HR manager meeting

How to Become an HR Manager: 5 Steps

posted in: Careers 2

Becoming a human resources (HR) manager is a potentially straightforward journey. A university education is almost mandatory because part of the job is to hire and develop professionals. 

To qualify as an HR manager, study for a degree in human resources and gain around 5 to 7 years of experience in a professional setting. Build management skills as well as knowledge of labor laws and practice. An advanced qualification such as a master’s degree will help accelerate the process.

A career in HR management is worth striving for because of the benefits and job security. Almost every medium and large business has a human resources department. Let’s explore further the steps to take to become an HR manager.

1. Develop the Right Skills 

HR managers smiling

The human resources discipline has evolved dramatically within the past decade, especially in recent years. With the growing emphasis on creating equitable and engaging workplaces, companies are looking for HR leaders who can guide them into the future of work.

Key skills to master for this management role include: 

  • Communication: Clear and effective communication skills are essential for HR managers because of their sensitive responsibilities, including dispute resolution and acting as a bridge between employees and the company. 
  • Problem-solving: From compliance defaults to employee conflict, workplace issues can strike at any time. It’s up to the HR manager to provide the tact and flexibility to solve these issues within corporate and legal standards. 
  • Business-awareness: Although being a people person is a common trait of effective HR managers, understanding how people strategies apply to and help businesses succeed is just as vital. 
  • Organizing: In most organizations, HR managers wear many hats, from recruitment to talent management, compensation design, and disengagement. Being able to balance and direct multiple complex tasks will be crucial to success in the role. 

2. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

College graduate in the workplace

Gaining an undergraduate qualification represents the first formal stage of a typical human resources career. Many companies require HR professionals to have a bachelor’s degree in human resource management. 

It’s also common to see HR practitioners with more widely applicable degrees such as Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA). In other cases, some HR professionals may possess a diploma without an undergraduate degree. But the lack of any degree is rare, especially among younger cohorts. A degree is virtually essential to become a human resource manager these days.

3. Gain Workplace Experience 

Business professionals walking

Since the human resource manager position is a senior role, work experience is a common requirement for any candidate to be considered. Therefore, organizations look for senior HR staff with years of experience in management, human resources, labor relations and talent acquisition. 

The typical career path for human resources leaders begins with an entry-level role, such as HR assistant, HR associate or benefits specialist. After that, employees often work their way up to positions of greater responsibility before they enter the running for mid to top-level HR roles. This means that HR professionals may have to spend between 5 to 7 years before qualifying for management positions.

However, some professionals fast-track their journey to becoming an HR manager by bolstering their qualifications with a graduate-level degree in human resources. 

4. Obtain an HR Master’s Qualification

HR master's degree

While a master’s degree isn’t required for HR leadership positions, gaining an advanced qualification can set you apart from other candidates. With a Master’s in Human Resource Management, you explore how to manage staff strategically and solve modern-day workforce challenges. Expect coursework in employee relations, negotiation, people analytics, managing and rewarding performance, and employment law. 

Note that gaining entry into a master’s program may require you to demonstrate cognate work experience, which may include non-HR business administration. Many graduate schools require 2 to 3 years of work experience. You may also be required to hold an undergraduate qualification in an HR-related field, which could include psychology, social studies, etc.

If you’re already working in HR and looking to broaden your job responsibilities in the future, consider a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a Human Resources Management specialisation. An MBA positions graduates for executive and senior management roles of almost any kind.

Related: Human Resources (HR) Courses Online in Australia

5. Become HR Certified 

Female business executive

While HR certifications are optional, they can demonstrate your proficiency in specific fields that are valuable to your employer. Taking a certification often helps provide a more nuanced perspective on types of HR management issues.

When it comes to HR certifications, there are countless to choose from. Some popular certifications among HR professionals are: 

  • Professional in Human Resources – Human Resources Certification Institute 
  • SHRM Certified Professional – Society for Human Resource Management 
  • Certificate in Human Resources Management – York University 
  • Human Resources Certificate Program – Cornell University 
  • Human Resource Management – Golden State University 

Related: Graduate Certificate in Human Resource Management Online


Questions? Answers!

Human resources managers are people professionals who direct organizational employment strategies and HR teams. Their work centers around an organization’s greatest asset – their employees.

Duties of an HR manager: 

  • Direct the HR department and train team members
  • Lead investigations, discipline, and conflict resolution 
  • Design and implement talent identification and acquisition strategies
  • Ensure organizational compliance with employment laws and safety regulations
  • Assess and improve workplace culture 
  • Foster an open and engaging work environment

HR managers interview and hire new staff, design and facilitate onboarding programs, and provide workers with the tools to excel. Likewise, the HR head leads employee performance evaluation, training and development, and termination. A big part of the job is handling delicate labor relations issues (such as work rules, employee compensation, and time off in exceptional circumstances), disputes and contractual matters.

The timeline to qualify as a human resources manager depends on your academic preparation. Typically, HR professionals in leadership roles complete a 3 or 4-year bachelor’s degree and obtain 5 to 7 years of work experience to enter the job.

You may also be referred to an “HR manager” in a junior position where you have limited responsibilities and work under close supervision of a team leader. That sort of job may be more accurately termed “human resources assistant” or similar.

Some candidates shorten the experience timeframe through advanced qualifications and certifications. For instance, it’s common to see master’s graduates enter a senior role fresh out of graduate school. Additionally, completing relevant HR certifications can rapidly add to your skills and employment profile. 

Related: Human Resources (HR) Manager Qualifications Australia

Although it’s uncommon, interested students may pursue this option to become a human resources manager with no degree. There are a couple of pathways you may explore.

First, you could qualify for an HR leadership position by gaining relevant certifications. For instance, SHRM offers certifications for professionals without a bachelor’s degree. Some working knowledge of HR practices and principles is recommended.

Alternatively, you could simply work your way up, starting with general business administration and office duties. While educational attainment gives employers a reliable marker of your expertise, it’s not an indispensable requirement. Demonstrable experience in positions of responsibility might be sufficient for entry into a senior role, depending on the employer’s unique preferences. 

Salary statistics for human resources managers vary, in part due to classification differences. Human resources manager is sometimes used interchangeably with human resources professionals and, in other cases, to designate a senior HR professional who is at least at the level of team leader.

According to salary data from Indeed, human resource managers in the US earn just over $81,292 per year on average. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that human resources managers have a mean annual wage of $154,740. Comparably, human resources managers in Australia receive average salaries of up to $130,000 annually.

The job outlook for human resource managers is generally solid because employment is proportional with the size of the labor force. Wherever staff are employed in significant numbers, HR assistants, professionals and managers are needed.

Related: Why a Career in HR Is Good in Australia

Earning a psychology degree is good preparation for a career in human resources. While psychological expertise is only marginally relevant to the HR field (with the exception of industrial or organizational psychology), the skills you’ve developed and demonstrated are valuable. Being able to communicate well – including writing – having research skills, an interest in people, interpersonal skills, and statistical skills are all good qualities in HR management.

To become competitive for human resources jobs, you’ll need to training in the HR field and, preferably, gain certifications and academic qualifications. Otherwise, your CV or resume will make you look unsuitable compared to other job candidates.

A postgraduate human resource management course, ideally a master’s degree, will help with this career transition. Any work experience will be beneficial, from being an intern to doing support work for an HR team.

Follow Linda Abraham:
An expert in admissions consulting, Linda Abraham founded to guide students through graduate school. Her MBA from UCLA backs her speciality in business studies and career advice. Linda’s articles provide clear insights on choosing majors, finding job opportunities, and building a career.

2 Responses

  1. Victor
    | Reply

    The thought of becoming an HR professional has always interested me. It’s a job that is always varied and this job matches my personality. I think I have most of my questions related to it answered now and I will soon enroll for a bachelor’s degree.

  2. Sara R.
    | Reply

    I really didn’t consider becoming an HR until my mom’s friend had told me how she started her career after her youngest moved out and how fulfilling it had been. She made good money from the start as well. I have been looking into my options. I am 21 and want to make sure I start out on the right path so I don’t waste time or money.

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