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Human resource managers fit workers with jobs. However, they're not just matchmakers. Human resources covers the whole of the employee work cycle: hiring, training, evaluating, and--in worst case scenarios--firing employees. HR people need to handle conflict and pressure, and communicate effectively in speech, writing, and technological media. As legislation affecting the workplace becomes more complicated, human resource management positions that once went to insiders now demand at least a bachelor's of business administration (BBA) in human resource management. Corporate powerhouses increasingly look for master's degree holders with business experience.

What does a human resource management job entail?

A good human resources manager is a natural diplomat. Even in this technological era, HR remains a "people" job. Those who have a natural psychological bent and a knack for sizing workers up accurately will find themselves at the center of their corporation's culture as well as its profit sector. Finding, attracting, and keeping talented workers in today's competitive mobile and global business environment falls to the human resources manager. In fact, HR managers see "talent" development and retention as their #1 challenge.

The many routes to human resource management

Formerly known as personnel administrators, HR people make the interdependent corporate structure run effectively, resolving workplace conflicts and creating mutually beneficial relations between co-workers and within the corporate hierarchy. This takes training, and while some corporations create human resource people out of their own managers and staff, the complexity of the job causes most to turn to managers who hold a BBA or MBA in human resource management or a Master of Human Resource Management degree. Those who do promote from within may foot the bill for an employee with a bachelor's of business degree to get an online master's degree in human resources management while staying on the job.

Human resources education

For entry-level positions in human resources, companies prefer college graduates with a BBA degree in human resource management or labor relations. If a graduate's training includes courses in psychology, labor law, economics or finance, and technology, so much the better. As the field of human resources management grows more global and more sophisticated, an MBA in human resource management (for business-centered positions) or a Master of Human Resource Management degree (for industrial relations positions) may well become the standard for career advancement to top management positions. Labor relations specialists with a master's degree may see salaries that near six figures.

HR--a career with clout

In the twenty-first century, human resource managers are more valuable than ever. While the '80s and '90s saw HR executives in niches of their own, today they'll most likely work hand in hand with other company executives. As with most contemporary jobs, the lines separating human or "soft" business from numbers and spreadsheets or the "hard" bottom line have faded. Today's human resources manager may be working closely with accountants and finance managers. Since responsibility for workplace morale falls to the HR person, he or she will be accountable for benefits management as well as employee turnover, two major corporate expenses.

The future of Human Resources

Since HR managers oversee a corporation's "human capital," their effectiveness contributes to the corporate bottom line. Some business gurus actually predict that human resource jobs and finance jobs will merge in the not-too-distant future. Others see the human resource manager at the table with other executives responsible for the corporation's strategic planning. Clearly, a bachelor's or master's degree in human resources is the first step toward a business career with real clout.

"2005 Executive Summaries: February." Harvard Business Review (Dec 2005 Supplement).
"Business Partners," by Steve Bates. HR Magazine 48.9 (Sep 2003).
"Critical Issues in HR Drive 2006 Priorities: #1 Is Talent." HR Focus 83.1 (Jan 2006).
"Human Resources, Training, and Labor Relations Managers and Specialists." (bls.gov)

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