ways to learn human resources

Do I need an HR degree to apply for an HR job? [Reader Question]

I get a lot of questions from readers about HR careers, job searching, HR certification, and more. If you have a question you’d like to see answered here, please send it over! See other questions I’ve answered here.

Is an HR degree required to apply for a job in HR, or are graduates with other degrees also considered for these roles? -Dominique

Hi Dominique!

Six months ago, I would have said no. Right now, I’m going to still say “no” but with a caveat. This changed everything in the job market:


In the last 10+ years I have told countless people that want to work in HR that we would gladly take them. I can teach you how to handle COBRA paperwork or open a job requisition, but it’s much harder to teach you to care about the employees, have a servant’s heart, etc. You don’t need a degree to do any of this, though it can help with some of the theories and understanding of HR from a broader perspective.

If you want to get into HR and do not have a degree, you might look at one of the certifications that exist. Here’s my analysis of the two first-tier exams (PHR and SHRM-CP).

You May Already Have HR Experience

I talked with an amazing gentleman a few weeks ago that is working for a fast food chain known for its great culture. He’s been in charge of hiring and training, two key HR activities, for the last six months. As he looks for another role, he was thinking that he only has six months of experience. However, we talked about his previous experience and he ran his own company for several years, handling much of the payroll, hiring, onboarding, training, performance evaluations, and more. Even though he didn’t have an HR job title, he was doing HR work.

I call this “do HR where you are.”

Regardless of the job you are in, look for ways to adapt it to the HR role you eventually want to be in. Look for ways to teach and train others. Look for ways to be a “buddy” for new hires and coach them. Look for ways to participate as a peer interviewer in the hiring process. Find ways to help give recognition to others for a job well done.

Those are critical skills for HR, and again, none of that requires a degree. You might pick some of them up from working as a retail manager or volunteering at a children’s camp every summer. Those are what we call transferable skills.

That said, if you have a degree and the market is flooded with qualified people due to something like what happened in 2020, then you are going to end up looking more qualified than someone who doesn’t have a degree. It’s just the nature of the hiring, even if it’s not always an accurate way to choose a candidate. In fact, research actually shows that some of the things that hiring managers like to look at, such as where you went to school or what GPA you had, are worse than random at predicting who is going to be a good candidate for the job!

I hope that helps, Dominique. Most of the companies I know would prefer someone with a love of HR and an intense focus on service and excellence, THEN a degree so you know where to direct your efforts (though there are other non-degree paths for learning HR). I’ve always said a degree taught me about 10% of what I needed to be successful in HR–the other 90% was gathered on the job.

ways to learn human resources

Bottom line: no, you don’t need a degree to get a job in HR. However, in a tight market, having a degree (or a certification) can help you to stand out from the crowd.

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