Do You Need a Degree to Work in HR?

March 3, 2023
Posted in Questions
March 3, 2023 Terkel

Do You Need a Degree to Work in HR?

From seeing industry requirement shifts to considering your situation before pursuing a degree, here are seven answers to the questions, “Do you need a degree to work in HR, and if so, which degree, or if not, why?”

  • It Depends, Talent Acquisition is Changing
  • Practical Experience and Certification Beat a Degree
  • Most HR Positions Require an HR Degree
  • A Degree Helps, but You Can Still Work in HR Without It
  • You Can Go Further With a Degree
  • Degrees Aren’t Required, but They’re a Good Idea
  • It’s Truly Situational

It Depends, Talent Acquisition is Changing

More and more, we’re seeing a shift in attitude regarding degree requirements across all industries. Companies, especially ones that want to attract diverse talent and want to be progressive in their talent acquisition practices, are reconsidering whether a degree is an essential requirement for a job. More people are opting for non-traditional education because of the overwhelming debt that comes with achieving a degree—or more than one!

Specific to HR, when we’re hiring consultants, we look outside of corporate HR. So, there’s a greater likelihood that someone doesn’t have a specific HR degree. However, communication, organizational psychology, and business degrees have some great applications in the Human Resources world. And, we also don’t require a degree from our consultant candidates. We instead, look for commensurate experience and look specifically for people management, project management, and process optimization experience—not necessarily a specific degree.

Eric MochnaczEric Mochnacz
Senior HR Consultant, Red Clover

Practical Experience and Certification Beat a Degree

Upper-level HR jobs often require a four-year bachelor’s degree, and some need an MBA. But, if you are getting started or looking for a job in mid-management, practical experience, and online certifications can help you put your foot in the door.

Several HR certifications test your knowledge of key HR principles, and passing these might be far better than a four-year degree. The Associate Professional in Human Resources exam is a good example of a certification that doesn’t require experience and is a great way to show to employers your understanding of the fundamentals of HR.

I strongly recommend gaining practical experience through internships and entry-level positions that equip you with the skills needed to excel in an HR role. Then leverage your experience to show employers why you are a good hire.

Joe ColettaJoe Coletta
Founder and CEO, 180 Engineering

Most HR Positions Require an HR Degree

Without a degree, it may be quite difficult to find work in human resources. A bachelor’s degree in human resource management would probably be required.

Those with no prior work experience should seek a bachelor’s degree in human resources to gain entry-level employment in HR. Why should you pursue this degree? With a bachelor’s degree, you’ll start out with a higher salary and have a long path to job progression as you accumulate work experience.

A four-year degree in human resource management is common in this field. A bachelor’s degree in human resources offers both a wide and in-depth education.

When you complete courses that teach skills like understanding how to have good relationships with employees
creating employee training programs, investigating benefits and salaries, and advancing basic ideas, etc.

Joe LiJoe Li
Managing Director, CheckYa

A Degree Helps, but You Can Still Work in HR Without It

Having a degree can definitely help your chances of landing a great job in the HR field. Anyone with a bachelor’s or a master’s in human resources is signaling to a potential employer that they invested time, energy, and money into crafting their skills and choosing HR as their primary passion.

However, you can still have a flourishing career in HR, even without a degree. Most HR managers never graduated with a major in HR, and many pursued other studies before entering the industry. Skills such as being an excellent communicator, being organized, and having empathy are more important than any piece of paper from an official university, but ‌real-life experience in HR can often take you further than any degree could.

If you want to get into HR, you can apply for internships or take on HR responsibilities in your existing job to hone your craft and learn the skills you need to become the best HR manager you can be.

Gordana SretenovicGordana Sretenovic
Co-Founder, Workello

You Can Go Further With a Degree

You have a chance of finding employment without a degree. However, employers typically prefer at least a bachelor’s degree when hiring for their HR departments. This includes, for example, Human Resources Management, Business Administration, Organizational Psychology, and Industrial and Labor Relations.

A degree in one of these or other HR-related fields can provide a foundation in the knowledge and skills required for HR jobs, such as employment law, compensation, benefits administration, employee relations, and diversity and inclusion.

These enable HR professionals to perform their roles effectively and support the organization in achieving its goals. Many organizations require a degree for higher-level positions.

Nina PaczkaNina Paczka
Community Manager, Resume Now

Degrees Aren’t Required, but They’re a Good Idea

There are many HR positions you can get without a bachelor’s degree, but it’s still a smart idea to get one if you want to build a career in HR, and many employers will give preference to candidates who hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Over 80% of HR professionals have at least a bachelor’s degree and most of the remaining professionals hold an associate’s degree, just to give some numerical context to the HR education question.

If you know you want to work in HR long term, you can go straight to a bachelor’s in Human Resource Management or a similar industry-specific program. Other HR professionals hold degrees in education, humanities, or the social sciences, so you have multiple options when looking for a degree to support HR careers.

Matt ErhardMatt Erhard
Managing Partner, Summit Search Group

It’s Truly Situational

The answer isn’t as black and white as you may want it to be. In many professions—excluding doctors, lawyers, architects, etc.—you don’t need a degree in that field. Sometimes, you don’t need a degree at all.

For HR, specifically, some people will start out in a different role early in their career and climb the ladder, eventually landing an HR role. If they look back at their degree, it may have nothing to do with HR. However, if you don’t have any work experience, don’t expect to land an HR job without a degree in the field. It also depends on the actual role. Consider your own situation before deciding whether you need the degree.

Kelli AndersonKelli Anderson
Career Coach, Resume Seed

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