What Can You Do with a Human Resources Degree? Career Paths and Job Outlook

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Human resources is often cited as one of the most popular fields for prospective students and early-career professionals alike.

For instance, U.S. News & World Report lists the role of HR specialist as one of the top 20 Best Business Jobs for 2020. And, according to a directory of degree programs compiled by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), more than 300 colleges and universities — including UAB — offer bachelor’s degrees in HR that align with the industry organization’s curriculum standards.

Educational institutions offer HR courses in traditional, blended, and online formats — as with the online Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management offered at UAB’s Collat School of Business. This means students today and in the future have more options than ever before when it comes to earning an HR degree and building the knowledge and skills needed to get started with a career in this important facet of the business world.

But if you’re a prospective student, it’s natural to wonder, what can you do with a human resources degree? Is studying HR the right choice based on your career goals? Is there a positive job outlook in the human resources field, and are there many interesting entry-level positions available to recent graduates? To help you answer some of these questions, let’s explore the various career paths possible with an HR degree.

A human resources professional takes notes during a phone interview.

What Education Do You Need for a Human Resources Career?

A bachelor’s degree is typically the educational requirement for jobs in human resources, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some employers may also require a master’s degree when looking to fill more advanced positions. Others might take on new hires who only have an associate degree paired with some professional experience. It all depends on the employer and specific role.

However, undergraduate HR degrees such as a Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Arts (BA), or Bachelor of Business Administration (BBS) will open more doors and help you establish the necessary skills for the professional world.

Several areas of study can translate well to HR. Related disciplines include information technology, business administration or management, organizational psychology, library and information science, and education. However, if you’re interested in becoming an HR professional, a degree in human resources could be the best match for you.

Employers are often more inclined to hire candidates with HR degrees than those without — and this inclination becomes even stronger for more advanced opportunities. According to SHRM:

  • For entry-level roles, 32% of employers are more likely to hire an HR degree holder, while 50% are equally likely to hire someone with an HR degree and someone with a degree in a different discipline.
  • For mid-level roles, 51% of employers are more likely and 46% are equally likely to hire a candidate with an HR degree.
  • For senior-level roles, 73% of employers are more likely and just 23% are equally likely to hire an HR degree holder versus another candidate.

A bachelor’s degree in HR will prepare you with a combination of the theoretical concepts and practical skills you’ll need for the workplace. You’ll not only be able to hit the ground running in an entry-level job setting, but you will also be more likely to follow a steady career path in human resources. Throughout your studies, you will learn key business competencies such as professional communication and financial management. You will also learn what it takes to thrive in a human resources department and meet the needs of organizations and employers across industries. HR-specific coursework will cover key responsibilities such as payroll and benefits administration, employment law, and staffing.

As SHRM’s 2019 Human Resources Curriculum Guidebook explains, “The role of HR professionals in organizations has transitioned from transactional, technical, and administrative, to strategic for the development and accomplishment of organizational goals and objectives.” This means future human resources professionals will need to bring more to the table than data entry skills; they will require an advanced, hybridized skill set with competencies across business, leadership, and technology.

How Much Work Experience Do You Need for Entry-Level HR Jobs?

The question of “What can you do with a human resources degree?” is hard to answer without also considering the type and amount of work experience you will need to succeed. An SHRM survey of more than 250 HR professionals who oversee the hiring of entry-level staff found that most required applicants to be prepared with some on-the-job experience gained during an internship.

Of the employers surveyed, 14% said they would hire recent graduates without any related work experience. However, 46% required applicants to have worked in HR for at least one year. Another 27% sought out applicants with two years of prior experience. These were the top experiences HR employers preferred when evaluating entry-level applicants:

  1. Part-time or full-time HR-related professional work
  2. Internships completed during an undergraduate-level HR program
  3. Supervised work-related projects or research projects in HR
  4. Internships completed during a graduate-level HR program
  5. Supervised independent study projects
  6. Work-study experiences related to HR
  7. Volunteer experiences in HR

Of course, many recent graduates and early-career applicants will not have had previous experience working in human resources full time. But enrolling in an undergraduate degree program and taking advantage of the university’s resources is a great way to find a suitable internship and start building your HR resume.

Top Human Resources Jobs for HR Degree Graduates

In the field of HR, what can you do with a human resources degree? Here are some of the top jobs for entry-level candidates as well as more experienced professionals.

Human Resources Assistant

When you’re beginning a career in HR, you might start at the assistant level. In this role, you’ll support HR specialists and managers in a variety of tasks related to recruiting, onboarding, training, payroll processing, recordkeeping, and administration. The average salary for this role as of November 2020 was $38,937, according to Glassdoor.

Human Resources Specialist

Advancing to the HR specialist position will allow you to take on a more prominent role in the organization. You will conduct applicant interviews and perform background checks, onboard new employees, maintain employee data, and find ways to support employee relations. At this level, you might specialize in one area of HR, such as recruiting or benefits administration, or you may operate as an HR generalist. The median annual compensation for this role was $61,920 in May 2019, according to BLS data.

Human Resources Manager

In the role of HR manager, you will lead a human resources team or department and oversee a range of operational activities. You will take on more complex responsibilities, such as advising organizational leadership, coordinating benefits packages, and addressing disciplinary issues and other conflicts. The BLS placed the median annual salary for HR managers at $116,720 in May 2019.

Executive Recruiter or Staffing Specialist

If you enjoy being part of the hiring process, you can build your career around this important responsibility as a recruiter or staffing expert. You will be involved in screening job seekers and helping organizations find and attract top talent. Employment website Indeed reports that recruiters saw average earnings of $60,307 as of November 2020, but professionals in certain industries such as health care can take in six-figure salaries.

Training and Development Specialist

If you’re interested in bringing new hires up to speed and helping experienced employees gain new skills, you might consider working as a training specialist. In this role, you will develop and administer training programs for your own organization or a client’s workforce. As the BLS reports, training and development specialists saw median pay of $61,210 per year in May 2019.

Training and Development Manager

As with the HR career track, you can also reach a management position in training and development. In this more advanced role, you will have the opportunity to align professional development programs with key business goals, oversee training budgets, and teach other instructors and managers how to implement the programs and lessons you and your team create. In May 2019, training and development managers made $113,350 per year, according to the BLS.

Compensation, Benefits, and Job Analysis Specialist

Other important specializations in human resources include compensation planning, benefits planning, and position classification. Depending on which of these areas you specialize in, you may help evaluate, plan, and administer the organization’s pay structure or benefits program — or you’ll help create new job descriptions that align with the current labor market. According to BLS data, the median annual pay for compensation, benefits, and job analysis specialists was $64,560 in May 2019.

Compensation and Benefits Manager

As a manager in this field, you will supervise staff and liaise with senior management and financial experts at your organization, as well as third parties such as insurance companies and benefits providers. Plus, you will help ensure that pay and benefits plans comply with employment law and applicable regulations. The BLS reports that compensation and benefits managers earned an average of $122,270 in May 2019.

Human Resources Consulting

If you’re eager to break out of the HR department and take on a new challenge, you might consider joining a consulting firm. In this role, you will help clients better understand how their financial and human resources are used and offer strategic recommendations that solve key business challenges, support the workforce, and improve the bottom line. The median salary for HR consultants was $60,757 in November 2020, as Glassdoor notes.

What Is the Job Outlook for HR Professionals?

According to the BLS, qualified professionals can expect to see an increase in the available roles for HR managers and HR specialists. These positions are experiencing growth rates of 6% and 7% respectively from 2019 to 2029, which is higher than the 4% expected increase in employment across all occupations.

The projected expansion will yield 46,900 new human resources specialist roles and 10,400 new management positions, for a combined total of about 889,100 HR jobs by 2029. This suggests that there will be plenty of employment opportunities for recent graduates, with room to advance into upper-level positions.

But there are even more jobs beyond the field of HR for graduates who wish to follow a different trajectory.

Can You Work Outside HR with a Human Resources Degree?

If you earn an undergraduate HR degree and later decide you don’t want to work in human resources, you will not be stuck in your career path. Wondering what can you do with a human resources degree outside of HR? There are plenty of options and opportunities in the workplace, and employers will take notice as you pursue your new interests while drawing upon transferable skills and related experiences from your HR background.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in human resources, here are some alternative career options and fields to consider:

Administrative Services

Rather than facilitating employee-specific services, in an administrative management role you can oversee other aspects of an organization’s operations and help things run efficiently. Responsibilities can include recordkeeping, facilities management, and supervision of administrative staff. According to the BLS, administrative services managers earned a median salary of $96,940 in May 2019.

Career Coaching

Becoming a career coach can allow you to help talented professionals find career opportunities they are well-suited for. You can administer aptitude tests, review resumes and other application materials, and help job seekers navigate the labor market and employment process. This can be an especially rewarding field for someone who likes helping others. As of November 2020, career coaches made $40,089 per year on average, according to Glassdoor.

Higher Education

After completing an education in the field of human resources, some professionals go on to teaching roles. While additional academic experience may be required, you can pivot from HR professional to HR professor with the right preparation. In May 2019, postsecondary educators specializing in business earned a median salary of $87,200, according to the BLS.

Medical and Health Services

Although you will need to gain additional skills and experience to enter the medical field, your background in human resources might spark an interest in this essential industry. As a medical and health services manager, you will apply your administrative skills and organizational leadership abilities with knowledge of health care laws and regulations to help health care centers carry out their operations in an efficient and compliant manner. Per the BLS, the median annual wage for this role was $100,980 in May 2019.

Occupational Health and Safety

Having been exposed to the important role of occupational health and safety in the workplace, you might decide to transition from HR into this specialized field. You’ll spend time assessing labor relations and work environments to identify potential hazards and other risks, and finding areas for improvement. Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians made $70,480 per year on average, according to the BLS.

Risk and Compliance Management

As an expert in risk and compliance, you will play a key role in corporate governance at your organization. Focusing on the ethical and regulatory aspects of running a business, you’ll work to ensure that company processes and policies adhere to state and federal regulations and industry standards. As of November 2020, Salary.com reports that the median salary for a corporate compliance director is $108,383.

Social and Community Services

If you like working with people, but you wish to transition from supporting the workplace to helping the community, a role in social service might be a good fit. You can help plan and carry out community programs and services, secure funding, and analyze the efficacy of those efforts. Social and community service managers earned $67,150 on average in May 2019, according to the BLS.

Start with UAB’s Online Bachelor’s Degree Program in Human Resources

If you’re a prospective student eager to pursue a career in HR or a related field, check out the online Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management offered through UAB’s Collat School of Business.

You can visit the program page to learn about the course curriculum and the skill sets you will develop — and how these will directly translate to the working world. Reach out to our enrollment advisors with any questions.

At the Collat School of Business, we’re eager to find out — what can you do with a human resource degree from UAB?

Recommended Readings:

Online Bachelor of Science Degree in Human Resource Management

How to Become a Human Resource Manager

How to Become a Human Resources Specialist

How To Become an HR Training and Development Manager

Do You Want To Become a Compensation and Benefits Manager?

Sources:

U.S. News & World Report, Best Business Jobs

SHRM, HR Program Directory

SHRM, Human Resource Curriculum Guidebook

BLS, Human Resources Managers

BLS, Human Resources Specialists

BLS, Administrative Services Managers

BLS, Postsecondary Teachers

BLS, Medical and Health Services Managers

BLS, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians

BLS, Training and Development Specialists

BLS, Training and Development Managers

BLS, Compensation, Benefits, and Job Analysis Specialists

BLS, Compensation and Benefits Manager

BLS, Social and Community Services Managers

Glassdoor, Human Resources Consultant Salaries

Glassdoor, Career Coach Salaries

Glassdoor, Human Resources Assistant Salaries

Indeed, Entry Level Recruiter Salary

Salary.com, Corporate Compliance Director