Have you ever wanted to:
- Help someone land their dream job at a company they’ll absolutely love?
- Help a coworker negotiate the raise they deserve or arrange a more flexible schedule so they can go to culinary school on the side like they’ve always wanted or go on afternoon adventures with their young kids?
- Help cure common workplace headaches like uncommunicative managers, pointless processes, or embarrassingly outdated training programs (yes, we’re looking at you, harassment training)?
- Give people what they actually need to improve their well-being both at work and at home (bring on the mental health resources, I think we’re good on the snacks)?
If you immediately said yes to any or all of these, then a career as a human resources manager may be perfect for you.
HR managers essentially help shape organizations by focusing on the people within them. They make sure that a company recruits, hires, and holds onto the best employees to achieve its goals and that those employees have the best possible experiences while working there.
Sound right up your alley? Great. Here’s everything you need to know to become an HR manager. (And if you’re ready to start your search—or just take a look at what’s out there—you can search for HR manager and other human resources jobs on The Muse.)
- What is an HR manager and what do they do?
- Key facts about HR managers
- How is the role of an HR manager changing?
- What skills do HR managers need?
- How can I become an HR manager?
- Should you become an HR manager?
What is an HR manager and what do they do?
HR managers are in charge of a company’s biggest asset: its people. “HR management is an all-encompassing role that oversees the full life cycle of an employee” at an organization, says Gabby Gonzalez Leung, Vice President of Human Resources at digital media company H Code—from the moment they glimpse the job posting to the day they walk out the door for the last time.
Broadly speaking, HR managers work to develop policies, programs, and services to manage employee hiring, experience, and/or retention. They might be responsible for creating job descriptions, recruiting new hires, onboarding employees, explaining benefits, providing training, and resolving any issues or conflicts that come up.
Exactly what an individual HR manager’s job entails depends on the size and type of organization. Larger organizations could have a team of specialized HR managers, each with their own niche focus, while smaller companies may have only one HR manager who handles everything. For example, Leung is an HR generalist at a small company with less than 100 people who handles a little bit of everything. She’s currently her company’s only HR pro—but she’s in the process of hiring two new team members since the organization is growing.
Typical job duties for HR generalists might include:
- Sourcing candidates to apply for open roles, reviewing application materials, and conducting phone screens
- Onboarding new employees—including conducting employee orientation, development, and training—and helping hires enroll in benefits
- Helping organizations plan for the staff that best meets their needs
- Conducting employee performance reviews (or assisting managers with performance reviews)
- Ensuring that the company complies with tax and labor laws, rules, and regulations
- Developing policies for training, vacation time, hiring practices, and more
- Managing employee relationships and resolving conflicts
- Communicating company policies and programs to employees
- Handling and communicating employee compensation and benefits
- Ensuring employee safety, welfare, and wellness
- Implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs
On the other hand, some HR professionals choose to specialize in a specific area of HR, such as recruitment or employee benefits. These specialized job opportunities typically exist at larger organizations. You might start your HR career already in a specialization—for example, as a recruiting coordinator—or you could choose to move into one after discovering your passion for it while working as a generalist.
Here are a few common HR manager specialties:
Benefits and compensation managers
Benefits specialists are responsible for organizing and administering employee benefits —such as medical insurance, 401(k) plans, short- and long-term disability—and employee wellness programs and perks, like education stipends and remote work schedules. Compensation managers develop and implement salary plans and structures and ensure they’re administered equitably and consistently across the organization. Some HR managers will cover both of these areas for their employer.
It’s crucial for benefits and compensation HR managers to stay up-to-date on changes in the market “to ensure we’re responding to the needs of our current and future employees,” says Maria Aveledo, Chief Business Officer at recreational-vehicle financing firm Octane, who manages the company’s entire benefits package. Remaining competitive with benefits, perks, and salary helps companies attract and retain the best employees for your organization, she says.
Some duties of benefits and compensation managers include:
- Coordinating, managing, and implementing employee benefit programs
- Enrolling employees in benefits programs and processing any changes to plans that employees want to make
- Processing leave-of-absence requests, including disability and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) paperwork
- Ensuring company compliance with FMLA, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and other state and federal laws, rules, and regulations
- Researching compensation trends based on location and job duties, and researching, developing, proposing, and administering a company’s compensation programs
- Evaluating and processing requests for raises and other compensation changes
Training and development managers
Training and development (or learning and development) professionals improve how productive a company is by overseeing training initiatives to educate employees and enhance their skill sets and performance. For example, they might bring in a speaker to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, or arrange for certain sales calls to be recorded and shared with the sales team as a tool to help them learn new strategies.
Duties of talent and development managers include:
- Identifying training and development needs within an organization
- Building development experiences for staff at different stages of their careers
- Ensuring training and development is offered and applied equitably
- Training and coaching managers and others in employee development practices
- Evaluating the outcomes and successes of training programs
Labor and employee relations managers
Labor and employee relations managers make sure employees have what they need to do their job safely and efficiently, while also keeping them as satisfied as realistically possible—by resolving conflicts, listening to employee needs and wants, and ensuring all labor and employment laws are followed. Keeping employees happy should be a goal in and of itself, but it also benefits the business—by leading to better productivity or higher profits, for example.
The job can include a variety of tasks:
- Conducting workplace investigations
- Handling disputes regarding pay scales, unions, wages, benefits, working conditions, and other aspects of employee/employer relations
- Ensuring that when an employee goes on an extended leave that it’s a successful experience and their transition back to work is smooth
- Surveying employees to determine their sentiment on specific policies and programs
- Representing the organization in contract negotiations
- Ensuring the organization complies with all labor and employment laws, rules, and regulations
Talent acquisition and recruiting managers
Talent acquisition and recruiting managers—sometimes just called recruiters—find qualified candidates for open positions at an organization, handle the application and hiring process, interview candidates (or assist other company leaders with the interviews), and send and negotiate offers.
These HR managers find and hire candidates who meet a company’s immediate needs and will help it achieve its long-term goals. They also help to ensure that all candidates have a good experience throughout the hiring process,that the organization is representing itself as authentically as possible, and that every new hire is a good match for the job.
Specific duties include:
- Promoting the company via recruitment events and initiatives
- Sourcing and recruiting applicants that best meet the company’s needs
- Writing or editing and posting job descriptions that will attract a qualified and diverse set of candidates
- Conducting initial application reviews and phone screens to narrow down an applicant pool
- Overseeing the hiring process to ensure that it is fair and equitable for all candidates
- Interviewing, hiring, and training new staff (or supporting hiring managers throughout these steps)
Diversity, equity, and inclusion managers
Companies still have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to hiring and supporting employees of different backgrounds—at all levels, on all teams, and in all departments of an organization. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) managers—sometimes called diversity managers or diversity and inclusion (D&I) managers—are responsible for leading this charge.
They ensure that a company builds a diverse candidate pool and workforce—in terms of gender, race, nationality, disability, age, and more—and that these candidates and employees feel safe and valued. DEI managers also make sure that all employees are treated fairly when it comes to pay, promotions, and other professional opportunities.
Some of the tasks they may be responsible for to achieve these goals are:
- Assessing hiring, promotion, evaluation, management, and workflow practices and processes for bias and suggesting improvements
- Overseeing the hiring process to bring in a diverse pool of candidates and ensuring equity throughout each stage
- Running, overseeing, and supporting employee resource groups
- Organizing and/or delivering training on diversity, equity, inclusion, and bias to employees and managers
- Auditing salaries and benefits across the organization to ensure equitable pay
- Implementing and managing disability accommodations for both candidates and employees
- Advising the company on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion both internally and externally
Key facts about HR managers
If becoming an HR manager sounds like the career path for you, you might have some more questions about the basics. The answers below should help.
Where do HR managers work?
HR managers can work anywhere! Every type of organization in every industry hires and manages employees—so they need someone to handle human resources. Construction companies, law firms, tech organizations, hospitals, educational institutions, and state government agencies are just some examples of where you might be able to land an HR manager gig.
How much do HR managers make?
Salaries for HR managers vary depending on the location and size of an organization as well as the industry. HR managers at all levels across the U.S. earn an average of $69,201, according to Payscale. With less than one year of experience, the average is $53,008, but with five or more years of experience you can earn about $69,500, and $74,100 is the average for an HR manager with 10 years of experience.
Specialists often earn more than generalists. For example, compensation and benefits managers have an average salary of $87,805 (and it goes up to $96,583 with 10 years of experience).
What’s the career outlook?
“The HR field is rich with opportunity,” says Elisa Vincent, Vice President of Global Talent Enablement at educational technology company Skillsoft. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the employment of HR managers will grow 9% between 2020 and 2030, which is slightly faster than the 8% average for all occupations.
Can HR managers work remotely?
“Absolutely,” says Debora Roland, vice president of human resources at social recruiting platform CareerArc. “I’m doing it.” A lot of HR managers worked from home for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, Roland says, many will likely continue to work remotely post-pandemic.
While HR managers can be successful working remotely, Leung says, some benefit from being on site or in the office. For example, at a hospital where the majority of the staff is on site, an HR manager may need to be there, too. But for a tech company where many workers are remote, an HR manager might work best from home. “My frame of thought is that I need to be where the people are,” Leung says.
How is the role of an HR manager changing?
HR manager roles transformed during the COVID-19 pandemic beyond just the transition to remote work. Stories about how employees struggled throughout the pandemic placed more focus on employee wellness, work-life balance, and flexible work. And now, HR managers need to be more creative and think about employee support in a more holistic way.
“Our people are our greatest asset and we want to ensure we’re providing them with benefits that allow them to be able to perform at their best,” Aveledo says. For example, her company recently amended its paid time off policies to allow for emergency days off and implemented a daily lunch hour to give everyone time to decompress. It also began offering new training sessions during open enrollment for health insurance to accommodate different time zones and work schedules.
But even before the pandemic, there was a movement in HR to be less task-driven and more people-centric to help the organization meet its larger goals. Some organizations have even rebranded job titles to reflect this attitude change. For example, a human resources director might now be called a director of people.
What skills do HR managers need?
As an HR manager, “You’re constantly juggling,” Roland says. So there are a number of soft and hard skills that are essential to the job.
Soft skills for HR managers
Soft skills are the intangible skills related to how you work and interact with others. Here are some the necessary soft skills for HR managers:
- Analytical thinking
- Change management
- Interpersonal skills
- Time management
Hard skills for HR managers
Successful HR managers also must possess a number of hard skills, or specific knowledge on how to complete tasks or use technology. Some of these skills will depend on your focus and specialization, while others will be needed for any HR manager. While having these skills will help you stand out when applying for a position, some hard skills are role- or industry-specific, and employers might expect you to learn them on the job.
- Knowledge of compensation and benefits structures
- Data analytics
- Knowledge of industry-specific regulations and reporting standards
- Knowledge of HR compliance and regulations
- Knowledge of tax and labor laws, rules, and regulations
- Recruitment and talent development
- Succession planning
- Computer skills, such as payroll software, applicant tracking systems (ATSs), and other HR software
- Team management
How can I become an HR manager?
OK, you’re sold. You want to become an HR manager. Here’s what you need to know to get started on your path.
What jobs do you need before becoming an HR manager?
Before moving into HR management, you’ll usually need some HR experience, perhaps working as an HR coordinator, HR assistant, or recruitment coordinator.
But there are other paths into HR beyond this more traditional route. For example, Roland, who’s now been in HR for 25 years, began her career in an operational role with a small production company but switched to the company’s HR department after the organization started growing. She liked it so much she got an HR certification. Similarly, Vincent started her career in international education and study abroad programs, then transitioned to leadership development and that led to talent development, change management, and organizational design within HR.
What education, training, or certifications do I need?
Most HR manager jobs require a bachelor’s degree, according to BLS. A degree in human resources or a related field, like organizational development, will often give you the highest chances of landing a role, Roland says.
Certifications could also help you stand out when applying for jobs—and some companies may require them for certain roles. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers several HR certifications, including the Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) designed for professionals in operational roles and Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) for senior-level professionals in strategic roles. A Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification from the HR Certification Institute offers education on core HR functions.
Should you become an HR manager?
Still not sure if you’d thrive in HR? It might be a good fit for you if...
- ...you’re someone who thrives on helping people succeed in the long term and day-to-day: “People who are fundamentally motivated by the success of others and who can be both strategic and roll up their sleeves and execute” make the best HR managers, Vincent says.
- ...you’re interested in both the “business” side and the “people” side: There’s a fine balance to achieve when you’re making sure both employees and the organization are taken care of. “HR is a good career for those who want to sit at the intersection of a business and their people,” Leung says. “Someone who is going to be equally as excited about where a company is going and where [it wants] to be and by the challenge of helping them get there.”
- ...you can easily adapt to a range of new situations and changes: For example, employee conflicts might come up unexpectedly or tax and labor laws could change. Staying calm as it all happens, pivoting smoothly, and guiding others through these changes is part of the job.
- ...you’re understanding and empathetic: HR isn’t a field where there’s a strict right or wrong answer, Aveledo says, so the ability to see and be comfortable with gray areas and view situations and obstacles from different perspectives are vital qualities for HR managers. The best HR managers, Roland says, “are those who can bob and weave with the business, who can be professional and serious, but also who can let their guard down and be human beings.”