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How to Become a Human Resources Manager

Companies are under constant pressure from external forces — fluctuations in the economy, the introduction of new technologies, changing regulations — and each can have a significant impact on business operations. Implementing personnel and organizational changes to respond to these pressures is not easy. However, with the right human resources managers in place, the results can be positive for the whole organization. These professionals are responsible for guiding employees through company changes, as well as overseeing employee policies, procedures, and benefits.

The following steps outline how to become a human resources manager, including the education requirements and skills necessary to succeed.

What Does a Human Resources Manager Do?

A human resources (HR) manager guides the policies and procedures related to employees in an organization. Depending on the organization’s leadership structure, an HR manager may oversee the following areas:

  • Employee benefits and insurance programs
  • Compensation structures
  • Recruitment and job placement strategies
  • Employee training and performance management
  • Compliance with government regulations
  • Employee relations

An HR manager also aligns employee programs to the company strategy, ensuring that each policy and procedure is following local, state, and federal laws. Using expertise in employee relations, a human resources manager recommends and implements changes to employee packages to help the company remain competitive in the job market and attract the best candidates to the organization. Depending on the size of the organization, the HR manager may or may not have a team to delegate responsibilities to and supervise.

meeting between two ladies at desk

Typical Steps to Becoming a Human Resources Manager

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

Many organizations require human resources professionals to have a bachelor’s degree. Applicable degrees include those in HR and business administration. However, someone who is determined to become a human resources manager may also want to consider a more widely applicable degree specific to organizational behavior and change, such as Maryville University’s online bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership.

Coursework for an organizational leadership degree examines how to use negotiating techniques, what motivates employees to work for a company, and how to develop positive organizational cultures. Prepared with the knowledge necessary for understanding organizational behavior and human resources management, professionals can enter the market and begin strengthening their résumés with related HR experience.

Step 2: Build On-the-Job Experience

The typical career path for becoming an HR manager starts with an entry-level role such as an HR specialist, HR generalist, benefits specialist, or talent acquisition specialist.  The employee works up the hierarchy to higher-level positions. Organizations look for HR manager candidates who have years of experience working in human resources, management, and employee negotiations.

The following are examples of areas in human resources that may have opportunities for entry-level candidates with a bachelor’s degree and an appropriate level of work experience:

  • Recruiting: HR recruiting staff develops effective strategies to attract new talent or implements those already developed by the company. Other responsibilities may include interviewing and screening prospective candidates and maintaining current knowledge of benefits, training, and orientation programs for new employees.
  • Labor Relations: This specialty area encompasses preparing and administering employment contracts as well as mediating disputes between employees and the company. In addition, the labor relations department or specialist may communicate with employees regarding healthcare packages, pensions, union fees, and more.
  • Compensation, Benefits, and Job Analysis: This area focuses on administering an organization’s compensation and benefits programs, such as changing an employee’s salary when they change roles within the company or coordinating employee benefit selections during the open enrollment period. Depending on the compensation structure in an organization, those employed in this specialty area may also evaluate job descriptions and determine the appropriate salary for a job.

HR professionals interested in becoming human resources managers may have to spend between five and 15 years working in entry- and mid-level positions to expand their skills and experience to the level needed to move into management roles. However, some professionals bolster their qualifications by pursuing graduate-level degrees, potentially accelerating their career advancement.

Step 3: Obtain a Master’s Degree (Optional)

Earning a master’s degree is not a requirement for many human resources positions. However, HR professionals may find that a master’s degree, such as Maryville University’s online MBA in Human Resources Management, is beneficial in refining leadership techniques and advancing business skills, which could potentially lead to a higher salary.

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, the median salary for those with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) earn 83 percent more than those with only a bachelor’s degree. Often, professionals pursue an MBA to advance financial literacy and strategic planning skills. However, a master’s degree specifically geared to human resources is particularly valuable for becoming a human resources manager.

An MBA in HR focuses on the “human” side of business and can help an HR professional develop the expertise necessary to solve present-day workforce challenges. These can include creating programs to support a multigenerational workforce or implementing new technologies for flexible work programs.

Coursework includes topics such as:

  • Financial management and accounting
  • Software proficiency
  • Business ethics
  • Data and cyber defense
  • Employment law and compliance

Demonstrating proficiency in these areas by obtaining an MBA in HR can help aspiring human resources managers look more attractive to potential employers and, ultimately, help them reach their career goals faster.

The Skills an HR Manager Needs

While an HR manager needs to be proficient in finance, strategic planning, and HR software, they must also have the following fundamental skills to succeed in the role:

  • Excellent Interpersonal Communication: Listening, empathy, and honesty are vital skills that someone interested in becoming a human resources manager must have to succeed. An HR manager can impact the lives of employees by changing policies or programs. Therefore, they must listen to employee concerns and handle feedback with transparency and care.
  • Management Skills: These include problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities. HR managers need these skills to ensure that all the parts of the HR department, such as benefits and performance management, work together correctly. When policies and procedures change, an HR manager must call on good management skills to be a positive change agent and help employees understand the changes.
  • Diplomacy: When an employee has a disagreement with the organization about a policy or contract, the HR manager needs to be prepared to manage the conflict by fielding comments or acting as the moderator for difficult conversations. These skills are also used during union labor disputes as well as for negotiating salary changes and discussing insurance claims.

HR Manager Salaries and Job Outlook

An HR manager is a senior employee in an organization who reports to either the HR director or a chief executive. Due to the seniority of the position, the market for HR managers is highly competitive. The number of jobs is projected to grow 9 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). According to the BLS, HR managers earn a median annual salary of $110,120.

Start Your Journey to Becoming an HR Manager Today

For professionals just beginning their careers, planning a path that may eventually lead to becoming an HR manager can consist of many steps and seem a little overwhelming. However, it’s a good time to start the journey, as some organizations are implementing innovative strategies to engage mobile workforces and streamline HR processes. An online bachelor’s in organizational leadership from Maryville University can be a good first step on this career path.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, Human Resources Specialist

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Relations Specialist

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Compensation, Benefits, and Job Analysis Specialists

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Human Resources Managers

Graduate Management Admission Council, “Majority of Companies Plan to Increase Starting Salaries for MBAs in 2017”

Maryville University, Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership

Maryville University, “How to Navigate Organizational Change”

Maryville University, Master’s in Business Administration Online

Maryville University, Online MBA in Human Resources Management

PayScale, Human Resources (HR) Manager Salary