How to Become an HR Professional: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Find out how to become a human resources (HR) professional. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in human resources.

Do I Want to Be a Human Resources Professional?

Human resources (HR) professionals, including HR specialists and managers, act as a bridge between management and employees as they work through problems, questions or other job-related difficulties. Additionally, HR professionals are often responsible for employee training and orientation, as well as administration of policies relating to compensation, benefits and recruitment of staff. The job of 'peace-maker' might be stressful for some individuals. Travel may be required to recruit workers or to attend meetings.

Job Requirements

Although a high school diploma meets the educational requirement for employment in some entry-level jobs, most human resources positions require at least a bachelor's degree in human resources or business administration. The following table contains the main requirements outlined for a career in human resources:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's often required; some employers prefer a master's or higher*
Degree Field Human resources, business administration or a related field*
Experience Work experience may be required in addition to a degree*
Key Skills Detail-oriented, decision-making, interpersonal*
Computer Skills Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Excel, Customer relationship management (CRM) software, Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, Human resources software**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **ONet Online.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is the minimum level of education required for entry into the majority of HR positions. Bachelor's degree programs in this field, such as the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Human Resources or B.S. in Human Resources Management, can provide training in topics like business law, human resources management and organizational theory. Bachelor's degree programs in human resources are commonly available at many colleges and universities in a variety of convenient formats, including online study.

Success Tip:

  • Seek an internship while earning a bachelor's degree. Individuals interested in working as human resources professionals should try to acquire some experience in the field. Some employers will require experience as well as a degree, and those who complete an internship could have a competitive edge in the job market.

Step 2: Gain Professional Experience

Professional work experience is a vital component for HR professionals desiring to advance into managerial positions. Most high-level positions in the field require several years of on-the-job experience. In addition to helping develop a portfolio or resume, any experience gained can help sharpen an individual's organizational and communication skills. Additionally, employment in an office environment provides individuals with the opportunity to apply what they have learned, as well as gain real-world skills in business practices and organizational structure.

Step 3: Complete a Master's Degree Program

According to the BLS, employers hiring for HR management positions may prefer a master's degree in human resources, such as the Master of Business Administration in Human Resource Management. Graduate-level study can give experienced HR professionals the opportunity to focus on topics of specific interest, such as labor relations, e-learning, project management, economics or career coaching. Programs that are either held online or that utilize flexible scheduling, such as evening and weekends, are available.

Success Tip:

  • Attain professional certification. Although certification is not required, the BLS notes that HR professionals can benefit from obtaining professional credentials, such as those offered by the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Individuals who choose to be certified generally need a combination of education and professional experience. Once certified, individuals may need to complete continuing education credits for certification renewal.

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