Everything You Need to Know About Working in Human Resources

working in human resources

Working in the department that protects employees and handles inter-personal aspects of an organization is not for the faint of heart. Human resources (HR) is traditionally tasked with the hiring, firing and training of personnel, along with many other company tasks related to the well-being of employees and the company as a whole.

“As a human resources professional, people depend on you and the decisions you make every day,” says Jennifer Lee Magas, vice president of Magas Media Consultants.

Because an HR professional does so much, it can be hard to envision what working in this field would actually be like. So if you’re considering working in human resources, let us help you paint that picture with more detail.

What is human resources, anyway?

“The HR professional’s job is to protect the company from the employee and protect the employee from the company,” says Glen Loveland, HR manager for CCTV News. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that HR specialists handle employee relations, payroll, benefits and training. They also recruit, screen, interview and place workers.

"HR combines psychology, economics, marketing and law."

“HR combines psychology, economics, marketing and law,” says Todd Horton, CEO of KangoGift. He points out that payroll tends to be the biggest expense of a company, so ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of its employees is a serious priority.

“CEOs spend a lot of time thinking about how to recruit, retain and develop employees that can make meaningful contributions. And it's the HR team that makes this happen,” he adds.

What are common HR duties?

Think of a hiring scenario. If you break down the necessary steps it takes for a company to hire a new employee, you’ll have a good idea of the tasks an HR specialist handles. HR specialists consult with employers to identify employment needs, conduct interviews, perform background checks, inform applicants about job details and compensation, make hiring decisions and help with new employee orientation, according to the BLS.

What skills do you need to work in HR?

We used real-time job analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to examine nearly 300,000 HR job postings over the past 12 months.* The data helped us identify the top 10 HR skills in highest demand:

  • Recruiting
  • Screening
  • Employee relations
  • Onboarding
  • Scheduling
  • HRIS
  • Social media
  • Performance management
  • Data entry
  • Sourcing strategies

“I believe we're at a juncture in the HR function. The skills needed for future HR professionals are different than in years past,” says Nancy Harris, CEO of Restart Consulting. She believes that HR professionals should see themselves as business people and gain experience in business and management roles.

“The future HR professional needs to have a solid business understanding, needs to be able to interpret data and people analytics and know how people impact business outcomes,” Harris says.

What education & experience do you need to work in HR?

According to our job posting analysis, 69 percent of employers prefer HR candidates to have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Nearly half of the job postings request 3-5 years of experience, meaning there is plenty of room for career advancement in the HR industry. And rest assured if you’re new to the field, because a hefty 42 percent of postings require 0-2 years of experience.

What is the job outlook & earning potential?

Jobs for HR specialists are expected to increase at a rate of 8 percent through 2022, according to the BLS. The career outlook is most favorable for those working in the employment services industry, which includes employment placement agencies, temporary help services and professional employer organizations. This opportunity exists because companies are increasingly outsourcing their HR functions.

“There has never been a better time to build a career in HR,” says Susan Rosengarten, talent management coordinator at Oliver Wyman. “More and more organizations are beginning to recognize that their most important assets are their people.”

"There has never been a better time to build a career in HR."

She says as HR pros become more data-driven and metrics-focused, they are better positioned to show the impact people processes have on a company’s bottom line. She believes that opportunities are especially wide for people who are creative and passionate about improving existing processes.

The earning potential for HR professionals can vary significantly and is often influenced by experience, geographic location and size of the company. The BLS reported the top earning HR pros received more than $98,000 in 2012, with the median annual salary resting at around $55,000.**

“HR is in the midst of a major transformation. It's increasingly less about the transactional side of things and more about strategy,” Loveland says. The BLS emphasizes that specialists who have knowledge of human resources programs, employment laws, collective bargaining and human resources information systems will have better prospects than the average hire.

Where do HR professionals start?

An internship or mentorship situation is highly advised by Loveland, along with more entry-level titles that can lead to more advanced positions in HR. “Roles as HR assistants, recruiting coordinators and HR representatives are great ways to get your foot in the door and actually gain some experience,” he says.

Understanding the roles and job-titles in HR is an excellent way to envision a career in this field. If you believe working in human resources is in your future, it’s important to understand where your career path might lead you.

To gain a better understanding of your future in the field, check out this article: Human Resources Job Titles for Every Stage in Your Career.


*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 299,584 human resources job postings, Aug. 1, 2014 – Jul. 31, 2015)

**Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She earned her MFA in poetry and teaches as an adjunct English instructor. She loves to write, teach and talk about the power of effective communication.

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