program offers a specialization in HR management. Other concentrations are available, too: alternative dispute resolution, business law, entrepreneurship, economics, marketing, and project management.
Candidates with a degree in organizational leadership may especially appeal to growing or evolving companies. HR professionals interested in change management, transformative leadership, or workplace innovation might find this master’s program to be the right fit.
Finally, an MBA can also prepare you for various leadership roles within an organization, including human resource management. (You can learn more about what you can do with an MBA in this blog post.)
Certifications and Professional Development in HR Management
Industry certifications can give you an edge. They demonstrate to employers that you have the appropriate competencies to meet industry standards. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) offers its certification program to eligible HR professionals.
To sit for the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) exam, you must either have worked in the field for a specific time period or have earned a degree from a school recognized by SHRM; you will find National University’s Master of Arts in Human Resource Management on its approved list. (You can sit for the SHRM-CP exam sooner if you have a graduate degree.)
Even with a master’s degree and many years of experience, it’s important for professionals in evolving fields like human resources to keep up to date with best practices. This goes beyond staying current with employment laws and policies in your industry, your company, and your state. Joining professional organizations like the SHRM will give you access to research, journal articles, special training, and annual conferences.
As you’ve read earlier in this article, new HR roles and strategies are developed or updated all the time. Continuing to invest in yourself allows you to stay at the forefront of the industry, which can have many positive effects on your HR career.
Choosing a Program: Online Universities, San Diego and Beyond
While you can find a variety of HR management programs available at online universities, San Diego-based National University also has 20 campus locations. This online and regional footprint means you’ll have access to faculty members based in employment hotspots like Silicon Valley, as well as a global student and alumni network. National’s classes are designed with you in mind: you will take only one four-week course at a time, and you can take many of them 100% online.
If you’re interested in starting or advancing an HR management career, a master of human resources will be especially helpful. Learn more about National University’s Master of Arts in Human Resource Management or request more information on our online degree program page.