Education Requirements To Pursue an HR Specialist Career

Written by Mai Do
Reviewed by Catherine Scott
7 minutes read

If you’re thinking about moving into a human resources specialist role, it’s essential to consider HR specialist education requirements. On average, there are about 78,700 openings for HR specialists each year in the US. Knowing what organizations are looking for and what you need to be successful can help you stand out from the crowd and get the job you want. 

This article will discuss the basic and advanced education requirements for an HR specialist. You’ll also find out the five steps you can take to determine the best HR education path to advance and future-proof your career. 

What is an HR specialist?
Basic education requirements for HR specialists
Advanced education requirements
Determining the best HR education path for you

What is an HR specialist?

A human resources specialist is in an entry-level role and is responsible for specific HR functions, such as recruitment, training and development, compensation and benefits, rewards, and employee relations. Their daily tasks most likely include some other HR activities, but their main focus is on their specialization. 

You’ll most often find HR specialists in large organizations and consulting firms. These companies usually have multiple HR specialists responsible for the same expertise. 

HR specialist skills

To succeed, an HR specialist needs a combination of specialized skills in their area of expertise and more general skills. These general skills can be divided into three groups:

  • Interpersonal and communication skills: These are performance management, conflict management, and relationship-building skills.

  • Analytical and decision-making skills: An HR specialist needs to be detail-oriented and has the ability to make data-driven decisions on various HR tasks.

  • Ethical and compliance skills: These include having good ethics, a sense of responsibility, and the ability to manage employee relations.

Basic education requirements for HR specialists

Now that you know what an HR specialist does and the skills they need, let’s discuss the basic education requirements for this role. 

1. Formal education 

Most organizations require a Bachelor’s Degree in HR or related fields (such as business administration, organizational psychology, economics, or business management). Degrees in these fields cover a broad range of topics, including organizational behavior, employee and labor relations, compensation and benefits, and HR information systems

However, this is not a hard requirement. People who enter the HR field often don’t have formal tertiary education and HR experience. In fact, according to our latest report on the State of HR, 92% of HR professionals moved into HR from a different job—often as a second, third, or fourth job. Most have experience in humanities, social sciences, or administration before entering HR. 

2. HR Certification 

Completing HR certificate programs and getting certified can help you gain crucial HR skills needed to succeed as an HR specialist. You’ll be up-to-date with the latest trends, laws, and best practices in human resources. 

These certifications also give you the professional credibility you need to advance your career, demonstrating your commitment to develop yourself continuously. Additionally, as a certified HR specialist, you have the leverage to demand higher compensation from the company you are working for or want to work for. 

How to choose the right certificate program

Choosing the right certificate program depends on your specialization. For example, if you’re interested in AIHR’s certificate program, here are our suggestions:

3. Internships and other work experience

Participating in HR internships can help you build a robust foundation for your future career as an HR specialist. You will gain practical insights into the day-to-day operations of an HR department, including recruitment, training, employee relations, and compliance with labor law. An internship also allows you to build professional networks within the HR community. These relationships can be valuable when you’re looking for a new job or seeking mentorship. 

Also, don’t discount the transferable skills you gain from other work experience prior to your HR roles. Skills like communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and problem-solving are crucial in any role or field of work. In HR, these skills can help you effectively interact with employees at all levels, mediate conflicts, and develop solutions to organizational challenges. 

HR internships and other work experience can also help you understand different organizational cultures and dynamics. This is vital for the field of HR, as it will help you effectively navigate and shape the workplace environment. 

Advanced education requirements

According to our research, many HR professionals transition into the function from admin and non-business roles. This makes it challenging for them to provide value to the organization because they lack core skills like business acumen, data analytics, or digital dexterity. For example, only 64% of HR professionals feel confident in translating strategy and aligning priorities. 

That’s why it’s important to develop the right knowledge and skills if you want to become a successful HR specialist. These include expertise in your area of specialization and mastery of core HR competencies — business acumen, data literacy, digital agility, people advocacy, and execution excellence. Striking the right balance between core and specialized HR competencies allows you to be more effective at what you do, stay ahead of industry trends, and offer more value to the business. 

But it’s not enough to just master these skills at one specific moment. The field of HR is changing at a rapid pace. Megatrends like technological development, changing workforce demographics, and global economic disruptions all have an impact on what is expected of HR and what HR needs to deliver. To stay relevant and future-proof your career path, you need to continuously develop your specialization expertise and core competencies. 

One of the best ways to do so is by taking HR certificate programs and getting yourself certified and recertified. This allows you to stay up to date with the latest HR practices and technologies and reinforce the foundational skills you need to succeed in your role. As a certified HR specialist, you will be well-equipped to navigate the complexities of modern HR, adapt to changing business needs and employee expectations, and contribute to the success and growth of your organization.  

Did you know?

All of AIHR’s certificate programs are accredited by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), the HR Certification Institute (HRCI), the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA), and the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR). If you’re a member of our partner organizations, you can receive credits from these institutions when you complete our programs. 

The educational requirements necessary to pursue an HR specialist career.

Determining the best HR education path for you

Many aspects of your HR education can happen organically and without prior planning from experiences, challenges, and growth within your existing role. You can pick up new skills from on-the-job training, collaborate with colleagues from other departments, or adapt to sudden changes in the technological landscape. 

While these unplanned opportunities can significantly enhance your skill set, it’s still necessary to proactively map your learning trajectory. A structured approach to your professional development ensures that your learning is comprehensive, strategic, and in line with your career goals and the organization’s needs. Here are five steps you can take to determine the best HR education path for you: 

1. Assess personal career goals and interest

Conduct a thorough self-assessment to understand your career ambitions, strengths, weaknesses, and areas of interest within human resources. A self-assessment can include: 

  • Reflect on career goals: What do you want to achieve as an HR specialist? Which area do you want to specialize in? Setting clear, achievable goals will help guide your career path. It’s also good to think about where you see yourself in five, ten, or even twenty years. 
  • Assess strengths and weaknesses: Review previous performance evaluations, feedback from colleagues, and recognitions you’ve received. This information can highlight your natural talents and areas where you excel. You’ll also be able to identify areas of improvement to focus your learning efforts. 
  • Explore interests: Consider which aspects of HR you find most engaging and fulfilling, considering your personal interests and values. For example, if you’re passionate about creating inclusive work environments, Diversity and Inclusion can be a rewarding career path. 

2. Map out your career path 

To determine your education trajectory, consider your ideal HR career path. This gives you a good understanding of where you want to be in the future and which skills you need to gain to get there. You can visualize your HR career trajectory using AIHR’s career mapping tool

Simply enter your current role and the roles you want to move into to get a detailed career path. The tool also provides details on salary, the total hours of learning you need to invest, and how many years it can take you to move into a new role.

HR Career Path Map

3. Identify the knowledge and skills you need 

Think about the knowledge and skills you need to advance in your career path. This focused approach ensures your learning efforts are aligned with your career objectives to maximize the impact of your professional development. 

HR tip: How to identify the right knowledge and skills

  • Conduct a role analysis: Review current listings of your desired roles to understand the qualifications, skills, and experiences an employer wants. 
  • Benchmark against industry leaders: identify and follow HR thought leaders and influencers to understand emerging trends and in-demand skills. Don’t forget to engage with professional HR associations like SHRM to keep up with important areas in the industry. 
  • Assess current skill level and gaps: Examine where you excel, where you need improvement, and which skills or knowledge you’re missing to move into a new role in your career path.

4. Enroll in certificate programs to fill your skills gaps 

Enroll in HR certificate programs that address the skills and knowledge gaps you’ve identified. Certificate programs also provide practical, up-to-date information on HR practices and trends. For example, if you lack the skills to develop a talent acquisition strategy, programs such as AIHR’s Strategic Talent Acquisition Certificate Program can help you fill your skill gap. 

When choosing a program, you need to think about:

  • The time you have available: If your schedule is unpredictable, a self-paced online program can give you the flexibility you need. But if you can commit to a schedule, instructor-led courses are a good option for a more structured learning experience.
  • Your learning preferences: Do you prefer the interactive environment of an offline classroom or the convenience and flexibility of online learning? Also, think about whether you prefer learning through video lectures, reading materials, or interactive discussions. 
  • The resources the program offers: Look for programs that provide additional features like coaching, an HR community, or a resource library. These can enhance your learning experience and offer value beyond the course content itself. 
  • Your budget: Compare the cost of different programs, including tuition, reading materials, exam fees, etc. The best program is the one that offers the best value for your investment. To offset the cost, look into financial aid, scholarship, or employer reimbursement options. 

5. Prioritize continuous learning 

Make ongoing learning and development a priority to stay relevant in HR. You can pursue further certifications, attend workshops and conferences, participate in webinars, and stay informed about HR trends. Having a continuous learning mindset helps you stay adaptable and forward-thinking in your HR career.  

To sum up

HR specialists are a rewarding career option that allows you to make an impact on both the organization and its employees. To become one, you will need to dedicate yourself to continuously upskilling and developing your work experience. This is how you can stay relevant, effective, and successful in your career. 

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Mai Do

Mai Do is a Content Specialist at AIHR. Mai is part of AIHR’s team of passionate and talented Marketers whose goal is to help thousands of HR professionals expand their skills sets to future-proof their careers. She is experienced in creating blog articles, downloadable ebooks, whitepapers, and newsletters on various emerging HR topics. Her expertise lies in turning complex information and insights into easy-to-understand and practical learning content.

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