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How to Become a Human Resource Specialist

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As more businesses place increased emphasis on the value of investing in their people for success, the role of the human resource (HR) specialist has become more crucial. Human resource specialists help to recruit, retain, increase morale, help employees understand their benefits and invigorate employees to achieve success within a company. HR specialists may specialize in a particular area such as recruiting or benefits, or, if they work for a small company, handle all aspects of the HR function. Becoming an HR specialist requires completing a bachelor's degree and landing a HR specialist role within a company. Advancing an HR career includes obtaining certification and completing a graduate degree.

Complete a bachelor’s degree in human resource management. HR specialists may seek out other degrees, such as a liberal arts degree; however, a bachelor’s degree in human resource management gives candidates an edge when competing for vacancies. Human resource management degrees at the undergraduate level are not yet as prevalent as at the graduate level; however, they are becoming more common. Students can expect to take courses in employee development, labor law, labor management, managing behavior, human resource planning and selection, recruiting, employee benefits and retirement planning in addition to other foundational business courses and electives. Prospective students will need to research individual universities to determine program structure, admission requirements and application procedures.

Gain two years of professional HR experience working for an organization as an HR specialist, in order to quality to sit for the certification exam. Graduating students may find vacancies by viewing job ads in their local papers, visiting online job boards such as Monster and Careerbuilder or referring to organizations specializing in HR management such as the Society for Human Resource Management.

Sit for the Professional in Human Resources certification exam with the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI). The exam will cover six functional areas to include strategic management, human resource development, work force planning, and development, employee and labor relations, total rewards and risk management. The exam has 225 questions and takes four hours to complete. Candidate may apply online with the HRCI to sit for the exam. Fees for the exam are $125.00. Candidates will need to refer to the HRCI website for details on study guides, steps for application, required materials for the application process, test dates and locations.


HR specialists, who continue their education at the graduate level by obtaining a master’s degree in human resource management or organizational psychology will have better promotional opportunities such as HR manager positions, HR director positions or other HR executive positions.


Experience is often a deciding factor for job vacancies, regardless of the amount of education and certification a potential job candidate has. Volunteering with companies and organizations performing HR duties while in college can help candidates gain valuable experience employers want. Without that experience, landing that first job may be a disappointing experience for new graduates.

2016 Salary Information for Human Resources Managers

Human resources managers earned a median annual salary of $106,910 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, human resources managers earned a 25th percentile salary of $80,800, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $145,220, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 136,100 people were employed in the U.S. as human resources managers.

Number of Jobs for Human Resources Specialists (by year)
Year Number of Jobs