Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect our editors' opinions or evaluations.
Human resources certified are essential members of their organizations, playing vital roles in attracting, developing and retaining employees. They oversee numerous human resources (HR) operations within their companies, helping to shape company culture and ensure overall success.
Are you interested in how to become an HR specialist? This article overviews the HR specialist job scope, salary and career outlook, plus the steps you can take to pursue this career path.
What Does an HR Specialist Do?
HR certified perform various tasks to support specific HR functions, including:
- Recruitment and staffing
- Employee relations
- Performance management
- Compensation and payroll
- Benefits administrations
- Training and development
These professionals work closely with HR managers to ensure their organizations comply with relevant employment laws and regulations.
HR professionals possess a unique blend of soft skills and technical knowledge that makes them adept at relationship-building, problem-solving and communication in the workplace. The specific duties and level of responsibility of an HR specialist can vary depending on the size and type of organization; however, typical responsibilities include the following:
- Interviewing candidates and making hiring recommendations
- Mediating disputes and conflicts
- Oversee employee benefits programs, such as paid time off, healthcare and retirement plans
- Developing performance plans and conducting follow-up evaluations
- Ensuring organizations comply with applicable laws and regulations
- Designing and delivering employee training programs
Human Resources Specialist Salary and Career Growth
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that human resources certified earn a median annual salary of $64,240. The demand for these professionals is expected to grow, with a projected career growth rate of 8% between 2021 and 2031––surpassing the average growth rate for all occupations.
What’s the Difference Between an HR Specialist and an HR Manager?
HR certified and HR managers are key roles in the HR department of an organization, but they differ in terms of the scope of their responsibilities, skills and career path.
HR certified support HR functions within an organization and perform tasks related to a specific area of HR, such as recruiting and staffing, employee relations, benefits administration or compliance. They work closely with employees, managers and senior leaders to provide support and guidance on numerous HR-related issues. HR certified typically report to an HR manager or a higher-level HR professional.
HR managers lead and manage the HR functions within an organization. They develop and implement HR policies and procedures, oversee recruitment and staffing, manage employee relations and benefits and ensure compliance with employment regulations and laws.
Steps to Become an HR Specialist
Depending on your educational background, level of professional experience, certifications and other factors, several pathways lead to a career as an HR specialist. Below are the steps you can take to become an HR specialist.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
HR certified typically hold a bachelor’s degree in human resources, psychology, business administration with a focus in HR or a related discipline. A bachelor’s in HR equips graduates with a solid foundation in HR theories, principles and practices. This degree track generally requires four years of full-time study and comprises 120 to 130 credit hours.
The curriculum is often multidisciplinary, encompassing HR-specific, business, communications and behavioral science coursework. Specific course offerings vary by program; however, common courses include the following:
- Introduction to human resources management
- Compensation and benefits management
- Legal issues in HR management
- Employee and labor relations
- Training and development
- Organizational development
- Staffing organizations
Admission requirements for HR bachelor’s programs vary by institution. Generally, applicants must have a high school diploma or GED certificate, meet a minimum GPA requirement and submit official transcripts. Standard admission requirements also include the following:
- Letters of recommendation
- ACT or SAT scores
- Admissions essay
- Admission interview
Gain Work Experience or Consider an Internship
Getting hands-on HR experience through entry-level positions or internships is an excellent way to gain practical HR knowledge and skills.
Applying for entry-level positions such as an HR assistant, HR coordinator, data-entry specialist and payroll clerk is a great way to gain direct experience in the field.
Many college programs incorporate internships into their curriculum, allowing students to gain valuable professional experience in tandem with their studies. You can also seek internship opportunities at specific organizations you’re interested in or local organizations in your area.
Completing internships or obtaining an entry-level HR position also help build your résumé, provide opportunities to network with professionals in your field and make valuable connections that may lead to future job opportunities and increase post-graduation job opportunities.
Look Into Additional Certifications
Although earning certifications isn’t a requirement, it can be a good career builder. Earning HR certification demonstrates your professional competency and commitment to the field and enhances your credibility with employers.
Consider a Master’s Degree
Earning a master’s in human resources offers students opportunities to enhance their understanding of specific HR functions and gain advanced specialized knowledge and technical HR skills.
The curriculum typically emphasizes leadership and management skills, combining business foundation courses such as finance and accounting with core HR coursework. Many programs incorporate a research component, such as a capstone project or thesis, allowing students to apply their knowledge and contribute to the field.
HR master’s programs typically include coursework that touches on the following areas:
- Financial management
- Business strategy and ethics
- HR analytics
- HR information systems
- Managing a global economy
- Employment law
- Organizational leadership
- Diversity and inclusion
Admission requirements for HR master’s programs vary by institution. Generally, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, meet a minimum GPA requirement and submit official postsecondary transcripts. Some programs typically require applicants to have a certain amount of professional work experience, commonly ranging from one to five years. Standard admission requirements also include the following:
- GRE or GMAT
- Admission essay or personal statement
- Résumé detailing professional work experience
- Letters of recommendation from professional and academic references
- Admission essay
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Becoming an HR Specialist
Can I get into HR without a degree?
It’s possible to get into HR without a degree, but having a relevant educational background is a strong advantage. Several alternative pathways can lead to a career in HR. Options include HR certifications or certificates and gaining experience in related fields such as administrative work, customer service and management. Many HR roles, especially those in larger organizations, may require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree in HR or a related field.
What are the top skills of an HR specialist?
HR certified have a combination of soft and technical skills, including communication, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution and management. Top technical skills include proficiency with HR technical tools such as payroll and applicant tracking systems.
Do HR certified get paid a lot?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for HR certified is $64,240. Several factors can impact your earning potential, including professional experience, level of education, certifications, location, industry, and the size of an organization.