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Strong businesses need great employees. That’s why human resources professionals are absolutely crucial to the success of any company or organization.

But a graduate degree in human resources management is about much more than who to hire and how to fire. You’ll learn how to maximize human output in a business environment, from understanding individual behavior to designing effective management structures, training programs, and compensation schemes.

The curriculum will cover “soft” subjects like leadership, communication and negotiation. But you’ll also get plenty of grounding in “hard” subjects, including labor economics, finance, and business law. You’ll be expected to understand and apply rigorous quantitative techniques. Human resources management tends to be more multidisciplinary than other business specializations; you’re likely to study psychology and sociology in addition to economics and management. Classes are designed to prepare you for the practical problems you’ll face as a human resources professional. You’ll spend a lot of time on case studies.

Human resource specialists are in demand in the private, government, and non-profit sectors: anywhere where good people are essential. Some oversee the entire human resources department of an organization, others concentrate on a specific aspect of the field, like employee training or compensation. Others use their skills to rise to management positions outside the field. Still others become consultants to any organization that wants to manage its people better.

Degree Information

Many students interested in a career in human resources pursue an MS or an MA in Human Resources Management and/or Organizational Behavior, a similar subject that covers how humans function in organizations. These programs generally run one to two years. Aspiring academics continue on to a PhD.

Students with a particular interest in the behavioral sciences may pursue a degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

If you’re looking for a broader grounding in business principles, you should consider an MBA with a concentration in human resources management. This is generally a two-year degree. An MBA will prepare you to pursue management positions inside or outside the human resources field.

Whichever degree you pursue, you’ll learn how to attract and retain the best people, train your employees and develop their talents, negotiate contracts and arbitrate disputes, facilitate interactions between labor and management, and set up the organizational structure of a business for maximum benefit. PhD programs will allow you to dive into more theoretical topics. You may study how organizations are structured, the effect of compensation on employee performance, how information is passed through an organization, or supply and demand in labor markets.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • Does this program prepare people for careers in human resources, or for more general management positions?
  • What kinds of careers do graduates pursue?
  • How practical and hands-on is the training?
  • What opportunities are offered to network with alumni and business leaders?
  • What are faculty members’ areas of expertise, and do these match up with my own interests?

Career Overview

The career outlook for human resources professionals is bright. Many become generalists, managing human resources for a firm or organization. HR managers recruit and hire employees who will contribute to the company’s success, and they help put effective management policies in place to retain and develop those employees. Sometimes they serve as the employees’ advocate: ensuring that contracts are negotiated fairly and that everyone is treated fairly. HR managers are sought in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

Another option is to specialize in a particular aspect of the field, like recruitment, training and development, performance assessment, compensation, or organizational structure. Or you can become a human resources consultant to a variety of businesses. If you have expertise in organizational behavior, you may find work in labor relations, managing conflicts between employees and management. Or you might oversee the implementation of equal opportunity laws within a business.

Graduates of doctoral programs usually go on to careers in academia.

Career/Licensing Requirements

There are no specific licensing requirements for careers in human resources management.

Salary Information

New graduates in human resources management can expect a starting salary of at least $50,000-$70,000, though this number depends heavily on type of degree, work experience, location, and field of expertise.

Related Links


  • Compensation And Assessment

  • Designing Organizational Systems

  • Employment Law

  • Ethics

  • Financial Accounting

  • Financial Impact Of Human Resource Management

  • Financial Management

  • Foundations Of Human Resource Management

  • Industrial Relations

  • Information Technology

  • Labor Economics

  • Labor-Management Relations

  • Managerial Communication Skills

  • Managing Workforce Diversity

  • Negotiation And Bargaining

  • Organizational Behavior

  • Quantitative Analysis

  • Recruitment And Staffing

  • Staffing And Evaluation Systems

  • Training And Development