How to Become a Human Resources (HR) Manager

Wondering how to become a HR manager?

That’s a fulfilling but challenging career to pursue. 

Let me start saying that thriving as a HR manager requires much more than having people skills. 

Great HR managers have a thorough technical knowledge, which includes labor laws, people analytics, staffing procedures, legal compliance, and more. The best HR managers also have strong business acumen and leadership skills.

To gain the right knowledge and skills, prospect HR managers must rely not only on formal education, but also on certifications, mentors, and of course, some hands-on experience.

What Does a HR Manager Do?

Human resources managers are responsible for conducting a broad range of responsibilities in the HR department. In fact, there is hardly any part of a company that HR is not involved with, even if indirectly. Some of the HR manager job duties include:

  • Create processes to identify and hire talent
  • Organize departments’ structure and keep job descriptions updated
  • Recognize training needs and arrange employee development programs
  • Manage compensation and benefits plans 
  • Ensure employees wellbeing and safety
  • Stay compliant with labor regulations
  • Coordinate employee relations and administrative tasks 

HR managers’ job description depends on the size and organizational structure of the company they work in.

In small companies, human resources managers tend to have more active participation in the implementation of projects. HR managers who work in larger companies, on the other hand, tend to supervise other HR specialists who are focused on each function of the human resource management field. 

In order to understand how far you need to go on your preparation for a career in HR, you must have a clear idea of what your career goals are, and what type of company you would prefer to work at.

But regardless of the HR manager position you end up accepting, there are a few things that can set you up for success.

6 Steps To Become a HR Manager 

There is no right or wrong way to start a career in the human resources field and become a HR manager. But there are proven paths that can guide your development and result in a successful career as a HR manager. 

These steps will give you a solid foundation to evolve as a human resource professional and excel in your role as a HR manager. Let’s explore:

1. Pursue the Right Academic Background

If you go through open positions on a job board, you will notice that most companies hiring an human resources manager require applicants to have at least a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management, Business Administration, Organizational Development, or a related field.

This means that if you don’t have a Bachelor’s degree yet, this is the first step you need to take in order to become a HR manager. Getting an academic degree represents a big financial investment, but it is still an important step to building a successful career.

If you already have a degree, but your specialization is not in a HR-related field, all is not lost. 

You can take a few human resources courses offered by credible institutions, or work as a HR intern to get acquainted with some operations in the field. This baggage will help you to prove to recruiters that you have the knowledge necessary to be a high performer in the role.

Another excellent option is to pursue a Master’s degree with a focus on Human Resources Management. An MBA is not a key requirement for succeeding in the HR field, but it can certainly give a boost in your career, and even save you some years of entry-level positions.

Keep in mind that the higher your academic credentials are, the easier it will be for you to get the job you want. Each investment you make in your education opens a few doors to your career. And that means having access to positions in respectable companies, and of course, a higher salary.

This academic experience will give you a solid foundation of theoretical knowledge, but the coursework of a HR Management degree or of an MBA is not enough to make you a great HR manager. The academic experience is just the beginning of your journey.

2. Master Every Scope of HR  

Unless you want to become a HR Manager of a specific area of HR, such as a Compensation and Benefits Manager or a Training Manager, your daily responsibilities will vary from developing a company-wide training session to laying off an employee. So, you need to master every function of the human resources department. 

These are the five main areas you should focus on: 

Compensation & Benefits. This involves more than pressing a button to process payroll every two weeks. Managing compensation and benefits entails developing a payment plan based on statistics and laws, managing insurance brokers and other employee benefits vendors, adjusting bonuses, or even coordinating stock options, depending on the company. 

If you don’t have experience in this area, you can take one or two courses that cover compensation and benefits strategies. The International Foundation of Employee Benefits offers a few options. 

Recruitment & Staffing. In fast-growing companies, recruiting and staffing responsibilities might take the majority of the time of a human resources manager’s day. This function involves studying workforce analytics, identifying talent, screening applications, conducting interviews, and bringing new hires on board. 

Since this is a key area of HR, many HR managers start their careers working as a recruiter. This prepares them to face the staffing challenges in any HR manager position.

Training & Development. That’s an area that tends to be neglected by many aspiring HR managers, but the best HR professionals know the importance of investing in employee development. In some cases, the HR manager works directly with a Training Coordinator to outline the best ways to provide value to employees, while in other cases, the human resources manager fully owns this responsibility.

The best way to keep your training and development knowledge up to date is to seek information about new learning technologies and methods.

Labor Laws & Regulatory Compliance. There is a lot of bureaucracy entailed in human resources jobs. You must learn how to operate with an edge to maximize effectiveness and decrease room for error. A massive number of laws regulate labor activities to protect employees. If you want to avoid being served with a lawsuit, you must comply with them.

There is no shortcut to learning the regulations, you must study them — a lot. But to stay on top of any changes, you can subscribe to the Department of Labor’s email list to receive legislative updates.

Employee Safety & Wellness. It is also part of the HR manager’s job to ensure all employees are equipped with a safe, comfortable, and friendly work environment. From office design to risk management procedures, you must understand how to prevent and address any issues related to employees’ wellness.

To get your foot on the door, you can read about workplace emergency procedures and safety training methods that can be implemented in different industries. 

3. Get Hands-on Experience

Real-world experience is the most crucial part of your journey to becoming a HR manager. An entry-level HR job will act as a catalyst in your career. Performing HR activities on a daily basis will significantly accelerate and consolidate your knowledge, even if the tasks are simple.

Furthermore, being in contact with experienced human resources professionals in action is another huge benefit of getting an entry-level job. Observing their behaviors will allow you to create standards of what you want and what you don’t want to become.

Some of the most common HR entry-level job titles include HR generalists, HR specialists, recruiters, and HR assistants. 

In most companies, these jobs are performed by recent graduates. Individuals in these positions tend to be responsible for keeping employee records updated, assisting with work performance management, and supporting compensation operations. Some entry-level HR professionals are also responsible for assisting in employee orientation, training, and development. 

These jobs are perfect for employees to start applying their knowledge in real situations, while also receiving the necessary support from experienced employees.

Besides these entry-level positions, doing a HR internship is a great option to start getting some hands-on experience. Many companies offer structured internship programs, which are even paid positions in some cases. However, unpaid internships are also valid since it is a career investment. Not to mention that internships are often transitioned into a full-time position. You just need to do a great job to prove that you are worth it.

4. Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

Developing emotional intelligence is an important contributor to success in nearly every job, but it is even more crucial in the human resources department. 

HR professionals who are emotionally intelligent have the ability to develop stronger employee relationships, have a better assessment of employees’ needs, foster diversity and inclusion practices with better outcomes, encourage greater collaboration between employees, and even manage conflict better.

Empathy is a big indicator of emotional intelligence, but it is not the only one. Emotionally intelligent people present better communication skills, a better sense of other people’s feelings, and better judgment on decision-making.

And in case you are wondering, emotional intelligence can evolve over time as you practice it.

The first step in developing your emotional intelligence is observing and recognizing your own behaviors. Understanding your attitudes and responses, such as your biases, will help you to read your employees with more accuracy and take better decisions. 

Other actions you can take include learning how to ask better questions, practicing emotional detachment while you are working, and learning to listen intentionally. Being capable of stopping and actively listening to your employees’ challenges while asking the right questions will help you to approach the company’s issues with more efficiency.

5. Leverage Technology and HR Analytics

If you thought the human resources field was all about soft skills and interpersonal relationships, this step proves you to be wrong. 

Analytics and technology tools are vital allies of every human resource professional.

HR analytics helps human resources teams to use statistics, quantitative science, and employee data to improve decision-making and deliver better outcomes. 

You can leverage data to guide both your internal and external decisions.

For internal decisions, some of the most common analytics sources include employee satisfaction data, employee demographic data, payroll data, social network data, and employee performance data. External data is mostly used to streamline recruiting processes and the data sources that could help you with that include labor market data and population data.

HR analytics software, such as GoCo and Oracle can help you visualize all this data in one place to streamline decisions.

Besides helping you with HR analytics, technology can help you streamline many other HR tasks, mainly the iterative ones like payroll processing, benefits management, and tax compliance. 

You can also look into how artificial intelligence and virtual reality can optimize employee training and development methods. Utilizing the ultimate resources when planning training sessions is key to its effectiveness. You must remember that as employees keep expecting a more meaningful approach to their employment experience, you must leverage your resources to deliver enriching practices in the workplace. 

But these resources will also directly benefit you as an HR manager. With a wide spectrum of responsibilities, being able to rely on some automation will allow you to perform better on the most important ones.

With that, make sure to:

  • Explore the most common human resources software
  • Understand how to leverage AI and VR to employee development
  • Learn about HR analytics (you can take a course or get a certificate)
  • Understand what are the main HR metrics
  • Attend HR technology conferences, if you can

6. Consider Getting a Certification

Once you have a few years of experience working in an entry-level HR position, you should start considering getting certified. 

Different from doctors, lawyers, and teachers, who need a certification in order to perform their professions, human resources professionals are not required by law to have a license. However, in practice, HR professionals who hold a certification from a credible institution progress faster in their careers and have a higher salary.

The best HR certifications include:

  • Society of Human Resources Management Certification (SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP)
  • Professional in Human Resources Certification (PHR)
  • Global Professional in Human Resources Certification (GPHR)

Note that most certifications have strict eligibility requirements. You have to have at least one or two years of experience in the HR field before applying. That’s why it’s important that you get yourself in the market as soon as possible, even if it’s with a basic position.

You can also get certified on specific HR functions, like Certified Compensation Professional (CCP), which will also help you to achieve your goals as a HR manager.

Being certified not only helps to keep your knowledge base up to date but also shows employers that you are committed to your HR career.

Start Making Your HR Manager Career a Reality

Becoming a human resources manager requires time, effort, and some financial investment. But, if you do it right, you will see that the HR manager job description is worth it.

It might feel like a lot to go through but all you need to do it taking the first step. Since knowledge is incremental, the more you learn today, the easier it will be to conquer the following steps.

Follow these actionable steps to get ahead on your professional development journey while optimizing your resources. 

Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is a business strategy consultant and founder. He's written several world-recognized books on software configuration, speaks Spanish, ballroom dances, and owns The Product Company and Squibler.