Do you enjoy helping others get the most from their jobs? Do you thrive under pressure? If so, you could have a promising career in human resources (HR). Human resources professionals play a key role in the success of companies and individuals. Essentially acting as an advocate for both directors and employees, HR has evolved from mundane administrative duties into a major component of senior management.
Part I. The HR Industry
An Overview of HR Careers
Job responsibilities in HR vary greatly and often include recruitment, training, employee relations, benefits, and employment termination. Because positions in human resources are so varied, knowing exactly what you want from your career is very important in this industry. Usually, entry-level HR roles require a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience.
- HR Coordinator: This is an entry-level position typically requiring a high school diploma and some previous experience. Coordinators provide HR and administrative support. Strong communication skills, demonstrated ability to work well with a team, and knowledge of applicant tracking software is generally required.
- HR Generalist: At smaller companies, HR generalists are likely to play a major role in many areas. Someone who is best suited for a generalist position might prefer diversity in his/her career, job security, and possess the ability to switch gears with ease.
- HR Specialist: If you prefer to fine-tune your talents in specific areas, a HR specialist position at a larger company is a good match. Specialists should possess a keen eye for detail, strong analytical skills, and a vast amount of knowledge about a particular topic.
- HR Consultant: This role advises staff and management on human resources related issues, including policy development, recruitment, training, and communication. Exceptional leadership and management skills, ability to interpret policies and communicate them effectively, and willingness to work independently are required for this position. Consultants can buy more freedom and diversity in their career by freelancing instead of signing on as a permanent employee.
- HR Director: Directors support management and oversee staff by providing advice, counsel, and direction on topics relative to human resources, including company policies, employee relations, legal requirements, and productivity. Directors have extensive experience human resources and management. Some companies prefer an advanced degree or professional certification.
Salary and Career Outlook
Salary depends on a variety of factors, including HR certification, college degrees, experience level, and cost of living. While some argue that specialized knowledge can lead to higher pay, many employers are reluctant to hire specialists during slow economic times.
Results of the annual Compensation Survey Report conducted by Towers Watson showed the median salary for HR jobs rose a little more than 2% in 2012, with leading HR executives earning a median salary $299,100. Those just starting out in HR can expect to earn a median salary of $39,474 in 2013, according to PayScale.
As America gets back to work, it’s a great time to launch a career in HR. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for human resource specialists is projected to reach 21% between 2010 and 2020; that’s higher than the average for all occupations.
If you are just starting out, look for a company with a positive reputation. The HR field provides ample opportunities for growth and development as you learn new skills.
Part II. Top U.S. HR Programs
A bachelor’s degree in human resources management or business administration provides a solid foundation for a career in HR. Additional certifications and post-baccalaureate degrees related to HR are offered at many of the leading universities. The additional knowledge is great for those looking to specialize in a particular niche or move up in their career.
University of Michigan
- Accreditation: Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association
- Specialized Degrees: Bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in Business Administration with a focus in Management and Organizations
- Industry Perception: The Stephen M. Ross School of Business is ranked one of the best business schools for undergraduate and graduate programs by Bloomberg Businessweek. Notable alumni include billionaire businessman Sam Wyly and former FedEx general manager Roger Frock.
- Cost: $13,040 to $16,238 for undergraduate resident programs, and $39,118 to $43,398 for undergraduate non-resident programs
- Financial Aid: Scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs are available. Incoming freshmen are automatically considered for scholarships awarded by the university.
Carnegie Mellon University
- Accreditation: Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, and National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration
- Specialized Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus on general management, master of public management in human resource management, graduate certificate in human resources management.
- Industry Perception: Both the Tepper School of Business and Heinz College are highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report.
- Cost: $46,670
- Financial Aid: Scholarships, loans, work-study, and grants are available.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Accreditation: Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Specialized Degrees: Bachelor of Science in Management Science, Master’s program focusing on Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management
- Industry Perception: Business Insider ranked the Sloan School of Management the fourth best business school in the world.
- Cost: $42,050
- Financial Aid: Financial aid opportunities are available to undergraduate and graduate students. About 64% of all undergraduates received some type of need-based financial aid during the 2011-12 academic year.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Accreditation: Accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Specialized Degrees: Undergraduate business program, and the Business and Human Resources education program
- Industry Perception: The Kenan-Flagler Business School is considered one of the best business schools by U.S. News & World Report.
- Cost: $22,340 for undergraduate resident programs, and $43,848 for undergraduate non-resident programs
- Financial Aid: Merit- and need-based scholarships are available. The school’s Carolina Covenant program ensures that “students whose family income is less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines to graduate debt-free.”
- Accreditation: Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Specialized Degrees: Bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs in Human Resource Studies, Human Resource Management Certificate program, Master Certificate in Human Resources
- Industry Perception: Cornell’s undergraduate business program ranked 10th by U.S. News & World Report.
- Cost: $27,045 for undergraduate resident programs, and $43,185 for undergraduate nonresident programs
- Financial Aid: More than half of Cornell’s students who enrolled during the 2011-12 academic year received some sort of financial aid.
University of California, Berkeley
- Accreditation: Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Specialized Degrees: Bachelor of Science in Business, Certificate Program in Human Resource Management
- Industry Perception: The Haas School of Business placed in the top 10 best business schools by U.S. News & World Report.
- Cost: $12,876 for undergraduate nonresident programs, and $22,878 for undergraduate nonresident programs
- Financial Aid: Approximately 64% of undergraduates receive some form of financial aid.
Part III. Launching a Career in HR
Pursuing a career fresh from college can be frustrating, especially in today’s economy. While the job market for HR professionals is healthier than other fields, the competition can be fierce. Up the ante by creating polished package for marketing yourself. As this industry quickly evolves, being a catalyst for innovation will help you stand out from the competition.
Organizing the Job Search
- Cover Letters and Résumés: To get your résumé to the top of the heap, be sure to highlight certifications, quantitative experience, and specialized interests. You should tailor your cover letter and resume to fit each job application.
- Personal Branding: Branding yourself is becoming more important across all professions, not only for snagging jobs, but for staying relevant. Jobvite, a leading recruiting platform, reports that more than 90% of companies use social networking websites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to find new talent. Find your passion in HR and start blogging about it. Your social networking accounts should all reflect your professional goals to an extent. Construct an “elevator pitch” that sums up your background and future in HR, and keep your resume fresh and ready to send at a moment’s notice.
- Job Search: It’s not enough to simply post your résumé on Monster or Career Builder. Joining a local HR chapter, volunteering, interning, and setting up informational meetings with HR professionals will help build your network and work experience. If you are still struggling to get your foot in the door, picking up temporary work through staffing agencies, like Randstad or HR Solutions, can lead to a full-time job.
5 Tips From HR Pros
- Today, you need specific qualifications. The field is not just about liking people. It’s really about knowing the technical side of the job. – Deb Cohen, senior vice president of knowledge development at the Society for Human Resource Management
- Find a way to say, “Yes!” This was specific to a career in HR. HR and legal tend to be the groups that say, “No you can’t do that.” HR professionals need to better problem solvers by understanding the needs of the business and finding a way to help solve the problem. If the solution proposed is not going to work, suggest something else that might work. It can be difficult, but worth the time and effort! – Bonita Martin, SPHR
- I started in HR as an unpaid intern and immediately began building a professional network. By seeking professional growth opportunities, pursuing a variety of positions within the profession, and leveraging network contacts, I was able to rely on resources and opportunities to secure a position as a regional manager with a multinational organization. – Neal Summers, PHR, Regional Manager at Kelly Services, Inc.
- Don’t overlook chances to volunteer; it often opens doors to professional opportunities not otherwise available to you. As an educator, I entered the world of HR by accepting volunteer roles at my local chapter. The connections I made allowed me to become the “go to” person in our community for HR issues and serve in leadership roles at the state, regional and national levels. – Pat Beck, SPHR Self-Employment Training Coordinator/HR Focus Great Plains Technology Center
- Always be networking. I’m very grateful to the managers I had early in my career because they encouraged networking. Over the years, I’ve watched many professionals struggle because they viewed networking as this thing you do only when you need to find a job. – Sharlyn Lauby, HR consultant and creator of HR Bartender
Finding Your Future in HR
Professionals who can find creative ways to keep employees and leaders happy will have a successful career in human resource management. Giving thoughtful consideration to every aspect of your professional life, embracing opportunities no matter how small they may seem, and fostering a diverse network will help you launch a meaningful career.