What You Can Do With a Human Resources Degree

A business cannot function without a workforce, and it's been said that a company's most valuable assets are its people.

The art and science of attracting, selecting, training and retaining a team of skilled workers is complex. Labor laws often dictate how employers may recruit employees and employer responsibilities vis-a-vis workers.

The best practices for ensuring that employees are treated fairly and compensated appropriately are not necessarily clear-cut, and questions surrounding how to create a positive and productive work environment aren't always easy to answer. Undergraduate or graduate degrees in human resources can provide clarity on these aspects of running a successful and ethical for-profit corporation or nonprofit organization.

Here is a guide to the many real-world applications of academic credentials in this field.


The Versatility and Value of a Human Resources Degree

Individuals with human resources degrees can find a niche within whatever industry they prefer, since all kinds of organizations need assistance identifying the right people to hire, deciding who is most worthy of a promotion and figuring out when it's necessary to lay off or fire someone. Also, because of both the Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movements, many companies are taking steps to promote equity and prevent harassment, which has increased the demand for HR experts with a proven track record of designing and implementing effective diversity and inclusion plans.

Human resources professionals sometimes work for recruitment agencies, headhunting companies or consulting firms, in which case they may serve multiple clients. In-house human resources positions are also an option for someone who wants to focus on the staffing issues of a particular company.

[Read: What You Need to Know About Becoming a Human Resources Major.]

Courtney Harrison, the chief human resources officer at OneLogin, a security technology company based in San Francisco, says the current turmoil in the economy and society makes expertise in human resources more valuable than usual. She notes that many of the biggest challenges that businesses currently face, such as facilitating remote work and reducing burnout among workers, are best addressed by human resources pros.

"Companies of all sizes need HR help, from start-up to mid-size to Fortune 500," Harrison wrote in an email.

When companies collapse, the cause often has more to do with people than with anything else, Harrison adds. "There are plenty of companies in the corporate graveyard who died not because they did not have great products and ideas but because they could not pull their people and culture together to execute and scale, or they couldn't retain their talent and were just a revolving door of dispensable people."

[Read: HR Specialist - Career Rankings, Salary, Reviews and Advice.]

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of jobs for human resources specialists will be 7% higher in 2029 than in 2019 and that the number of human resources manager roles will increase by 6% in that time frame. The job growth forecast for these human resources professionals is higher than average, according to the bureau, which estimates that the average U.S. employment increase among all occupations for the 2019-2029 time period will be 4%.

In 2019, the median annual salary among U.S. human resources specialists was $61,920, while the median yearly pay of a U.S. human resources manager was $116,720, bureau statistics show. The bureau notes that the minimum amount of education typically necessary for these jobs is a bachelor's degree.

"As organizations have come to recognize human capital as a key source of competitive advantage, the demand for HR professionals at all levels continues to grow," Scott Seibert, a professor at the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations in New Jersey and chair of its department of human resource management, wrote in an email.

Seibert notes that aspiring HR leaders who want mid-level or senior-level executive roles typically pursue master's degrees in the field. "Salary potential is virtually unlimited with top-level HR executives receiving salaries in the $300k range with additional company stock options and other executive-level benefits," he says.

Human Resources Jobs

There are a variety of human resources jobs, including some that are a good fit for introverts and others that are more suitable for extroverts. It is possible to work behind the scenes in analytical roles, such as jobs that involve calculating an individual's compensation or what a company's overall pay scale should look like. There are also human resources careers that require constant social interaction, such as recruiting.

A human resources education could prepare someone for any of the following professions.

-- Chief human resources officer

-- Chief people officer

-- Change management specialist or manager

-- Compensation and benefits specialist or manager

-- Diversity, equity and inclusion specialist or manager

-- Director of diversity, equity and inclusion

-- Executive vice president of human resources

-- Employee relations specialist or manager

-- Executive coach

-- Human resources business partner

-- Human resources coordinator

-- Human resources generalist

-- Human resources risk and compliance specialist or manager

-- Human resources specialist or manager

-- Leadership coach

-- Training and development specialist or manager

-- Vice president of human resources

[See: Colleges Offering a Human Resources Major.]

Some human resources degree programs and certifications use a phrase other than "human resources" to refer to the field of study, especially if they concentrate on a specific branch of HR such as the analytics component, which is sometimes called "people analytics."

"A human resources degree can take you a lot of places, so it really depends on what your specific areas of interest are," Tara Furiani, CEO of Not the HR Lady, a human resources consulting firm and coaching company, wrote in an email. "Most Human Resources departments encompass more than just the traditionally thought of things like benefits and payroll."

Carla Yudhishthu -- vice president of people and talent at ThinkHR and Mammoth HR, two human resources service providers that recently merged -- warns that "emotional balance" is vital within the human resources field.

"It can be really stressful," she says. "You have to be really good at stress management, because so many things are coming at you, and you do feel the need to respond to everything, to serve everyone, to make sure everyone else is okay."

One reason Yudhishthu chose the human resources field, she says, is because she enjoys interacting with people.

"In the end, it's all about people," she says. "It's about helping leaders be their best, helping employees be their best, helping them find the best in each other."

Searching for a grad school? Access our complete rankings of Best Graduate Schools.