What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Human Resources Specialist?

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Do you pay attention to detail? Comfortable with making decisions? Do you have good speaking, listening, and interpersonal skills?

A job in human resources might be right for you. Human resources (HR) specialists are the business professionals who handle matters related to employee relations. They interview, hire, and train employees. They work to hire qualified applicants they see as assets to their team and organization. Typically, a college degree is essential to get started in this career. This article addresses the education requirements of a human resources specialist. It  deals with many aspects of the job, including compensation and the overall job outlook.

The Work of an HR Specialist

The  role of a human resources specialist varies from job to job. About 14 percent of HR specialists, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), work in employment services. These roles include those in temp agencies and employment placement agencies. The goal is to match employers with qualified workers. Employment interviewers and placement specialists also fall into this category. Many HR specialists, like recruitment specialists or personnel recruiters, work in-house. They find and develop talent to work with their organization. Some HR personnel focus on matters like:

  • training and development
  • compensation and benefits
  • employee assistance
  • information systems

Others are generalists who juggle a wide range of responsibilities.

BLS reports that about 674,800 jobs were held by human resources specialists last year. As indicated above, 14 percent work in employment services, while another 14 percent work in professional, scientific, and technical services. Other areas that employ HR specialists include:

  • Government: 11 percent
  • Healthcare and social assistance: 11 percent
  • Manufacturing: eight percent

How Do You Become a Human Resources Specialist?

How do you learn all you will need to know to handle the various tasks expected of a human resources specialist? You can start by earning an undergraduate degree. Two popular fields of study are business and, unsurprisingly, human resources. Other relevant areas of study include communications, marketing, and psychology. Some of the best degrees for human resources specialists are discussed later in this article.

Once you’ve earned your degree to become a human resource specialist, or even before that, you’ll need to gain some experience in the field. Internships are a great way for students to decide if the career path is a good fit for them. Exposure to how human resources departments operate helps to guide students in their pursuit of certain jobs.

Beyond the human resources specialist degree, it’s important to gain experience. Internships provide valuable work experience as you embark on becoming a human resources specialist. They also provide ample networking opportunities.

What Degree Does a Human Resources Specialist Need?

There are several human resources specialist degree programs that will land you a job in HR. In fact, degrees in a wide range of disciplines can help you with your goal of becoming a human resources specialist. Below, we discuss some of the best degrees for human resources specialists.

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Best Degrees for Human Resources Specialists

Business Administration
A degree in business administration provides aspiring HR professionals with a strong understanding of business across a wide range of industries. Business students may take classes that cover HR topics like:

  • human resource management
  • logistics
  • management
  • organizational management

Communication professionals are in high demand in the field of human resources. As a communication major, you’ll learn valuable skills necessary for interacting and communicating effectively in the workplace. Specialized coursework relevant to HR covers topics like organizational communication and organizational leadership.

One of the most popular majors at any institution is education. For those interested in becoming a human resources specialist, an education degree is extremely helpful. As an education major, you’ll gain insight into effective teaching and training methods that can be parlayed into the workplace or any organization.

Human Resource Management (HRM)
The most popular major to become a human resource specialist is HRM or human resource management. As expected, this major provides the necessary skills and knowledge for successful HR professionals. Instead of attending human resources specialist school, students enroll in colleges or universities, then they declare the HRM major during their sophomore year. Coursework for HRM majors covers topics such as:

  • business law and ethics
  • communication
  • human relations
  • leadership and management in the workplace.

Psychology is one of the most popular majors in college. This relevant major provides much-needed education for human resource specialist careers. Why? Because the discipline provides knowledge and understanding of human behavior. Students learn different management techniques, complete research projects, and take classes in training and development or psychology in the workplace. As a psychology major, you’ll gain skills and techniques that work well in the HR industry.

What Does It Take to Be a Human Resources Specialist?

During and after earning a degree, completing internships is an excellent way to gain valuable work experience, network with established business professionals, and even land a job in human resources. Candidates can also enhance their résumés and qualifications by earning designations like the Professional in Human Resources and Senior Professional in Human Resources certifications. These come  from professional organizations like the HR Certification Institute.

Not all knowledge needed for success in this career comes from human resources specialist school. Through work experience as customer service representative or human resources assistant, you get training and develop skills they will put to work in their HR specialist career. However, to become a human resource specialist, you need a blend of education and training.

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Beyond the education for human resource specialist required to land a job, one needs to possess other pertinent qualities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are important qualities and skills necessary to succeed on the job. These qualities include:

  • Detail-orientation: Human resources specialists pay attention to details while conducting day-to-day tasks. They do background checks on applicants, evaluate qualifications, maintain records, and ensure the organization or workplace meets labor standards. All these tasks require a high level of detail.
  • Effective communication skills: Good communicators are needed in any organization. In human resources, listening and speaking skills are essential for the occupation of HR specialist. These skilled professionals may:
    • conduct interviews
    • meet with employees
    • address concerns from employers

Superior communication skills help an HR specialist carry out their duties and responsibilities.

  • Interpersonal skills: Human resources specialists constantly interact with others within the organization. They must be able to carry on professional conversation and connect with people from diverse backgrounds. Also, when addressing concerns or handling employee grievances, strong interpersonal skills help.
  • Strong decision-making skills: Being able to make sound judgments is a major aspect of the role of a human resources specialist. When assessing job applications or resolving disputes, human resources specialists must be able to make decisions quickly and effectively. Having strong decision-making skills is critical for the role of an HR specialist.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Human Resources Specialist?

Four years is the typical time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree in human resources, or another relevant discipline. Some degree programs offer accelerated pacing, which means you can earn a bachelor’s degree in less than four years. Often, these programs take about 36 months to complete.

While earning a bachelor’s degree, you may intern to gain relevant work experience. Experience is helpful when competing for HR specialist jobs. Internships won’t add more time to your human resources specialist schooling, but they will increase your understanding of the occupation. Also, internships offer significant networking opportunities.

How to Become a Human Resources Specialist Without a Degree

Without a college degree it is almost impossible, to become a human resource specialist. Most employers require a bachelor’s degree in:

  • human resources
  • business
  • communications
  • another related discipline

Without a college degree, it’s hard to find a job as an HR specialist. Also, many employers require certifications from professional associations like the HR Certification Institute or the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). To qualify for certification, candidates must meet education requirements, which include an earned bachelor’s degree from an accredited program.

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How Much Money Can a Human Resources Specialist Earn?

Once you’ve completed your human resource specialist schooling, you’re ready to land a job. But it’s important to know what to expect in terms of earnings potential and job prospects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), human resources specialists earn $63,490 per year, on average. The lowest-paid 10 percent earn less than $37,710, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $109,350.

As of last year, BLS reported five top-paying industries for human resources specialists. Three of these industries offer earnings that are higher than the average for this occupation. The five top-paying industries include:

  • Professional, scientific, and technical services: $71,960
  • Government: $70,410
  • Manufacturing: $66,980
  • Employment services: $54,920
  • Healthcare and social assistance: $54,170

While industry type can impact earnings potential, so does geographic location. Location has a large effect on income levels. Certain states and cities pay higher wages than others. As a human resource specialist, you’ll find that certain areas of the country offer higher wages than others. The BLS  offers state and area data through the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) publication. This program presents employment and wage estimates each year for over 800 occupations, including human resources specialists.

According to the OEWS, the top-paying states for human resources specialists are as follows:

  • District of Columbia: $101,680
  • California: $79,590
  • New Jersey: $79,360
  • New York: $79,360
  • Virginia: $77,830

These five states offer higher-than-average wages for human resources specialists. However, there are several metropolitan areas, according to the BLS, that also offer high wages for this occupation. The OEWS reports several top-paying metro areas with average wages for HR specialists over $82,000 per year. Some of the top-paying metropolitan areas include:

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California: $96,090
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California: $93,680
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC, VA, MD, WV: $90,130
  • Napa, California: $84,210
  • Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut: $84,000
  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville, California: $83,760
  • Wenatchee, Washington: $83,510
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY, NJ, PA: $82,580
  • Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina: $82,440

But you don’t have to choose a metro area to earn higher-than-average earnings as a human resources specialist. In fact, several non-metropolitan areas offer average wages above $68,000 per year. These areas also offer a lower cost of living, which means your earnings will stretch further than they would if you were living in a metropolitan area. Some of the top-paying non-metro areas, as reported by the BLS, include:

  • Northeast Virginia: $83,640
  • Alaska non-metro area: $70,070
  • Southeast-Central Idaho: $69,980
  • Eastern Washington: $68,910
  • North Valley-Northern Mountains region of California: $68,770

What Is the Job Outlook for Human Resources Specialists?

Now that you know that a degree to become a human resource specialist is needed to work in this occupation, it’s important to know what to expect during your job search. The BLS offers valuable information pertaining to the job outlook for human resources specialists. According to BLS, employment of HR specialists is expected to grow 10 percent through 2030, which is slightly higher than the average of eight percent for all occupations.

BLS reports that approximately 73,400 openings for HR specialists are projected each year, over the next 10 years. These openings are expected due to the growing need to replace workers who retire or transfer to different occupations outside of the job title.

In addition to filling vacancies resulting from job transfers and retirement, other factors could impact the job outlook for human resources specialists, according to BLS. A growing number of companies outsource their human resources functions to outside organizations rather than to human resources specialists working inside the company. So the need for HR specialists may change. Also, certain areas of human resources, such as employment laws and benefits, may be outsourced in upcoming years. As a result, the demand for HR specialists may decrease because of these practices. However, the overall job outlook projected by BLS is favorable for human resources specialists.

BDP Staff
January 2022

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