The modern workplace seems to be in constant flux with the influence of remote work and the advent of artificial intelligence, but the core importance of people in the economy remains unchanged. It takes skilled, dedicated professionals to oversee these vital human resources, starting from the time they are candidates seeking employment and spanning the course of their entire careers.
Acting as a bridge between employers and current and prospective employees, human resource (HR) departments are responsible for managing the talent and culture of a business. As leaders within HR departments, human resource managers require a diverse range of people skills and business acumen to keep their companies going.
Let’s discuss the position in detail and explore how to become a human resource manager.
What Is Human Resources?
Human resources, commonly referred to as HR, is the critical role of a business in managing its most important asset: the employees. A business needs to attract and retain top talent, so it relies on the HR department to support employees in a variety of ways. From hiring and training to compensation, benefits, and settling disputes, HR plays a pivotal role throughout most of a company’s activities.
The HR discipline is all about fostering a productive and positive work environment that aligns with the company’s mission and values while meeting the needs of its people. By effectively managing the human capital of an organization, HR professionals contribute massively to business success.
What Does a Human Resource Manager Do?
Human resource managers are responsible for some or all of a business’s HR functions, therefore serving a critical role in organizations of any size. HR managers oversee the administrative workings of a company’s human resources department, and they are the professionals most skilled in ensuring the well-being of other employees.
Depending on the size of a company’s HR department, an HR manager may be the sole employee responsible for these tasks, or they may oversee a team of HR specialists who focus on more specific duties. A large organization may even have one or more HR managers who report to an HR director in charge of the entire department.
Here are some of the many duties handled by HR professionals, for which HR managers may be directly responsible or may administer through HR staff.
Recruiting and Onboarding
HR managers are often the primary person in charge of hiring new employees, and they can be involved at every step of the process, beginning with writing a job listing. These duties of an HR manager may include:
- Finding and attracting prospective employees;
- Selecting candidates;
- Onboarding new employees;
- Issuing tax documentation;
- Distributing the employee handbook;
- Leading training programs and sessions.
In addition to supporting personnel daily, HR managers must also plan for the bigger picture of workforce development with tasks such as:
- Development and implementation of long-term goals;
- Recruitment strategy;
- Company growth;
- Employee retention;
- Planning, directing, and coordinating activities;
Another major role of an organization’s HR department is to develop and codify rules and policies meant to protect the well-being of all employees, including:
- Harassment prevention;
- Diversity in the workplace;
- Employee rights.
Employment Laws and Regulations
Every organization is subject to certain laws from the federal, state, and local governments. It is often the role of the HR department and HR managers to ensure compliance in areas like:
- Federal and state requirements for employee compensation and benefits;
- Legal and equitable practices in workforce management;
- Conducting investigations as necessary.
Compensation and Benefits
On top of ensuring legal compliance for compensation and benefits, HR managers design benefit packages with the goal of fairly balancing the desires of all employees and the employer. This requires projects such as:
- Ensuring compensation plans comply with regulations;
- Designing bonus programs;
- Creating competitive benefits packages;
- Continually evaluating compensation and benefits.
There can be quite a few miscellaneous responsibilities that HR managers have a hand in or oversee fully, depending on the structure of the organization. Some of these include:
- Handling firings and layoffs;
- Addressing complaints and settling disputes;
- Conducting employee performance reviews;
- Labor relations with unions.
All of these various activities, from hiring new employees right down to the details of payroll and legal compliance, are part of an HR manager’s overall goal of protecting the interests and well-being of employees and employers alike.
HR Manager Salary
The median annual salary for HR managers is $126,230, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of May 2021. This rate is nearly three times the median annual pay across all occupations, making it a highly rewarding career choice for professionals with a bachelor’s degree and an interest in HR.
How much HR managers make depends on geographic location, economic industry, and an individual’s level of experience. As reported by Glassdoor, entry-level HR managers may see earnings in the $50,000 to $80,000 range. The BLS noted that HR managers in the technical, scientific, and professional service sectors have the highest earning potential, and that six-figure salaries are often reserved for mid- to late-career professionals.
Occupational Outlook for HR Managers
According to the BLS, the job market for human resource managers is growing at a rate of 7%, which they classify as “as fast as average,” but this equates to an estimated 16,300 new HR manager positions posted each year, and a total of about 12,600 new jobs generated over the decade leading up to 2031.
How to Become an HR Manager
Becoming an HR manager can be an exciting professional avenue for those with diverse interests and skill sets exemplified in the job description. If you think this path could be for you, take the next step by learning about the education, work experience, and certifications that may help prospective HR managers secure a role in this field.
The first step toward a career in human resources is typically a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related field, such as business administration, finance, or information technology. Prospective students who are specifically interested in becoming an HR manager should consider an online BS in Human Resource Management. The program at the Collat School of Business gives students the skills and knowledge needed to begin a career, and is aligned with the standards of major HR certification organizations.
While a master’s degree in business or human resources is typically the highest level of education an employer may seek for the HR manager role, a bachelor’s degree in a related field is often all that is required from an educational standpoint. The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) reported that 74% of HR managers hold a bachelor’s degree, whereas only 9% have a master’s degree. However, to increase their chances of success, students also need to be thinking about gaining relevant work experience and obtaining certifications.
To become eligible for a management-level position, an emerging human resource professional will need to gain a sufficient amount of work experience. Working in an entry-level position in a human resources department is a great place to start. As an HR specialist, coordinator, or assistant, they will serve an important support role and report directly to the company’s HR manager.
Early career experience can be seen as a valuable opportunity for HR professionals to become familiar with the inner workings of an HR department, gain specialized knowledge about the industry they are a part of, and begin to demonstrate leadership abilities and decision-making skills. With about five or more years of experience, an HR specialist may have access to promotion opportunities within their own organization or might advance to a managerial position at another company.
A professional certification, such as the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) designation, can also help candidates stand out on the job market. Additionally, participation in professional membership organizations like the Society for Human Resources Management can help HR professionals expand their network, stay up to date on the latest industry news and best practices, and deepen their knowledge and skills.
While not necessarily required, these types of credentials demonstrate a dedication to the human resources field and a commitment to continuing education and industry involvement. They can also directly impact an HR professional’s career growth. PayScale has reported that 70% of PHR-certified HR assistants were promoted within five years, compared to just 33% of their uncertified peers. Moreover, 29% of HR managers hold a PHR certification or its advanced counterpart, the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). This enables them to earn at least $10,000 more per year than their uncertified counterparts.
Skills HR Managers Should Have
In addition to the academic and professional knowledge base that HR positions require, professionals will benefit from proficiency with technology. A 2023 survey of human resource managers by O*NET identifies certain software programs as being “hot technologies” that are frequently listed as requirements in job descriptions. These include:
- Accounting programs;
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools;
- Human resources systems;
- Document management programs;
- Time accounting software.
Beyond technical abilities, professionals need strong communication and interpersonal skills to thrive in HR management. Human resource managers spend much of their workday communicating over the phone, through email, and via in-person meetings. Therefore, they must be good listeners and possess excellent written and verbal communication skills.
A knack for problem-solving and critical thinking also comes in handy. Decision-making skills are essential when it comes to HR responsibilities: choosing the right candidate for a job, selecting a suitable health insurance plan for the company’s benefits package — and so on.
A Day in the Life of an HR Manager
To better understand what an HR manager does on a daily basis, Collat School of Business professor Scott Boyar recently sat with a panel of HR professionals in a live webinar. Each panelist had the chance to describe his or her typical day, or to share a story that summarizes what the job is like.
Though the professionals came from different industries and worked with teams of various sizes, they all discussed the unpredictable nature of challenges that can come up for HR, and they stressed the importance of adapting to change by thinking on your feet and seeking new solutions when necessary.
For example, Forrest Cook, senior HR consultant with SS Nesbitt, had this to say:
“Well, the one thing I would impart is the fact if you’re going to HR and you want predictability, reliability, and consistency, you might as well hang it up because in the HR world, that is not the day. We were discussing just a few minutes ago, a couple of us [HR managers], how our days changed totally from the moment we walked into the office this morning until now.”
In addition, Gene Porterfiel, a former executive for BBVA Compass, followed up with:
“I think the beauty of HR is that when you’re dealing with people, no two situations are ever alike. I can tell you, even recently, I find myself saying as I go through something that this is a new one for me. I haven’t dealt with exactly the same situation… and I just would reiterate this, learn the business of your company. Don’t just learn human resources. Be curious. Always be curious.”
These interviews reveal that no two days may be exactly alike for an HR manager. The conversations also emphasize a unique blend of people skills, problem-solving abilities, and business sense that human resource roles require.
Starting Your Career in Human Resources
If you want to further develop these proficiencies and gain the necessary qualifications for a career in HR, you might consider enrolling in an online human resources degree program. Online students have the opportunity to study at their own pace while boosting their professional network through the Collat School of Business. Students can leverage internship experiences, mentorship programs, projects with real-world relevance, and UAB’s Career & Professional Development Services as they begin a career in human resources.