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How to Become a Human Resources Executive: Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a human resources executive. Research the education requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in human resources management. View article »

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Should I Become a Human Resources Executive?

Degree Level Bachelor's or master's degree, depending on the position and employer
Degree Fields Human resources, business administration, industrial psychology, information technology, or education
Certification Certification available; may be required/preferred
Experience Prior HR work experience often required
Key Skills Managerial, listening, speaking, and decision-making skills; ability to work in collaboration as a team and diffuse any hostile work situations; knowledge of local, state, and federal employment laws
Salary (2015) $117,080 (median for human resources managers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Human resources, often abbreviated HR, is a field that encompasses many of the personnel functions of a company, including recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, benefits administration and strategic planning. HR employees might specialize in one particular aspect of human resources, but it's common for human resources administrators to be cross-trained in several sub-disciplines within the field. Managerial job titles can include HR executive, staffing director, employee relations manager and compensation manager.

Human resources executives are the top tier of HR management, overseeing all other HR employees and functions within a company. Human resources professionals usually keep regular full-time schedules, although some workers must put in overtime. Travel might be required for professionals who are in charge of employee recruitment. Additionally, these executives need skills in human resources, such as leadership, listening, speaking and decision-making skills; the ability to work in collaboration as a team and diffuse any hostile work situations; and knowledge of local, state and federal employment laws.

While the career can be demanding, the pay out is rewarding. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for human resources management professionals was $117,080 as of May 2015. Now let's explore the steps along the pathway toward a career as an HR executive.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Human Resources Development
  • Labor and Industrial Relations
  • Labor Studies
  • Organizational Behavior

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most HR executives hold at least a bachelor's degree, so attending college is the first step towards this career. A bachelor's degree program in human resources management is common among these professionals and often includes courses in leadership theories, supervision, organizational behavior and industrial psychology.

Another relevant program is a bachelor's degree program in business administration with a human resources concentration, which covers study topics such as workplace law, critical thinking and the integration of HR concepts with other business management principles. Although many HR executives earn degrees in human resources or business administration, other educational backgrounds, such as in information technology, finance or education, may also be acceptable for this field.

Here's a quick tip for success: join the Society for Human Resource Management. This professional organization offers student membership and has 450 student chapters across the country. It provides opportunities for networking and hands-on experience within the field as well as career resources and scholarship opportunities.

Step 2: Gain Experience

After earning a degree, it's time to enter the workforce. HR executives must have experience in human resource before they can take on higher-level leadership positions. Some get a foot in the door through entry-level HR positions, such as human resources specialist, recruiter or trainer. As August 2016, job listing reveal, applicants for human resources executive positions generally need 5 to 6 years of progressive HR experience. With experience and demonstrated expertise in employee relations, labor laws and other HR topics, individuals can become qualified for executive positions.

Step 3: Consider Graduate School

Although a bachelor's degree and prior work experience are sufficient for many HR executive positions, a master's degree program in HR management is one way to gain hands-on leadership experience in the field. These programs may include capstone courses that allow students to apply HR coursework to a corporate setting. Online graduate programs are available and are specially designed for professionals already working in the HR field.

Step 4: Get Certified

With education and experience, human resources professionals often obtain voluntary professional certification to demonstrate expertise and dedication to the field. The HR Certification Institute offers several certification levels. For instance, the Professional in Human Resources designation requires two years of work experience with a bachelor's degree or one year of experience with a master's degree. You might also consider the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation, which requires at least five years of work experience with a bachelor's degree or four years of work experience with a master's degree. Applicants for all certification titles must also pass a 3-hour exam.

A career as a human resources executive generally requires at least a bachelor's degree and 5 to 6 years of experience in HR and employers may favor applicants with certification and a graduate degree.

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