What Is Human Resources? (Jobs, Areas, Skills, and More)

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Want to learn about the field of human resources? Discover what different HR professionals do, how much they get paid, and what it takes to pursue an HR career.

[Featured image] A human resources manager speaks to an employee while sitting at a desk.

Human resources (HR) refers to the department within an organization that handles all employee matters. Its function varies across different industries and businesses, but typically include recruitement, compensation, employee relations, and more. If you’re interested in working in human resources learn more about the departments, the people that run them, the work, and how to get started. 

What is HR?

From when employees are recruited until the day they leave an organization, they may have had contact with the human resources department.  HR handles the majority of the administrative tasks like employee benefits, and provides support through employee programs. Examples include wage and benefit programs, employee leave programs, and training and development programs. 

Read more: What Is Human Resources (HR)? Description, Duties, and Jobs

HR’s importance for business

HR departments have become indispensable to businesses because HR professionals make sure employees in an organization stay happy, healthy, safe, and productive. To learn just how important this field is, consider what professionals in an HR department do. 

Common areas of focus in HR

Effective human resources professionals need to be familiar with the workings of their department. Common areas of focus in HR departments include:

  • Employee benefits

  • Employee compensation

  • Employee development 

  • Employee evaluation and discipline

  • Employee health and safety

  • Labor laws and compliance

  • Labor relations

  • Staffing

What do you do when you work in HR? 

Depending on your job title, you could hire a new employee, conduct a training session, or resolve a manager-employee dispute. To understand this field, here are some common tasks you might have as an HR professional. 

Recruiting and hiring employees

The success of any organization starts with its employees, making recruiting and hiring one of the most important duties for HR professionals. To hire the right person for the job, you might work with a specific department leader to determine exactly what they need. Then, you'll be responsible for job postings, candidate screening, interviewing, and hiring. 

Read more: Get Started on a Recruiter Career Path: Jobs, Skills, Salaries

Processing payroll

As an HR professional, you might be responsible for adding employees to the payroll system after they're hired. You may also be involved in payroll administration, ensuring the process is completed on time. 

Administering benefits

The human resources department is responsible for creating benefit policies and administering benefits to employees. These include ongoing benefits like health insurance and 401k programs and periodic benefits like bonuses. 

Maintaining employee records

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, organizations need to create and maintain certain employee records as a matter of law [1]. These records might include hiring documents, payroll information, or nondisclosure agreements. Creating and maintaining personnel files falls under the jurisdiction of the HR department. 

Coordinating employee training

Training teaches workers new skills, and it boosts employee morale. You may be responsible for finding and booking training sites, doing training setup, recruiting training professionals, or conducting the training yourself. 

Handling disciplinary matters

As a human resources professional, you may be responsible for creating disciplinary policies and possibly implementing them. When employees understand what the company expects in terms of job conduct and the consequences for breaking the rules, it protects organizations from lawsuits. 

Making policy changes and updating employees

The HR department creates all kinds of workplace policies, from employee classifications and sick leave policies to emergency procedures. As a member of the HR department, you might also make changes to policies and communicate these changes to employees.  

What skills do you need to work in HR?

To be a successful HR professional, it helps to have a variety of technical and workplace skills, such as the following:

Technical skills

Technical skills refer to the abilities needed to perform specialized work tasks or use specific workplace tools. Some technical skills that might help you as an HR professional include:

  • Expertise in various types of HR software

  • Knowledge of business law

  • Experience in creating and maintaining budgets

  • Experience in employee recruitment, interviewing, and hiring

  • Knowledge of labor law

Workplace skills

Workplace skills are the abilities that help humans interact with one another. Some workplace skills that could benefit you in an HR position include:

  • Knowledge of human resource management 

  • The ability to communicate verbally and in writing

  • The ability to work with members of a team

  • Leadership 

  • Coaching 

  • Listening skills

  • Experience with conflict management

Job in HR

When deciding on any career path, knowing about the various available jobs helps.  

Organized from low to high in terms of skills and experience, here are some examples of HR jobs you could pursue. The corresponding salaries reflect the average pay before extras like bonuses and profit sharing as of March 2023. 

HR assistant 

Median annual base salary (US): $43,833 [2]

HR assistant is a good entry-level position to have. As an HR assistant, you might take phone calls, greet visitors, and provide clerical support to the HR manager. This might include answering emails, helping with payroll, and maintaining personnel files. 

Common requirements: 

  • Bachelor’s in human resource management or business administration

  • Few years of relevant work experience

HR coordinator

Median annual base salary (US): $47,992 [3]

HR coordination involves work tasks centered around new employees. As an HR coordinator, you might assist the HR manager with clerical duties like administering new employee paperwork or conducting orientations. Or, you could help the recruiting officer by posting job notices, setting up interviews, and checking references. 

Common requirements: 

Read more: What Does a Human Resources Coordinator Do?

HR specialist 

Median annual base salary (US): $52,026[4]

If you enjoy working with numbers, a position as an HR specialist might be a good fit. Typical tasks for this role include administering payroll, processing payroll deductions, and training others in using the payroll system. 

Common requirements: 

  • Master’s degree in HR management or a bachelor’s degree combined with payroll-specific certifications

  • Background in payroll administration software



Median annual base salary (US): $51,885 [5]

Recruiters work to fill vacant positions in companies with the best available candidates. Your job duties as a recruiter might include finding and screening applicants, setting up interviews, and conducting reference checks.  

Common requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree in HR management or business administration

  • Knowledge of applicant tracking systems 

  • Knowledge of current employment laws and regulations

Director of human resources

Median annual base salary (US): $102,586 [6]

As you work your way up the career ladder, you could land a position as the director of HR. In this role, you might be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the HR department. You might also develop employee programs and policies and evaluate them on a regular basis. 

Common requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree in HR management, business, or psychology 

  • Strong program management skills

  • Background in strategic planning 

Chief human resource officer

Median annual base salary (US): $167,037 [7]

As an organization's chief human resource officer (CHRO), you will oversee all employee policies, programs, and services. In this role, you'll need a strong labor law background to make sure your company complies with government rules and regulations. 

Common requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree in HR management or business administration

  • A master’s degree on a relevant field or labor relations 

Read more:What Does A Chief Human Resources Officer Do?

Job outlook in HR

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), human resources is "one of the fastest-growing fields in the United States [8]." Due to the variety of different positions in HR, you should have many opportunities for career growth and advancement.  

Common path to working in HR

If you're interested in pursuing a particular career, it helps to know what steps to take. To land a job in human resources, explore this common career path. 

Earn a bachelor's degree. 

Although a bachelor's degree isn't required for all HR positions, getting one should make you a more marketable job candidate. To complete a bachelor’s degree it typically takes four years. Good fields of study to pursue include:

  • Human resource management

  • Business administration

  • Business management

  • Finance

  • Accounting

  • Economics

Gain professional experience. 

Getting experience can help you land an entry-level position in an HR department. One way to gain experience is through an internship. Common duties you might have as an HR intern include:

  • Creating job postings

  • Setting up interviews

  • Uploading information into employee databases

  • Doing setup for employee training sessions and events

  • Providing clerical support to HR managers

Read more: 10 HR Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Consider getting an advanced degree.

If you have ambitions for a top-level position in HR, you may want to consider getting a master's degree. A master's in human resource management can make you a more competitive candidate for positions like Director of Human Resources or Vice President of Human Resources.  

Pursue HR certifications.

Professional certifications can help you keep up with the latest information and trends in the HR  field. The HR Certification Institute (HRCI) offers these popular certifications for HR professionals at many levels:

  • Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR) for individuals starting out in HR

  • Professional in Human Resources (PHR) for individuals with at least one to four years of HR experience (depending on an acquired bachelor's or master's degree)

  • Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) for individuals with at least four to seven years of HR experience (depending on an acquired bachelor's or master's degree)

Next steps 

To get started in HR, you may want to consider taking a class or earning a specialization. You could try a course at a local college or university or take a class online from the comfort of your home. Human Resource Management: HR for People Managers Specialization is offered on Coursera by the University of Minnesota. This six-month specialization offers four courses with valuable information on HR principles, labor law, and best practices for employee hiring, management, and reward. When you finish all four courses, you'll have a shareable certificate of completion.  

Article sources


U S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "Recordkeeping Requirements, https://www.eeoc.gov/employers/recordkeeping-requirements." Accessed March 9, 2023.

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