Want a Human Resources Degree? Here Are 10 Things You Should Know...

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If you like working with people, a human resources degree could be for you.

Human resources jobs span the gamut of organizations and business sectors and are a great choice if you’re interested in a career with a positive growth outlook and higher than average income prospects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for human resources specialists is $60,880 with a projected growth rate of 7% through 2026.

Human Resources is a demanding field, yet very rewarding. HR professionals have an in-depth understanding of labor law, strong communication skills, the ability to mediate conflict and patience that doesn't run dry.

If that sounds like the career you are looking for, here are 10 things you should know.

10 Things Every Human Resources Major Should Know

Your Job is the Business of People

Hr is all about people. If that’s not something you prefer, this is probably where you get off. It’s important that you feel comfortable with a high level of personal interaction. Human Resources often requires direct engagement with personnel at your organization. Expect employees to bring you personal problems. Expect to mediate conflicts. Expect people to enter your office and exhibit the full spectrum of human emotions. You’ll need empathy, patience, and a demeanor that makes others feel comfortable to speak their minds.

You'll Need to Know the Law

Compassion may come naturally to you, but you’ll need to study to master the law. Human resources personnel must be fully versed in the legal parameters surrounding labor and employment as well as legal subjects like non-discrimination policies, handling of sexual harassment claims, union law, whistleblower laws, and an array of other topics too extensive to list here. In other words, you’ll need to do your homework. Being an effective HR professional means fully understanding the regulatory environment in which you’ll be working as well as understanding the procedures for maintenance and enforcement within said environment.

You'll Live Life in the Neutral Zone

As the HR professional at your organization, you will be a primary resource for individuals looking to navigate conflict. From personal disputes between co-workers to employee grievances with management, to serious disciplinary matters, you will be tasked with the job of mediation. Regardless of the circumstances and the individuals involved, you will be required to maintain objectivity and neutrality. It is your job to be a moderator, not a participant.

Your Work is Valuable, So Prove It

Human Resources plays an absolutely essential role in the functionality of an organization. But it doesn’t make money…not directly, anyway. Of course, that’s not your fault. As an HR professional, it isn’t exactly your job to create revenue. But you must always be aware that HR is a budget item that does not directly translate to profitability. In other words, you have to prove the value of HR by getting results. You may play a part in employee recruitment, hiring, and retention. You may be charged with various oversight responsibilities that relate directly to employee productivity, waste prevention, safety, insulation from legal liability, and a host of other factors that can indeed impact the bottom line. Whatever your domain, stay on top of your responsibilities, run a tight ship, and make your value self-evident.

Keep an Open-Door Policy

You'll have plenty of personal interaction, but it’s not exactly networking. In most cases, you are a sounding board, not a connection. This means more than being prepared when personnel approach. It means ensuring that members of the organization see you as somebody they can turn to when the need arises. If you’re considering a job in HR, practice conveying a welcoming and approachable demeanor. People should feel they can open up to you without fear of reprisal or judgement.

Consider Your Area of Focus

Human resources jobs come in all shapes and sizes. You’ll have the chance to sharpen your focus as you advance in your degree program. As you do, consider specific areas of HR where you feel you might thrive. Would you be best managing employee relations, navigating issues relating to compensation and benefits, or even working in a more technical area like Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS)? As you pursue your degree in HR, you’ll have a chance to take increasingly focused courses. These should help you hone your area of specialty.

Keep an Awareness of Tangental Fields

Just as there are numerous areas of emphasis among HR professionals, there are numerous degree paths that could lead you to a profession in HR, from those that explicitly reference human resources and those that relate to industrial and organizational psychology to those more generally focused on business administration and organizational management. For your purposes, the name of the degree may simply be a function of the school that you choose. In other cases, you may have a clear sense of where you’d like to focus your studies within the field. If so, look for the umbrella degree that most closely reflects your professional goals and try to seek out HR-focused courses within. Below are a few degree paths that might help you get there. Reach out to individual schools on your list to learn more:

Seek Guidance

As a human resources professional, you are becoming a guidance counselor of sorts. It’s not a bad idea to start by getting your own guidance, preferably from somebody who’s been there. Consider making contact through any number of professional support organizations and associations even as you advance your educational goals. Find a reputable group focused on issues, education, and professional advancement related to the HR profession for access to a strong network of educators, experienced professionals, literature, training, and other resources.

Be Ready for Anything

Human Resources is as unpredictable as humanity itself. There’s no way to know what challenges a day may hold for you. Will you be mediating a heated argument between employees over the Game of Thrones finale? Will an employee offer you an unnecessarily detailed medical explanation for a spate of recent absences? Will a computer glitch disrupt this week’s payroll distribution and turn your entire life upside down? There’s really no way to know, which is definitely a distinguishing feature of most human resources jobs. Expect the unexpected, and be ready to fix it. As a human resource professional, people will always look to you.

Build Your Credentials

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that you can earn a job as a human resources specialist with a bachelor’s degree, and that this same degree level can set you on a path toward a position in management. However, HR is a competitive field where additional credentials can have a direct impact on your earning potential and your appeal to prospective employers. Master’s degrees and professional human resources certifications are considered valuable, both from an educational standpoint, and in terms of elevating your candidacy, earning potential, and opportunities for advancement.

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