Everything You Need to Know About Becoming an HR Manager

Speaking with two experts from the online MS in Human Resource Management program at USC, we uncovered how to become an HR manager, the key job responsibilities, salary expectations and more.

At almost every company or organization, there is a need for effective, compassionate human resource managers. Whether they’re helping you sort through paperwork, interviewing you for jobs or handling any grievances, an HR manager is an essential part of the workplace.

That means it’s a career that promises stability, diverse industry options and the rewarding ability to help fellow employees, which is a tempting path for plenty of professionals.

If you’re intrigued by the possibility of entering human resource management, you might be questioning how you can break into the field and ultimately thrive in it.

Speaking with Robert Turner and Ed Johnson, two faculty members from the online Master of Science in Human Resource Management (MSHRM) program at USC Bovard College, we learned how you can become an HR manager and what skills and education is required to succeed.

What Does an HR Manager Do?

First off, let’s define exactly what an HR manager does. Not only do they recruit and interview new staff, but they also help them become acclimated to the workplace. They oversee payroll and benefits, handle all administrative functions, take care of staffing issues like mediating disputes, and serve as a link between a company’s management and its employees.

“The HR manager role should be a confidant. It should be a person that is described by the executive team as a ‘we need to go to that person.’ Really, the HR manager is the keeper of the organizational soul, in my view. It is the barometer of what is working, and what is not from a people standpoint,” said Turner, who was also on the faculty advisory board that helped develop the online MSHRM program.

A human resources manager is needed across all fields — hospitals, small businesses, fashion brands, movie studios, universities and much more — but it does help to have a true understanding of the business you’re working in, Turner noted.

“The HR manager needs to have a seat at the table, and you have to show your ability to contribute to [management] … you have to understand the business, have to understand where we are at that particular time. You have to understand from a forecasting standpoint, ‘What’s the likelihood of things happening in the future?’ …  We have to have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on inside of the organization right now,” he said.

What Are the Responsibilities of an HR Manager?

Your responsibilities also will vary depending on where you are on the ladder in the organization, added Johnson. A mid-level HR manager will have different responsibilities than the head of the HR department, for example.

“In the case of a mid-level role in a larger corporate setting where there might be a director or VP of HR, the HR manager is much more oriented toward service delivery, [such as] supporting recruiting and getting people hired,” he explained.

They may be involved in tasks such as administering the compensation process, the annual merit review process and the annual benefits open enrollment process. They also take on day-to-day employee relations issues, including conflict management and addressing issues and complaints.

“It’s a much more operational role if it’s the top person in the role at a massive company — then in addition to being responsible for service delivery, there’s some presumption that they’re responsible also for policy and direction and managing the culture and so forth,” Johnson said.

While working in HR management gives you the opportunity to truly support your fellow employees and sustain a positive workplace culture, both Turner and Johnson caution the job can be difficult at times and involves a complex skillset.

“Frankly, an awful lot of HR is difficult: dealing with bad actors, including executives, and hard situations where you have people who are behaving or performing badly. You have to have some very difficult, adult conversations with those folks,” Johnson said. “So, you should have a desire to make the workplace better, but also a willingness to work with managers in particular to help them improve their people management skills.”

Although those with engaging and approachable personalities thrive as HR managers, you must also develop a thick skin to deal with the more challenging conversations and conflicts as they arise, said Turner.

“You will be called every name in the book. You have to be a person who can deal with people who are upset. You have to be kind where people can feel secure with you, but at the same time … we have to make tough decisions. It’s a rare combination of both being tough and empathetic at the same time,” Turner added.

How Much Do HR Managers Make?

As previously stated, one of the most appealing aspects of becoming an HR manager is the fact that it’s a position available at the majority of companies and organizations. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the field is projected to grow 7 percent in the next decade.

In terms of compensation, the average salary for HR managers in 2021 was $126,230, with the top 10 percent of earners making above $200,000. Of course, that number varies based on location, experience and your level in the company.

What Degree Do You Need to Become an HR Manager?

Typically, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree in order to become an HR manager. Many people who work in HR have undergraduate degrees in related fields such as business, psychology or communications.

To achieve a certain position level, however, a master’s degree in human resource management is sometimes required — and even if it’s not a requirement, it can drastically impact your ability to succeed in the role.

In the MSHRM program at USC (which can be completed on a one-year or two-year track), students are provided with the knowledge and skills to become effective HR leaders, examining the full gamut of human capital management concepts, including employee motivation, talent acquisition and retention, change management and organizational culture.

Students also examine key trending topics in the field, such as principled leadership, HR technology, diversity and inclusion, and corporate social responsibility.

Both Turner and Johnson said what’s most important for HR hopefuls is what they described as “content knowledge,” which is gained by earning an MSHRM.

“When I say content knowledge, that means knowing things about adult learning theory, compliance, federal and state laws, labor laws and much more. You’re not going to necessarily get those things outside of a degree program other than HR, but they’re necessary to perform the role. You can, of course, learn by experience or reading or going to seminars or whatever, but having that HR education is really helpful,” Johnson said.

Turner agreed that when advancing your career in HR, there is “no substitute for content knowledge.”

“You need to understand the theory so you can do the practice … having a master’s degree in HR, whether it’s from USC or someplace else, really does make a pretty substantial difference in your ability to be effective in an HR role,” he concluded.

Learn more about the online MS in Human Resource Management program today.

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