What Is Human Resource Management? Definition + Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about human resource management roles, responsibilities, salary, and how to get started.

[Featured image] A recruiter holds a printed CV and interviews a candidate virtually via laptop for a role in human resource management.

Human resource management (HRM) involves coordinating, managing, and allocating human capital, or employees, in ways that move an organisation’s goals forward. HRM focuses on investing in employees, ensuring their safety, and managing all aspects of staffing, from hiring to compensation and development. 

HRM careers may specialise in compensation, training, or managing employees. Most human resources management professionals hold a bachelor’s degree and some pursue a master's degree. HRM professionals can also earn professional certifications to help build knowledge and increase earning potential. HR management aims to create a company culture and accomplish its mission and overall goals through employee management. 

Definition of human resource management (HRM) 

Human resource management is organising, coordinating, and managing employees within an organisation to accomplish its mission, vision, and goals. This includes recruiting, hiring, training, compensating, retaining, and motivating employees. 

HRM staff also develops and enforces policies and procedures to help ensure employee safety. The HRM team manages adherence to federal and state laws that may work to protect employees’ private information and ensure their physical safety and mental and emotional well-being. Organisations of varying sizes and industries rely on HRM to keep business running smoothly and efficiently. 

Purpose of human resource management (HRM)

Companies use HRM to invest in employees, boost job satisfaction, and improve employee performance. The methodology behind HRM recognises the value employees bring to an organisation, also known as human capital. Investing in employees and strategically supporting their needs can improve job satisfaction, resulting in greater success in their role within an organisation. 

Well-trained, competent, valued, employer-supported employees will likely have the skills and motivation to accomplish the organisation’s goals. This might include tuition reimbursement programs, on-the-job training, or mentorships within an organisation that can help employees develop their talents and boost productivity. HRM aims to create a highly skilled workforce and increase confidence and competence, motivating employees to contribute. 

HRM has a strong focus on company culture and job satisfaction. Much of what motivates employees comes from the culture in which they work. Building and maintaining company culture can be challenging to measure and quantify, but it’s an essential function of HRM to retain and recruit employees. 

HRM also protects employees. Human resource (HR) professionals manage legal documents, policies, and regulations, identify what applies to their organisation, and find effective ways to educate employees and enforce company policy. 

HRM aims to be an ally or partner to employees. HRM emphasises employee development whilst protecting employees from discrimination, workplace hazards, and unfair compensation. 

5 basic elements of human resource management (HRM)

HRM includes:

  • Recruiting new hires 

  • Evaluating employee performance

  • Ensuring fair compensation and benefits

  • Training employees and supporting education and development

  • Protecting the health and safety of all employees 

These are critical cornerstones of the work of HRM professionals. From crafting a job posting to providing continuing education options, HRM functions at all stages of an employee's journey with an organisation. 

To be an effective HRM professional, you will need a mix of personal and technical skills like recruitment strategies, creating compensation plans, and communication and team building. 

1. Recruitment 

An effective recruitment process is at the foundation of HRM. If you can recruit good talent, you can build on their skills and invest in employees for years to come as they add value to the organisation. Equally important is company culture. You want employees who add to the culture of the organisation. Some common recruiting tools HRM may use include job aggregators like Naukri, Indeed or Foundit, video interviewing, or even social media sites like LinkedIn. 

2. Evaluation and performance management  

HRM uses data to track employee performance to ensure a highly trained and capable workforce. The data compiled can also be used to change staff training methods, implement a merit-based system for raises, and more. HRM professionals use formal measures like performance reviews and informal techniques like interviews or surveys. 

3. Compensation 

Compensation means salary, commission, benefits, time off, and other non-monetary benefits. HRM uses the industry standard to set salary, commission rates, and benefits. This ensures fairness and allows for a consistent company standard. Some organisations may use performance reviews to adjust an employee’s salary. 

4. Employee development and learning 

Engaged employees are effective employees. HRM understands the importance of a workforce that is challenged but also supported. Most employees want opportunities for advancement and to feel competent and valued in what they bring to an organisation. 

Part of HRM is providing employees with these learning opportunities. This might include tuition reimbursement programs, on-the-job training options, conferences, conventions, or certification programs. Aside from individual learning, HRM can also use employee development and knowledge to help employees adapt to organisational changes, such as system upgrades, technology shifts, and new policies. 

5. Employee health and safety

The safety and well-being of an organisation’s employees are critically important aspects of HRM. Employee health and safety covers a lot, such as safety against harassment, discrimination, or bullying in the workplace. It can mean physical security that would involve building fire code compliance. It can also mean adherence to labour laws that protect an employee's rights in the workplace and cybersecurity or safeguarding an employee’s personal information. 

A lot goes into protecting all aspects of employees’ health and safety, and it is an HRM professional’s job to ensure that protection. HRM professionals may do this by installing security cameras, enforcing internet usage rules, implementing a zero-tolerance policy, or creating restricted access areas.

Careers in human resource management (HRM)

You can find many different careers in HRM, with varying points of entry. Most positions in HRM require at least a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related field. You can also earn certifications to help you find the best position within the vast area of HRM. 

HRM professionals will likely have to become more skilled with artificial intelligence (AI) and learn to work with employees working remotely or in a hybrid environment. With the gig workforce growing, independent workers may also be part of the team. Additionally, since AI is growing, expect to learn more computer skills in human resource positions. In the future, employee leads may come in with the help of AI as much as humans. 

*All base salaries sourced from Glassdoor as of November 2023.

Payroll specialist

Average annual salary in India: ₹6,66,666

Payroll specialists gather employee information, ensure accuracy, and administer compensation based on hours worked. This role usually works with a team of other payroll specialists and other departments to approve expenses, manage budgets, and process payroll. A degree in accounting or experience in payroll or accounting is common. 

Training and development manager 

Average annual salary in India: ₹9,74,770

A training and development manager, and a training coordinator oversee employment training and implement training initiatives to build employee competence. Other responsibilities of this role include communicating an organisation's mission statement or company values and creating training programmes. Training coordinators typically hold a bachelor’s degree and relevant certifications and have experience in HR.

Human resources manager 

Average annual salary in India: ₹9,08,000

An HR manager oversees an entire HR department or a portion of an HR department, depending on the company’s size. This role manages staff hiring, implementing policies, handling payroll and benefits, and advising managers or other supervisors from other departments. Qualifications typically include a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related field, experience in HR, and possibly certifications. 

Benefits manager 

Average annual salary in India: ₹19,49,017

Benefits managers oversee the payroll department, ensuring all functions related to compensation and benefits are carried out and accurate. This job ensures employees are paid based on an organisation’s pay structure and benefits are granted per employee contracts. As a benefits and compensation manager, you also meet with other departments to discuss financial matters. Qualifications typically include a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field, experience in payroll or management, and possibly certifications, depending on your employer. 

How to get started in human resources management

You can pursue various options for launching a career in human resources management. They often include education, experience, certification, and networking. Read on to discover ways you can begin preparing for a career in HRM. 

Consider degree opportunities.  

Human resources courses can range from certificates to master’s degrees after grade 12. A PG Diploma can take one to two years, while a bachelor’s usually takes three. A master’s degree typically takes around two more years. Master’s degrees are also helpful in acquiring skills relevant to human resources management. Common HR degree coursework includes workplace diversity, business ethics, labour relations, strategic HR, and workforce planning. Some programs may also require internship experience. 

Gain HR experience.

You can stand out as an HRM job candidate with some experience in the HR field. There are opportunities to gain experience at all levels, whether a new graduate or a seasoned professional.  One way to get experience is through internships and entry-level positions, such as human resources assistant or associate. In these entry-level roles, you’ll assist in the major duties of HR and build experience to move forward. 

Joining professional organisations and attending networking opportunities, like conferences and conventions, is another way to gain experience, knowledge, and connections in HRM. 

Earn professional certifications. 

Consider professional certification to improve your chances of getting hired into an upper-level or senior-level position in HRM. Your human resource management salary may also be positively affected if you gain certifications. 

International HR and business organisations offer many professional certificate options. Choose the one that fits your long-term career goals and eligibility. Select from certifications specifically designed for individuals new to HR up to senior-level employees. 

  • HR Certification Institute offers eight certification options. The Associate Professional in Human Resources - International has no educational or experiential prerequisites to be eligible. This certification is ideal for entry-level candidates who want to advance in HRM. Its professional and senior certifications have educational and experiential requirements and would suit someone who has already worked in HR. 

  • Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers two certifications for human resource management professionals. These are the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and the SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). You don’t need previous experience in HR, and there are no educational requirements for the SHRM-CP. The SHRM-SCP has experiential and academic requirements. 

  • WorldatWork provides certifications specifically designed for individuals who work in payroll or benefits. HR professionals could benefit from these certifications, as most HRM professionals handle finances, payroll, and budgets. You can earn a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP) certification, Certified Executive Compensation Professional (CECP) certification, Certified Benefits Professional (CBP) certification, and more.

Apply for HRM positions. 

Once you’ve honed your HRM skills and acquired any certifications or training, it’s time to polish your CV and apply for HRM positions. Work on your CV as you go, gathering personal and professional references. Join professional organisations, take online courses, and attend conferences—all of which you would include on your CV to illustrate your dedication and drive. 

When you prepare your CV, include credentials, all related previous professional experience, internships, your education, professional organisations of which you’re a member,  achievements, qualifications, and HRM-relevant skills. 

One important tip, especially for HR CVs: Optimise your document using targeted keywords that applicant tracking systems (ATS) can pick up, which you will also likely use in your career as an HRM professional. 

Get started in human resource management

Build career-ready skills in HR with the HRCI Human Resource Associate Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn how to recruit and retain talent, manage performance, and evaluate benefits from industry leaders as you earn a shareable certificate for your resume.

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