Human Resources Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study Human Resources?

The field of human resources has advanced beyond its early clerical functions of managing employee benefits and recruiting, interviewing, and hiring new personnel. In many businesses, human resources professionals work with the organization’s executives on strategic planning, using their knowledge to suggest and change policies which affect the workforce.

In many ways, senior management is recognizing the importance of the human resources department to the bottom line. Happy, well-compensated employees contribute to a competitive advantage and a strong corporate environment, and have been found to be more innovative, efficient and productive than in companies where employees feel undervalued by management. Since many enterprises are too large to permit close contact between management and employees, human resources specialists serve as a mediator between them.

Types of Human Resources Degrees

Attracting the most qualified employees and matching them to the jobs for which they are best suited (and then keeping them) is important for the success of any organization. Conversely, reducing redundancy or removing workers who are no longer working towards corporate goals is also an important function in human resources management.

A career in the human resources field demands a range of personal qualities and skills, from the ability to work with diverse employees to the active promotion of organizational goals. Ideally, if you are looking at this career, you have “soft skills” like integrity, fair-mindedness, and a persuasive, congenial personality, and you must be able to cope with conflicting points of view, function under pressure, and demonstrate discretion. The “hard skills” include computer proficiency, strong written and oral communication, math, and principles of business.

In an effort to improve morale and productivity and limit job turnover, human resources managers also help their firms effectively use employee skills, create training opportunities to enhance those skills, and work to boost the employees’ satisfaction with their jobs and working conditions.

Associate Degrees in Human Resources

An associate degree in human resources is a good first step toward a career in this thriving field. This program can help you to complete basic core educational courses along with specialized training in human resources and administration.

As a human resources major pursuing an associate degree, your focus should be on learning the basics of human resources management, studying workplace perks like benefits and compensation, and picking up communication skills that can be valuable on the job. In addition to core courses such as English, computers and business, you may also take courses such as:

  • Principles of management
  • Human resources management
  • Business ethics
  • Employment law
  • Social impact of technology

Bachelor’s Degrees in Human Resources

A bachelor’s degree in human resources is the most common qualification for entry-level jobs in this field, although you may be able to get a foot in the door with an associate degree if you also have work experience. During this program, students can develop further insights into human resources functions, as well as outside influences such as economic, social and legal issues. You may obtain a more strategic understanding of concepts such as workforce planning and development, training, compensations and benefits, global human resource management, employee health and safety, and labor law.

As part of your bachelor’s program, you’ll likely need to complete core educational requirements in key areas such as English, math, psychology, and communication theory. More major-centric courses you may see in your curriculum could include:

  • Workforce planning
  • Principles of management
  • Organizational behavior
  • Business ethics
  • Compensation and benefits

Master’s Degrees in Human Resources

A master’s degree in human resources is a level of learning that can be applied to a wide range of management jobs within the field of human resources. This degree program helps to introduce students to advanced communication and negotiation strategies commonly used in this field, along with critical competencies in areas such as employee and labor relations, legal and ethical issues, and recruitment and technology.

Curricula in these advanced degree programs usually emphasizes advanced theory and human resources application. While the exact courses you’ll take are likely to vary depending on your program, courses may include:

  • Law, ethics, and politics in human resources
  • Advocacy in the workplace
  • Business foundations
  • Strategic human resources management
  • Corporate communications

Ph.D.s in Human Resources

A Ph.D. in Human Resources Management is the highest level of education you can pursue as a human resources major. This degree program is a platform for elevating your knowledge to the next level, positioning you to search for new strategies and revelations that could affect the H.R. departments of the world’s most prestigious global companies.

This program encourages students to deep-dive into the key components of human resources management, including leadership, research, strategy and ethics. You might learn how to focus on human resources from a diverse global perspective, how to implement technologies into the workplace in new ways, or how to fuse theory with practice and apply human resources expertise to any workplace situation.

Courses that might be a part of your Ph.D. program are:

  • Applied multivariate modeling
  • Quantitative research techniques
  • Strategic management and practice
  • Economics in global environments
  • Academic writing

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Human Resources?

In any particular firm, the size and the job duties of the human resources staff are likely to be determined by variables such as organizational philosophies and goals, the skill of its workforce, government regulations, the pace of technological change, collective bargaining agreements, the standards of professional practice, and labor market conditions.

All that being said, however, human resources is a field that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is still predicting ample growth for between the years of 2016 and 2026. As such, it’s wise to learn about the potential job opportunities you can consider after graduating with a human resources degree. Here are some of the possibilities you can pursue:

Human Resources Manager

As a human resources manager, your task is to motivate, develop and direct staff, identifying the best candidates to hire or promote. Human resources managers may also consult with company executives on strategic planning, consult with other company managers on staffing and human resources issues, mediate disputes, or create training and development programs for workers.

Since the roles of this position can vary from company to company, some human resources managers also oversee payroll or work with unions on labor issues.

  • While some human resources manager positions require only a bachelor’s degree, many employers prefer a master’s degree.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), HR Certification Institute (HRCI), WorldatWork, and International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans offer certification for these workers, although certification is not always required.

Human Resources Specialists

Human resources specialists recruit, train and screen new employees for their organization in a non-management role. They consult with their employer to identify their labor needs, then interact with applicants via interviews and background checks. Once a new employee has been hired, a human resources specialist can be the one training them in their new duties or updating the employment records for their organization.

While some human resources specialists focus mostly on the recruitment of new employees, others focus on employee retention or the administration of human resources policies, procedures and programs.

  • A bachelor’s degree is required for work in this role.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the HR Certification Institute offer popular certifications for these workers.

Compensation and Benefits Managers

These workers plan and direct compensation plans for employees on behalf of their organization. They can be responsible for setting their organizations’ pay and benefits structure, modifying compensation plans to fit changing needs, overseeing the distribution of pay and benefits for their firm, and keeping all benefits packages in compliance with the law.

While these workers generally oversee their organizations’ entire benefits department, some compensation and benefits managers may focus solely on compensation or on benefits packages.

  • You typically need a bachelor’s degree for entry-level work in this career.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), HR Certification Institute (HRCI), WorldatWork, and International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans offer certification for these workers.

Training and Development Specialists

As part of a training and development team, you should find yourself assessing the combined skills of a specific division within an organization to determine training needs and objectives. You may design and create training manuals or presentations, review and choose among training manuals available, assist in the evaluation of training materials, and monitor systems to help train and develop new hires.

  • You typically need a bachelor’s degree and related work history to get hired for this position.
  • Both the Association for Talent Development and the International Society for Performance Improvement offer certification for this position, although it is not required.

Labor Relations Specialists

Labor relations specialists are charged with interpreting and administering labor contracts for employees. They advise employers on worker pay, contracts and grievances; meet with union representatives; draft proposals and regulations; and train management on labor relations.

Because these workers focus on the labor side of human resources, they may be specially trained to understand and work with labor unions. They may also serve as the go-between when employers negotiate with unions.

  • These workers typically have a bachelor’s degree, although job requirements tend to vary by employer.
  • Certification is not required for these workers, although some colleges offer labor relations certificates for human resources workers who want to specialize.

Human Resources Salaries and Career Outlook Data

Total Employment
Annual Mean Wage
Compensation and Benefits Managers16,900$134,210
Labor Relations Specialists75,580$71,870
Human Resources Managers154,800$129,570
Training and Development Specialists312,450$65,640
Human Resources Specialists633,040$67,760

Human Resources Associations and Organizations

As a human resources major, associations and organizations that offer information, networking and advanced certification in the field should be on your radar. Here are some of the big ones you should know about:

  • The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) — The Society for Human Resources Management has two levels of certification: Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). Both require experience and passing a comprehensive exam. The Society also offers resources, tools and events for those in this field.
  • HR Certification Institute (HRCI) — This organization focuses on specialized certification that can be earned by individuals who want to work in specialized areas of human resources.
  • WorldatWork — This organization offers a wide range of resources for members, including white papers, research, surveys and news. They also award several types of certification for various jobs in human resources.
  • International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans — The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans offers continuing education, resources and networking opportunities for human resources professionals. The foundation also confers the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation to persons who complete a series of college-level courses and pass exams covering employee benefit plans.
  • Association for Talent Development — This association offers a wide range of resources that can help anyone focus on professional or career development. They also offer the opportunity to earn certifications created specifically for workers in development and training fields.

Article Sources

  1. Associate Degree in Human Resources Program, Ashworth College,
  2. Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resource Management, Western Governor’s University,
  3. Compensation and Benefits Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  4. Doctor of Philosophy in Business Management, Human Resources Specialization, Capella University,
  5. Human Resources Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016026 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  6. Human Resources Specialists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  7. Labor Relations Specialists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  8. Online Master’s Degree in Human Resources Management, Southern New Hampshire University,
  9. Training and Development Specialists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
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