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What is a Human Resources Manager?

The most basic definition of a human resources manager is that they are a liaison between the administration and the employees. This is a strategic role that requires a commitment to ethics, development, training, and organizational management.

Human resources managers plan, coordinate, and direct administrative activities for a company. Typically, they are in charge of recruiting and hiring, interviewing staff, and training managers. They also play a role in putting together company policies; mainly where diversity, accessibility, harassment, and complaints are concerned. Additionally, HR managers are in charge of benefits programs and work with management teams to set a competitive pay structure, performance review schedules, and so on.

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Steps to Becoming an HR Manager

Just about every company needs a human resources department, even if they’re relatively small. Human resource pros are skilled at finding and retaining talent, they take control of the hiring process, manage employee relations, settle disputes, and help put together compensation and benefits packages.

Human resources managers need to earn a bachelor’s degree. But we should mention this outright; more human resources managers end up in this role from a wide range of educational paths. In general, you’ll earn your degree and gain work experience.

Some human resources managers specialize in one area such as recruitment or benefits, while others have a broad skillset, dabbling in everything from conflict resolution to scheduling performance reviews. If you’re interested in becoming a human resources professional, you’ll need to be a problem solver, an excellent communicator, and an all-around strategist.

But before you begin your career as a human resources manager, there are some things you’ll need to know about this potential career path. Human resources is a growing field with plenty of opportunities and relatively high salaries. There are a few steps in between graduating from a bachelor’s degree and becoming a manager or even a director or VP of human resources and that includes gaining experience, earning certifications, and potentially going after a master’s degree.

  • Step 1: Bachelor’s Degree

  • Step 2: Master’s Degree (Optional)

  • Step 3: Experience

  • Step 4: Certification


Step 1: Bachelor’s Degree

You might be able to find work with an HR associate degree, but your best bet is to earn a four-year degree. You can choose to earn a human resources management bachelor’s degree if you’re looking to jump right in, or you can earn a degree in the humanities and create more leeway for yourself to move into another career later on. Or you can earn a degree in business to give you more flexibility within a company. Most people who land a managerial role have studied business at the university level but common degrees include finance, marketing, business administration, and in some cases, human resources. While it seems obvious to study human resources, many schools don’t offer this as a degree program. Instead, it’s a subset within the business major. You may be able to earn it as a concentration with your business degree.

While earning your bachelor’s degree, taking on an internship is a great way to start gaining experience before graduation rolls around. HR interns might perform tasks related to records management, recruitment, or data entry.

Step 2: Master’s (optional)

As with a lot of positions in the business sector, a master’s degree in human resources is not a requirement to gain entry or get promoted to the top. Many people who hold a master’s degree and work in human resources have an MBA with an emphasis on HR issues. However, despite the fact that it’s not necessary, earning a master’s may land you a higher paying job or fast track your path toward becoming a manager or director.

Step 3: Experience

Most recent grads are not going to find themselves running a department right after college. Instead, you’ll likely have to work your way up. Generally, you’ll start out working as an HR assistant or a specialist. You might help the HR manager keep records, assist with employee onboarding, explaining benefit packages, or assist with recruiting. Over time, you’ll gain experience and increasing responsibilities.

Step 4: Certification

One way to increase your pay and access to opportunities is to get certifications in the field. You’ll need to work in HR for at least a year before you are eligible to earn professional credentials, but there are a few options for HR workers who want to gain expertise in retirement plans or compensation management, among other designations. Additionally, joining a professional society such as SHRM can help you make connections with other professionals, as well as provide courses and materials for earning your certifications.

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What Does a Human Resources Manager Do?

The short answer is, an HR manager does a lot. In the past, HR was mainly tasked with administrative duties like managing benefits, sick days, and vacation time. Today’s HR manager is focused on growth, employee satisfaction, and professional development. Human resources managers must play a strategic role as both an employee advocate and mentor, and as an impartial mediator and liaison between management and the rank and file.

Often, the human resources manager is responsible for hiring, interviewing, training, and enforcing internal policies. Things like recruitment, training, and company culture fall into the HR purview.

But, there’s a lot more to HR than hiring and putting together the employee guidebook. HR plans and manages how an organization can get the most out of their existing talent pool. They handle staffing issues and maintain safety and health on the job. Human resources managers also put together compensation and benefits packages aimed at retaining quality employees, while helping the organization save money.

Additionally, human resources managers need to be familiar with employment law. While they don’t need to be lawyers, human resources managers counsel upper management on company policies to remain in compliance with federal and state laws such as equal employment opportunity, sexual harassment, accessibility, diversity, and more.

Skills to Acquire

To work in human resources, you’ll need to be a detail-oriented person with strong communication skills. Human resources managers must keep up with compensation and benefits, changing workplace laws, company policies, and protocol related to sensitive issues like diversity, gender parity, and harassment.

Human resources managers are also responsible for finding the best talent and maintaining organizational policies that ensure a company is getting the most out of their workforce and be able to help employees and managers develop their careers. They need to have the ability to identify talent and develop specific skills through appropriate training.

Finally, the HR manager needs to be able to mediate disputes, remaining calm and impartial in the face of conflict. So, there’s a lot to consider.

Here is a list of skills you’ll need to be successful in HR:

  • Good Communicator
  • Organizational Management
  • Empathetic
  • Organized
  • Collaborative
  • A Skilled Negotiator
  • An Eye for Talent
  • Critical Thinker
  • Problem Solver

Alternative Paths

Defining an alternative pathway for human resources is a difficult prospect. This profession covers a lot of specialties; benefits, recruitment, corporate culture. Those without a background in business or human resources can break into the field by landing a support role within the department or by working in a similar position. For instance, administration or accounting roles promise a smooth transition. Those with a background in communications or social science may also find that this role suits them well.

From there, you can earn certifications through the SHRM and level up your expertise. The SHRM does allow HR professionals at all education levels to earn certifications in this field. However, you'll need more work experience (7 years in an HR role) to become eligible to obtain an SHRM-SCP.

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Human Resources Manager Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


Human resources managers can work in all kinds of settings. All types of companies rely on human resources departments to manage their internal culture and policies. While human resources managers can work in a broad range of companies, they all share the same set of practices and goals. According to BLS data, human resources managers work in a supervisory role in companies from small startup operations to massive corporations. Managers work in retail, pharmaceutical, banking, telecommunications, insurance, and everything in between.

Large companies might have multiple human resource managers, and often, these managers will have a specialty or work in a specific region. Smaller companies might employ one human resources generalist who oversees a small team or even works alone.

Human resource managers can also work for schools; K-12 or in a college or university setting. In an educational environment, human resources managers hire and maintain records for school employees such as teachers, administrators, and maintenance employees.

Or, human resources managers can find work in a government agency. Human resource managers and staff are needed at state and local offices, in the federal government and specific agencies. In this case, managers may coordinate recruitment efforts, spearhead training sessions, and ensure compliance with regulations.

As you can see, there is no shortage of places where a human resources manager can find work. If you’re interested in pursuing this career path, keep in mind that some types of companies pay more than others. If you’re working for the public-school system, you’re not going to earn as much as the HR manager at a large financial firm. So, it’s about finding a culture that’s the right fit and an organization with growth opportunities available.

Potential Career Paths

As mentioned above, HR manager is one title within the human resources field. Human resource is a broad category spanning several roles, both general and specialized. As such, there are several roles at all levels. We’ve listed a handful of familiar job titles that you might see on the path to becoming a human resources manager and beyond.

Human Resources Clerk
An entry-level HR role, a human resources clerk handles administrative and clerical tasks like maintaining records, documenting HR procedures, completing data entry tasks, and answering emails and calls.

HR Assistant
An HR assistant supports the manager, and is often tasked with scheduling interviews, handling reference checks, and maintaining records associated with personnel changes. Assistants might also help during benefits open enrollment and other special projects, prepare reports, and support the department’s documents and files.

Recruiters work in a range of fields and are often hired by companies to find qualified employees. The recruiter’s role is to find the best candidates through a combination of research, screener interviews, and research. Recruiters might work for a large company scoping out new talent year-round, or they may work for a recruiting firm that handles the search process for several companies. Often, they work on commission or retainer, so pay depends on placements. While this role differs from the traditional human resources manager role, recruiters must be familiar with hiring policies and best practices, as well as market rates within a profession.

Labor Relations Specialist
Labor relations specialists serve as a liaison between the companies they work for and the labor unions that employees are a part of. This position involves representing the company’s best interests during labor negotiations and often, they function as the spokesperson in the case of any court proceedings or televised appearances. Labor relations specialists must always keep a watchful eye on changing regulations, ensuring that the company remains in compliance.

Human Resources Manager
Human Resources managers oversee human resource operations and personnel within a company. Often human resources managers function as a liaison between the upper management and the employees, and work to create policies and procedures that aim to retain and attract top talent and keep business running as smoothly as possible. human resources managers also review compensation, benefits, and internal protocols, and make recommendations to managers. This role requires excellent communication skills, mainly where conflict management and sensitive issues are concerned.

Training and Development Specialists
This role centers around training and development initiatives for employees within an organization. Often the training/development specialist reviews a company’s training needs and puts together a strategy for developing talent where it’s needed or recruiting talent to fill in the gaps. Additionally, this role also involves creating a development plan for employees’ advancement in moving forward. This could include things like education reimbursement, management training programs, mentorship opportunities, and more.

Compensation and Benefits Manager
Compensation and benefits are a crucial focus of human resources in general. However, some HR pros exclusively handle benefits and compensation. This role involves putting together healthcare, dental, and vision packages, life insurance, and disability coverage. They also review market trends, conduct surveys, and look at salary data to ensure that employee salaries and benefits are in line with industry standards.

Director of Human Resources
A director of human resources has a similar job description to an HR manager, but the elevated title comes with higher pay and more responsibilities. A director might oversee multiple human resources managers across various specialties and their respective departments. In addition to managing benefits, compensation, and company culture, directors must work with upper management to establish a budget and human resources managers accomplish the organization's personnel goals without overspending.

Human Resources Manager Career Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
HR Specialist $45,000 $55,000 $61,000
HR Manager $51,000 $69,000 $75,000
Compensation or Benefit Analyst $50,000 $62,000 $66,000
HR Information Systems Analyst $54,000 $73,000 $83,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

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Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 136,300 human resource managers are working in the US. Employment is rising at a 0.6% rate, while wages are growing at about 0.3%. The median salary is currently $110,100 though those working in the top 90% of earners take home nearly $200,000 per year. At the low end, human resources managers can still expect to earn about $65,000 annually.

Most most human resources managers work in the private sector, in a management role for companies and enterprises. It’s important to note that this data only includes people who have the title human resource manager. The BLS states that this designation does not include those working as benefits managers and the agency categorizes HR specialists separately, as well.

HR specialists, or people who are not necessarily managers, earn $60,000 per year on average. In the US, 553,900 people work as an HR specialist and growth in this industry is relatively stable, rising at about 0.5% per year. Often, newer HR employees work as a specialist or recruiter before becoming a manager or director but it’s important to understand that there are several related occupations within this field. Training and development managers, benefits specialists, recruiters, and those called employee relations managers.

Because human resources are essential for all kinds of companies, agencies, and organizations, the demand is consistently higher than average. As such, aspiring human resources managers can expect a stable career with higher than average salaries.

Advancing From Here

As you start gaining experience in a human resources role, one of the best ways to advance your career is by earning certifications in your field. The Society of Human Resource Management or SHRM offers several certification programs, and in many cases, employers prefer HR reps with SHRM credentials. Human resource managers can advance into a VP or Director of Human Resources role.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become a human recourses manager?

Human resources programs can range from associates to master's degrees. Most people working in human resources will obtain a four year bachelor's degree.

What do human resources managers do?

An organization's human resources department is responsible for company wide recruiting and hiring responsibilities. Human resources manager will follow local employment laws to create a training and development program and a compensation and benefits program for employees.

What is the job outlook for human resources managers?

Human resources manager jobs are expected to grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What qualities make the best human resources managers?

A recourses manager needs to be sympathetic, good at making decisions, patient, and have strong communication skills. They will also need to follow local employment laws.

Where can a human resources manager work?

Human resources managers can work in a many different places as almost everywhere needs a human resources manager. Human resources managers can work in hospitals, schools, government agencies, and service companies.

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