How To Become a Human Resources Manager (Plus Certifications)

Updated January 26, 2023

Business owners understand that it's important to hire capable staff members. Human resource managers are an integral aspect of the hiring process. By maintaining a strong and loyal workforce, business owners gain respect not only from their staff but also from the community and customers they serve. In this article, we explore what a human resources manager is, why they're important and how to become one.

What is a human resources manager?

A human resources (HR) manager oversees the many aspects of company operations. This includes ensuring company policy practices are clear and followed carefully, monitoring employee development and training and assisting with performance evaluations and compensation. Typically, HR managers handle personnel matters such as employment disputes and conducting investigations to resolve issues and mediate conversations. They also conduct employment interviews, write job offers, negotiate compensation and document disciplinary actions.

Related: Human Resources: Definition and How it Works

Why is a human resources manager important?

The human resources manager helps manage the relationships between an employee, their supervisor, their department and the company's executive leadership. They ensure protocols are fair and legal. From drafting a clear employment ad to explaining complex insurance benefits or handling the termination of a disgruntled employee, the HR manager is a key role in a company's success.

HR managers also analyze department positions, organizational structure and opportunities for growth to ensure they align with the company's strategic goals. They play an integral role in many aspects of company management while ensuring everyone adheres to federal employment regulations and state labor law. HR managers are in charge of many areas, including:

  • Recruitment and staffing

  • Employee onboarding

  • Compensation and benefits

  • Employee relations

  • Performance evaluations

  • Promotions and demotions

  • Record keeping

  • Legal compliance

  • Company reputation and branding

  • Workplace safety

Related: Your Guide to a Career in Human Resources Management

How to become an HR manager

While some companies may hire someone without a college degree, most HR managers have significant leadership abilities and payroll experience. Successful applicants may also obtain specializations and certifications to show their commitment and dedication to a particular field. The typical entry-level education requirement for an HR manager is a bachelor's degree or at least five years in a related occupation. However, some companies may require both. The most common path to becoming an HR manager is:

1. Obtain a degree or certification

Whether you choose to earn a bachelor's degree or pursue work experience, education can be an important part of becoming a human resources manager. Some skills you can develop during your education include:

  • Business administration

  • Labor laws

  • Teambuilding

  • Employee relations

  • Accounting

If you pursue a bachelor's degree, consider the following degree programs:

  • Human resources

  • Business administration

  • Management

  • Economics

  • Finance

  • Marketing

Taking additional classes allows you to further improve your skills and gain more experience for your resume. Here's a list of several certifications you can get, along with the skills you learn while taking the courses:

Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR)

This is a certification for HR professionals just starting their career or non-HR professionals who manage people. This certification covers:

  • HR operations

  • Employee relations

  • Recruitment and retention

  • Compensation and benefits

  • Human resource development

  • Employee well-being

Professional in Human Resources (PHR)

This certification is for HR professionals who manage a department and require knowledge of technical and operational aspects of the job. Subjects include:

  • Employee and labor relations

  • Business management

  • Talent planning and acquisition

  • Learning and development

Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)

The SPHR is one of the top certifications for HR professionals. They can learn to understand business issues and demands at a broad level and gain a deeper knowledge of the job. The topics covered in this program are:

  • Leadership and strategy

  • Employee relations and engagement

  • Strategic planning

  • Business functionality

The American Staffing Association also offers certifications such as:

Certified Staffing Professional

This certification is for anyone working in the staffing department. It includes training in:

  • Federal and state labor laws

  • Employment laws

  • Workplace rules

Certified Search Consultant

Primarily for company recruiters, this certification can benefit anyone in the staffing department. Topics covered are:

  • Federal employment recruitment laws

  • Federal registration laws

  • Talent acquisition

Certified Health Care Staffing Professional

Health care has unique state and federal rules and regulations. This certification helps train health care staffing departments on those rules and regulations. Topics include:

  • Health care staffing laws

  • Health care practices for clients

  • Health care regulations

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers other certification programs, such as:

SHRM CP Certified Professional

The certified professional designation is for those HR professionals who work with staff and stakeholders and perform operational HR functions. Subjects covered include:

  • Leadership

  • Business

  • Interpersonal communication

  • Organizational practices

  • Workplace knowledge

SHRM CP Senior Certified Professional

The senior certified professional designation is for those HR professionals that hold a more strategic level in company operations. Topics include:

  • Strategy application

  • Analyzing metrics

  • Applying HR to organizational goals

Please note that none of the certifications mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Related: 9 Human Resources Certification Jobs

2. Gain work experience

Throughout your career, embrace any opportunities for learning about leadership, payroll, workplace conflict resolution and other situations that may arise. It helps to build a record of times you have embraced duties and roles outside of your normal job. Upon graduation, you might start in an entry-level position, such as:

  • Staffing specialist

  • HR associate

  • HR representative

There are also many mid-level opportunities like:

  • HR generalist

  • HR supervisor

  • Personnel manager

Then there are senior-level occupations such as:

  • HR manager

  • HR director

  • Chief HR officer

Related: Tips for an HR Interview

3. Be prepared

After completing your education and gaining sufficient job experience, you can start pursuing management positions in HR. Carefully peruse job openings for titles like:

  • HR manager

  • Senior HR officer

  • Personnel manager

  • Benefits administrator

  • Employee relations manager

  • Director of HR

Complete your HR resume and cover letter. Be sure to include examples of your accomplishments, specialized training and any leadership roles or professional experiences you've had that qualify you for the job. A good cover letter and resume can help you when preparing for your interview. Prepare yourself for interview questions related to regulations, leadership experiences, conflict resolution and overall HR knowledge. HR management interview questions differ slightly from a normal position in that they're not just looking for another employee who can work well with a team.

Typically, employers might look for an HR professional with confidence in their knowledge and a firm commitment to confidentiality. The human resources manager shows they can abide by and explain ethical standards and legal regulations, communicate effectively and efficiently perform the more difficult aspects of negotiation. Be ready to explain your answers to questions like:

  • What's the toughest task you've had to accomplish or decision you've had to make?

  • Have you ever felt uncomfortable giving confidential information to someone? How did you handle the situation?

  • How have you handled working with a difficult and upset customer or colleague?

  • How do you handle and explain changes in work environments, rules and job duties?

  • Have you ever had to lead a training or development course for others?


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