How to Become a Human Resource (HR) Manager

Most of us are familiar with human resource (HR) managers from our professional lives. HR managers often oversee our hiring, payment, workplace issues and departures from our jobs. More generally, HR managers plan, direct and coordinate the administrative functions of an organization. It can be economically and personally rewarding, which may lead you to wonder: How do you become an HR manager? Below, we break down the process step-by-step, covering the education, professional experience and other qualifications necessary to become an HR manager.

Steps to Becoming an HR Manager

1. Earn a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in Human Resources

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) guide for human resources managers, the entry-level degree necessary to become an HR manager is a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related field, such as finance, business management, education or information technology. That said, the BLS also acknowledges higher level positions require a master’s degree in human resources, labor relations or business administration. Furthermore, the BLS notes that certification, while voluntary, can be beneficial to an HR manager’s employment prospects. The Society for Human Resource Management, which offers such certification, says those with a master’s in an HR-related degree can get certification up to two years faster than those with just a bachelor’s degree.

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2. Consider an Internship

Although not necessarily a requirement for becoming an HR manager, those aspiring to the position should consider an internship in the field. Not only are interns able to gain work experience—which is a necessary qualification, according to the BLS guide for human resources managers—but an internship may also be of use when it comes to voluntary certification. For example, students who have accumulated at least 500 internship hours are eligible to sit for the Society for Human Resource Management exam for certification.

3. Gain the Appropriate Work Experience

The BLS guide for human resources managers notes that becoming an HR manager requires a variable amount of work experience in a related occupation, such as human resources specialists. According to the BLS, HR specialists recruit, sceen, interview and place workers, as well as completing tasks related to employee relations, compensation, benefits and training. HR specialists may be generalists, handling all aspects of HR work; or recruitment specialists, personnel recruiters or “headhunters” who focus primarily on finding new talent. Occupations similar to HR managers include administrative services managers; compensation and benefits managers; compensation, benefits and job analysis specialists; human resources specialists; top executives; training and development managers; and training and development specialists.

4. Apply for a Manager Position

Becoming an HR manager requires the appropriate work experience, often as an HR specialist. Making the transition from specialist to manager doesn’t necessarily entail moving from one organization to another, but may be a process of graduating from the former to the latter within the same organization. While this can happen naturally through the course of promotions, it is much more likely to involve a specialist applying for an opening as a manager. Holding a master’s degree in human relations is one qualification that can help an applicant move to a manager position, as is holding a voluntary certification.

5. Consider Getting Certified

Although the BLS guide for human resources managers notes that certification is a voluntary qualification for HR managers, it can improve the employment prospects of HR managers. The Society for Human Resource Management offers such certification, the SHRM-Certified Professional, which is available to HR managers of various educational and professional levels who qualify for and pass a specialized exam. Other certifications are available from the HR Certification Institute, WorldatWork and the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Job Description of an HR Manager

According to the BLS guide for human resources managers, human resources managers plan, direct and coordinate the administrative functions of an organization. In particular, they oversee recruitment, consult with executives on strategic planning, and connect management with staff. HR managers may also specialize as: labor relations directors or employee relations managers, who oversee employment policies; payroll managers, who supervise the payment of workers; and recruiting or staffing managers, who lead the search for new talent.

Per the BLS, environments HR managers typically work in are management of companies and enterprises; professional, scientific and technical services; manufacturing; government; and health care and social assistance. The bureau notes that HR managers usually work in offices, although those employed by national or international organizations may have to travel to different branches. HR managers may also have to regularly attend professional conferences and recruitment events.

The BLS guide for human resources managers additionally lays out the education, professional experience and skills necessary to become an HR manager. It notes that most HR managers hold a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related field, such as finance, business management, education or information technology, but higher positions require a master’s degree in human resources, labor relations or business administration. The position requires a variable amount of work experience in a related occupation. According to the BLS, necessary skills include decision-making, interpersonal, leadership, organizational and speaking. 

Why Become a Human Resource Manager?

There are many reasons to become a human resource manager. Wages are relatively high, with BLS pay data estimating HR managers make $113,300 a year. Compared to occupations similar to HR managers that require the same entry-level education—a bachelor’s degree—HR managers command higher median pay than most, according to the BLS. Furthermore, the BLS job outlook projects employment of HR managers will increase 7 percent from 2018 to 2028, while the average for all occupations is 5 percent. Beyond economic considerations, the position may also be gratifying on a personal level, as HR managers are responsible for ensuring the smooth functioning of an organization’s staff and operations.

While becoming an HR manager has its perks, it may not be the ideal position for everyone. Qualifications include a bachelor’s or master’s degree in HR or a related field, which may present a barrier to entry for those uninterested in formal education. The bureau notes the position also requires a variable amount of work experience in a related occupation, which may not be ideal for those who prefer a more structured career path. 

Different HR Career Paths

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, there are six career paths to becoming a certified human resources manager. Although the BLS notes that certification is a voluntary qualification, it can be beneficial and offers standard pathways to becoming an HR manager.

  • Earn less than a bachelor’s degree in a HR-related program:
    • Complete some bachelor’s degree coursework, an associate’s degree, or a qualifying certificate from an HR-related program.
    • Serve three years in an HR role.
    • Pass the SHRM-Certified Professional exam.
  • Earn less than a bachelor’s degree in a non-HR-related program:
    • Complete some bachelor’s degree coursework, an associate’s degree, a qualifying human resources certificate program, high school, or a general educational development exam (GED).
    • Serve four years in an HR role.
    • Pass the SHRM-CP exam.
  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in an HR-related program:
    • Complete a bachelor’s degree from an HR-related program.
    • Serve one year in a HR role.
    • Pass the SHRM-CP exam.
  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in a non-HR-related program:
    • Complete a bachelor’s degree from a non-HR-related program.
    • Serve two years in an HR role.
    • Pass the SHRM-CP exam.
  • Earn a master’s degree in an HR-related program:
    • Complete a master’s degree from an HR-related program.
    • Serve currently in a HR role.
    • Pass the SHRM-CP exam.
  • Earn a master’s degree in a non-HR-related program:
    • Complete a master’s degree from a non-HR-related program.
    • Serve one year in an HR role.
    • Pass the SHRM-CP exam.

Note that the SHRM considers the following programs HR-related: human resource management, human resources, industrial and organizational psychology, management and business administration.

FAQs

How long does it take to become an HR manager?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, becoming a certified human resources manager can take as little as five years of education and professional experience. The shortest route entails obtaining a bachelor’s degree in human resources, then serving one year in an HR role before applying for the certification exam. Although certification is a voluntary qualification, it can be beneficial and offers standard pathways to becoming an HR manager.

How much do HR managers make?

According to BLS pay data, human resources managers make a median annual salary of $113,300. The industry in which HR managers work influences their compensation:

  • Professional, scientific and technical services: $127,690
  • Management of companies and enterprises: $126,420
  • Manufacturing: $111,030
  • Government: $101,170
  • Health care and social assistance: $97,620

Learn more about the job outlook and salaries of HR professionals.

Can you become an HR manager with a bachelor’s degree?

According to the BLS guide for human resources managers, becoming a human resources manager with a bachelor’s degree is possible, but higher level positions require a master’s degree. The BLS notes that most HR managers hold a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related field, such as finance, business management, education or information technology. If a master’s degree is required, it is most often in human resources, labor relations or business administration.

Where do HR managers work?

According to the BLS, environments HR managers typically work in are:

  • Management of companies and enterprises: 14%
  • Professional, scientific and technical services: 14%
  • Manufacturing: 12%
  • Government: 9%
  • Health care and social assistance: 9%

The BLS notes HR managers typically work in offices, although those employed by national or international organizations may have to travel to different branches. HR managers may also have to regularly attend professional conferences and recruitment events.

What skills are needed for HR management?

According to the BLS guide for human resources managers, the skills needed for human resource management are:

  • Decision-making: Assess a situation and select the right course of action.
  • Interpersonal: Build relationships between colleagues and other stakeholders.
  • Leadership: Direct staff and operations with confidence and efficiency.
  • Organizational: Coordinate team members and tasks.
  • Speaking: Clearly and effectively communicate information and directives.

What is the career outlook for HR managers?

According to the BLS job outlook, the career environment for human resources managers is better than average. The BLS estimates the number of employed HR managers will grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028—faster than the 5 percent average for all occupations. The brighter outlook is due to expected growth of individual companies and changes to employment laws, which will create demand for HR managers’ expertise, according to the BLS.