Educational Background for HR Professionals
- Employment Law (Ranked 1st)
- Performance Management (Ranked 2nd)
- Compensation (Ranked 3rd)
- Workforce Planning and Staffing
- Employee Relations
- Human Resource Development
- HR Strategy
- Labor Relations
- Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS)
- Conflict Management
- Global/International HR
- Safety and Security
Some students also choose to pursue undergraduate degrees in psychology or sociology en route to an HR career. These degrees are a good choice for students who are interested in a career in Human Resource Development (HRD), since courses in organizational psychology and human behavior are often part of the curriculum.
But many HR professionals have an undergraduate degree in a completely different discipline, becoming interested in HR through other channels. In fact, according to SHRM's 2005 survey data, more than 50% of respondents hadn't considered a career in HR while in college, but rather sometime later in their careers.
Some people discover HR while studying a completely different discipline. HR and recruiting professional Katie Lallande-Kalka, college relations manager for a Fortune 500 financial services firm, was finishing her BA in Movement and Sports Science when she was turned on to HR: "I learned about HR [as a career possibility] via electives I took as an undergraduate. I found the topic interesting and thought I'd explore it more. I applied to graduate school, and got in!"
At the graduate level, your degree options are numerous. At this level, most HR professionals have a better idea of the sector of HR in which they are most interested and choose a degree more directed to HRM or HRD. Most HRM professionals interested in a graduate degree choose an MBA with an HR focus. Such was the case with Ben Elrod. Armed with an undergraduate degree in economics, he knew he wanted a mix of both HR and business skills.
"After a few years at a software company, I applied to business schools with degree offerings in HR," says Elrod, a senior director of compensation and benefits. "Business school was a means for me to learn more about the HR profession and to transition into the job best suited for my skills."
While there are literally hundreds of MBA programs in the United States alone, not all offer an opportunity to concentrate or focus in HR or HR management. Some students choose not to pursue a concentration, instead focusing on learning broader business techniques that can be applied in the HR arena. Others choose a program that specifically has a concentration in HR. SHRM (www.shrm.org) has a section devoted to graduate education options.
Since pursuing her degree, Lallande-Kalka has worked in both traditional, in-house HR roles and in HR consulting, and recommends a broad-based curriculum for others considering a graduate degree in HR.
"For those looking for a Master's degree," says Lallande-Kalka, "look for a program that provides business courses with the HR core. You can add so much more value to an organization if you can understand and execute against basic business concepts."
Since HRD is a much newer segment of the HR profession, there are fewer programs with many different titles. HRD professionals may choose a program that is more psychology-focused, such as a Masters in Industrial and Organizational Psychology or Organizational Behavior. Others may choose a Master's program in Human Resource Development or Organizational Studies.
Be sure to also take note of any tuition remission or reimbursement opportunities provided by your organization. This is where the organization agrees to cover or reimburse you for any or all of your tuition expenses in a degree-seeking program. This type of benefit is very popular at the graduate level, as many HR professionals may work for a few years and then return to graduate school through a company-sponsored program. Don't forget to read the fine print, though; some companies may require that you either complete the degree part-time while working or return to the organization after completing a full-time degree for several years.