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Define Your HR Career Path

As kids, we often share dreams of being an astronaut, a doctor, or maybe a lawyer. What did your parents dream of you being? They probably didn’t encourage you to get on a human resources career path. 


But HR is a lucrative career that allows you to help people with some of their most important workplace issues. Your efforts can improve their career success and their ability to support themselves and their families. 


You can also climb a clear HR career ladder, if you’d like to, which can be exciting. Those who work hard, serve people well, and continue getting educated have an excellent human resource career outlook, with great pay and rewarding work. 

The Stages of an HR Career

Every HR career is different, but here are some common milestones you can look forward to.

Career Start

All successful HR professionals need certain starting qualifications, including (but not limited to):


  • Strong communication skills
  • Friendliness and likeability
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Ability to manage people
  • Knowledge of HR practices and technology
  • Time management skills
  • Change management skills


Start your career either with these skills and qualities or with a commitment to gaining them and other HR qualifications.

Training and Certification 

Some HR workers get a bachelor’s or master’s degree in HR, and some don’t. Either way, many HR professionals earn HR certifications, which help them master HR concepts and skills.


If you don’t have a degree, the aPHR (Associate Professional in HR) certification can help you get your first HR job—even if you have no work experience and no degree!


Then, at any stage of your career, you should occasionally pursue continuing education in HR. You’ll need it to renew your HR certification(s) and to help you: 


  • Enter an HR specialty OR
  • Get promoted to HR management


You may want to become a specialist in a certain functional area of HR. That can make you more valuable to your organization and help you understand that area better than an HR generalist could. HR specialties include:


  • Benefits: Help employees with health and dental insurance, retirement plans, and other job benefits
  • Talent Acquisition: Attract and hire employees your organization needs, and help employees get started well in your organization
  • Data Analysis: Go deep into reports of employee engagement, turnover, hiring, and so on, and advise leaders on good decisions based on the data
  • Payroll and Compensation: Answer payroll questions, help managers understand compensation, and make sure the payroll process works well
  • Generalist: Learn something about every area of HR, and keep a high-level view of every HR function in your organization


Your end-of-career goal may be to become outstanding at a specialty. But if your goal is to get into management, you might need to understand every specialization so you can someday manage various HR specialists.


It’s possible to climb to the level of an HR manager, director, or supervisor after several years of working in HR. HR professionals who have a bachelor’s degree in HR, though, sometimes get an immediate HR management job. 


Either way, you can set your sights on an HR management job title such as: 


  • Training and Development Manager
  • Labor Relations Manager
  • Compensation Manager
  • Benefits Analyst or Manager
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Employee Relations Manager
  • Human Resources Information Systems Manager


With several more years of experience and/or a master’s degree, you could also rise to: 


  • Human Resources Director
  • Vice President of Human Resources

What Is the Average Salary of an HR Professional?

Salary data from different sources varies, but they all paint a similar story of the average HR salary: 


Average Pay Increases

Some entry-level HR workers could start at around $32,000 per year. Payscale.com reported that they observed the average HR salary increasing to the following amounts after: 


  • 1–4 years: $51,467
  • 5–9 years: $69,956
  • 10–19 years: $75,000


Since these are averages, some employees earn above these figures, and some earn less. What you earn depends on your organization, location, performance, and other factors.

Advance Your Human Resources Skills

During any stage of your HR career, you’ll benefit from improving your skills—as will the people you serve. Getting HR certifications will show that you’re qualified for more than the average HR salary. Remember, you can get expert help preparing for certification exams at HRCP.com.

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