Marketing vs. Human Resources: Choosing Your Business Career Path
By Brianna Flavin on 12/30/2019
When you search for business career options that seem to match your interests, you keep running into marketing and human resources. These fields both offer something compelling—lots of opportunity, room for creative and strategic thought, and an emphasis on understanding people.
“Both human resources and marketing are areas where psychology and economics come together,” says Ellen Sluder, vice president of marketing at RingBoost. “If you are interested in where humans meet business, either one of these career tracks can work. They both look to create efficiency and productivity. They both influence culture and brand.”
If you’re weighing a career in marketing versus human resources, read on! We gathered research and advice from professionals in both careers into one place for an easy comparison.
Marketing vs. Human Resources: Job descriptions
Marketers are typically focused on getting the word out about their company. They use digital media, print media, branding and more to encourage audiences to learn about, trust and (hopefully) buy from their company.
“I would say that my role is to help promote my brand's mission by getting it into the hands and minds of as many people as possible,” says Jonathan Chan, head of marketing at Insane Growth. He explains that endeavor can mean a wide variety of tasks, whether that's simply putting out ads on social media or creating an event and inviting people all around the world to attend. “At the very heart of it, my job is to make others believe as I believe in the company I work for.”
For a little more insight into marketing, check out “What Do Marketers Do? A Closer Look at the Job Description.”
Human resources, on the other hand, has more of an inward focus. HR professionals spend the majority of their time working with people who are either already part of their company or on their way to joining.
Laura Handrick, careers and workplace analyst at Fit Small Business, explains that many entry-level HR roles tend to focus on administrative work. In recruiting, for example, HR professionals work with managers to determine job requirements, help find candidates by posting jobs, and then manage a legally compliant interviewing process.
“Others start out as HR generalists,” Handrick adds. “They focus mostly on supporting HR's administrative functions like new hire paperwork, annual reviews and employee discipline.” While these two common entry-points for HR might seem pretty straightforward, Handrick says there are many opportunities to specialize once you gain more experience in the field.
Internal communications and employer branding, benefits administration, compensation, compliance and more all offer ways to gravitate towards what you like most. Handrick says benefits administration can be attractive to those who have an interest in healthcare while compensation may appeal to people those who like math and statistics.
If you’d like to hear more about HR, check out “Everything You Need to Know About Working in Human Resources.”
Marketing vs. Human Resources: Important skills
While the primary focus of HR and marketing professionals’ work covers very different ground, there’s still a lot of overlap in the skills needed for success. Both paths require you to be an effective strategic thinker, relate to others and make intelligent business decisions. But what else do professionals in these fields need?
To help answer that, we analyzed thousands of job postings for both marketing and HR roles to identify some of the top skills employers are seeking.
Common marketing skills:1
- Social media
- Project management
- Digital marketing
- Marketing strategy
- Market research
- Customer service
Common human resources skills:2
- Employee relations
- Performance management
- Human resources information systems (HRIS)
- Talent acquisition
- Staff management
- Legal compliance
Marketing vs. human resources: How to choose?
"Take a good hard look and think about what excites you more: the idea of helping externally or internally?” Chan asks. Chan explains that marketers keep the business running by generating new leads and constantly creating customers. Human resources keeps the business running by taking care of the people within the organization.
“People often think that marketing is a very people-facing job and suited for extroverts, but in reality, I'd say that in HR it's far more important to be a people-person,” Chan says.
Another factor in your decision might be the kind of structure you like in life. Marketing consultant Jennifer Flatow says marketing involves a lot of experimentation and a little more risk. “Marketing is constantly changing in terms of new online platforms and marketing trends. This requires you to be vigilant and constantly learning.”
On the other side of things, HR tends to have more routine. “As an HR director, much of my job was mapped out,” Flatow explains. “No matter what day or month it was, I was executing on the same overall objectives including compliance, talent acquisition, safety and employee programs.”
HR can also be particularly rewarding for people who want to build relationships. “As an HR director, I was often privy to employees' personal issues around health, personal finance and life goals,” Flatow says. “Employees who I otherwise would not interact with sat in my office and shared their personal problems, often seeking advice and empathy. It can be very rewarding for the right person.”
Marketing or human resources for your career
As you can see, both of these industries have a lot to offer. Choosing your first step doesn’t have to be intimidating. “It can be a scary time trying to figure out what field to pursue but—and I'm a living testament to this—there is actually a lot more time than you might think to change careers,” Chan says. “Don't stress too much over the idea of picking one over the other.”
You might even find plenty of roles that bridge a little bit of both areas. For example, you could find yourself working as a marketer for HR software, or maybe you’ll find an HR job in a marketing agency. Staffing agencies can also have opportunities that provide an interesting mix of these skills—the role of a recruiter is a prime example of where these fields start to mix.
No matter what route you choose, both represent a vital component to businesses everywhere. If you’ve been thinking about a career in business, both marketing and human resources are excellent choices.
If you think marketing sounds like your best option, visit our Marketing program page to learn more about how an education can help you break into the field. Human resources a better fit for you? Visit the Human Resources and Organizational Leadership program page to get started.
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 307,258 marketing job postings Nov. 1, 2018 – October 31, 2019).
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 20,030 human resources job postings Nov. 1, 2018 – October 31, 2019).