Is a college degree essential for working in human resources?
If you asked a group of people about the importance of a college education and degree, some people would say that it is overrated or even unnecessary. Still, U.S. Census Bureau statistics have always shown that the median income of someone with a degree is higher than those who are not college educated. But the advantages of having a college degree don’t stop with higher salaries—it also means increased likelihood of promotions within the workplace and quite often, it means getting the interview over someone who does not have the degree.
Human resources as an industry has evolved greatly over the past two decades. Many new methods and technologies have affected how HR professionals do their job—and possibly even made it a bit more complex. You can work as a human resources professional without a college degree but you will be limited to entry-level positions and would most likely stagnate there for a long time. If you speak with older, senior HR directors and managers, you will find some that tell you that they built their career from the ground up—that they worked hard and gained knowledge on their own to get to the position that they are in today.
However, these people are the exception to the rule. Also, starting from the ground up with no degree is harder to do today than it would have been 15, 20 or 25 years ago. Employers today expect more, and the employees that an HR professional is serving expect more as well. In order to succeed as a human resources professional, one has to be extremely competent and knowledgeable.
What has also changed is that human resources professionals have been embraced by management and company owners. The human resources director is now typically part of the leadership team for the company. No longer is the HR department simply the ones who keep track of payroll and put an ad in the paper when a position opens. They have become strategists and advisors for the businesses they serve. This type of role is in line with having a college degree and some human resource professionals are seeking master’s degrees or a juris doctorate legal degree. These advanced degrees lead to more authority and responsibility with their employer, not to mention commanding higher salaries.
Human resources departments and positions are becoming more and more specialized. This trend began many years ago and it is ongoing. Within a human resources department there may be a recruiting manager, compensation and benefits manager and/or a training manager. However, HR departments still need those lower-level administrative tasks done, and this is a way to enter this field possibly without a bachelor’s degree. But regardless of the degree held or not held, someone entering human resources as their career path must be ready to be flexible and able to adapt to changes within the department and the company. They must also be studious—willing to study and learn about the responsibilities and methodologies of this dynamic field.