College Degrees to Work in Human Resources

Degree Requirements Are Increasing, but Not Always Needed

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No, you don't have to have a degree to work in the field of Human Resources, but the lack of a degree will often limit you to lower level, less knowledge-based functions in the HR office. When HR Assistants come to work with a Bachelor's degree for $35-40,000, why would a forward thinking office hire an employee without a degree?

That said, there are some jobs as HR Administrators or as Payroll Specialists that may not require a degree.

You will also not expect to advance very far in your HR career in these roles without a degree. Some companies will not consider you for a promotion (or even look at your resume) if you don't have a degree, regardless of your experience.

This is short-sighted on the part of companies. Four years of college does not make you more qualified than someone with 20 years of experience. Some companies are fighting the trend toward a college degree for everything.

For example, some companies do blind hiring where candidates are evaluated based on an assigned task rather than their resume. Other companies are stating flat out that they will not require a degree for professional jobs.

Increasingly, HR Staff Have Degrees

Increasingly, however, HR professionals have both Bachelor's degrees and Master's degrees. Since HR is a highly competitive field, the more education you have, in appropriate subjects, the better your chance for excellent job prospects and a successful career.

Another education trend in the field is HR Directors with a Ph.D. and/or a Juris Doctor (J.D.), legal degree. Because many HR responsibilities involve legal compliance, a strong understanding of the law is helpful. Usually people in these positions started out as labor and employment lawyers and then moved into HR, rather than going straight from law school to HR.

Many longer term HR professionals argue that a degree is unnecessary, that they built a successful career up to and including positions as Vice President, without a degree. But, this is not the trend for jobs in HR. An HR professional, who wants to participate in the strategic leadership of a business, needs a degree.

The degree is especially important in a strategic area. Why? Because if you want to be taken seriously by the management team, you need to speak on their level. This is not to say that you cannot do this without a degree, but you gain credibility by having one. Additionally, you have shared experiences with the management team.

For example, a client executive team that I worked with once was comprised of the CEO with a Masters in Business, an Executive VP with a PhD, a CFO with a Masters in Finance, a Marketing VP with another MBA, a CTO with a Masters in Computer Science. You get the picture? On a team such as this the people advocate and sponsor needs a presence as weighty as theirs.

In a less degree oriented culture, a degree may be less necessasry.

Degrees in Human Resources

The type of degree you have can vary in HR. I once worked in an HR department where our degrees were in Political Science, Business, Social Work, Elementary Education, IT, and other non-HR degree areas. Several of these people had master's degrees in HR, but their bachelor's degrees were in different subjects.

HR is a much more popular degree (and much more available) than it was 20 years ago, so expect to see fewer people with a variety of degrees and more people with an HR/business degree going forward.

The reason people with varied degrees thrived in HR is that HR functions are so varied. The political scientist had a strong background in data analysis. The social worker could handle employee relations issues with ease. Your imagination can run wild on why someone with a degree in elementary education was valued in an HR department.

All learned at least some aspects of Human Resource Management on the job, which meant there was a heavy training period, but the value they brought was worth it.

Another path to HR is to work in another field and then transfer to an HR function supporting people in this field. This is especially valuable in recruiting (they truly understand job requirements) and HR Business Partner roles. HR people who took this path often have a wide variety of degrees as well.

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