How to become a human resources manager or director

How to become a human resources manager or director

Our blog How to become a human resources manager or director
How to become a human resources manager

Have you come to the point in your human resources career where you're ready to take the next step into a leadership role? If so, then it might be time to start thinking about how to become a human resources manager or director.

And’s not just about a higher salary. If you're ready for more responsibility and want to have more influence over what you do, how you do it, and who you affect with your behavior then a human resources manager or director position could be the perfect role for you. 

But you may be wondering:

  • What does a human resources director do?
  • What does a human resources manager do?
  • Am I better equipped for a role as a manager or a director? 
  • Am I ready to transition into a leadership role?
  • If so, how can I make it happen?

Well, you're in luck! We're going to answer each of those questions below.

What does a human resources director do?

An human resources director is typically an executive position. This role is in charge of all the facets of the HR department. This person will lead a team of HR specialists and generalists to execute against the strategy of the department.

An HR director basically has two different job responsibilities. 

The first one falls under the HR umbrella such as:

  • recruiting and staffing
  • compliance to regulations and employment laws
  • compensation and benefits administration
  • organizational development
  • salary and benefits
  • performance management
  • employee safety, health, and well-being
  • coaching and mentoring of the employees
  • policy development
  • creating standard operating procedures

The second part of the job role concerns the human resources director’s ability to manage a team and be a role model (leader) in the company.

  • employee relation skills
  • emotional intelligence
  • interpersonal communication
  • leadership
  • decision-making
  • teamwork
  • public speaking

A human resources director will have to be able to manage both of these areas well if they want to be successful. 

What does a human resources manager do?

A human resources manager usually acts as the liaison between the executive team and other staff members. Depending on the size of the company, they may run the whole HR department, or they may be one of many HR managers leading different teams within a larger HR department.

HR manager skills

An HR manager will be responsible for things like:

  • training staff
  • employee retention
  • facilitating the resolution of disagreements between employees and management
  • contract negotiating

The smaller the HR department, the more overlap there will be between the duties of an HR manager and a director.

Am I better equipped for a role as a manager or a director? 

There's no definitive answer to this question, but here are some basic guidelines.

if you’re just starting out in the HR department and have less than two years of experience in the field, you probably aren’t ready for a role as a manager or a director yet. These roles tend to be filled by experienced human resources professionals. And, especially for director positions, you may be required to have a bachelor's or even a master's in HR or a related field.

The more experience you've had working directly with leadership and being involved in strategic decision-making, the better suited you'll be for a role as a human resources director.

Management roles usually don't require as much understanding of strategy, but you will need to have at least a basic understanding of employment law, employee benefits, and (of course) how to manage people.

How to become an human resources manager

As mentioned in the previous section, the key to becoming an HR manager is to gain experience in many different areas of human resources, take any opportunity you can to work on your management skills, and learn about these key areas:

  • staffing
  • compensation and benefits
  • work design

Getting HR certified can make you more competitive, along with getting your bachelor's and or master's degree. These will also be helpful if you hope to be an HR director one day.

How to become a human resources director

When hiring an HR director, employers will look for strategic experience, past work with people in leadership roles, your education background, and what certifications you have. You don't have to do all of the following, but these are the things that will help you if you're hoping to land an in-demand job at a top company.

Get a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a relevant field

Most directors have a bachelor’s degree in human resources, psychology, sociology, business administration, management, or a related field. 

If you already have a bachelor's degree, try thinking about a master’s degree that would specialize you in a relevant HR field. This is especially beneficial if your undergraduate degree is in a field unrelated to human resources.

Certain master’s degrees to explore that might be a good match are: 

  • employment law
  • human resources management
  • talent development
  • data analytics
  • business administration
  • people management

Get certified

Another thing to look into is HR certifications. They can really improve your odds of becoming an HR director. 

Two of the biggest organizations that offer HR certifications are SHRM and HRCI.

Make your ambition known

You need to make sure that your leaders are aware that you’re qualified (or working to become qualified) and hoping to one day become an HR director. 

A great starting point is a one-on-one meeting. You can sit down with your leader where you can express your ambition and ask about potential promotion opportunities. 

If possible, work with your manager to create a professional development plan that will help you progress towards your goal. This will show them that you're serious about your desire to move up and it will help you gain the skills you need to do so.

How to become a human resources manager and (eventually) director

So, to recap, here's how to become a human resources director:

  • Network. It's all about who you know, right? Start networking right from the start of your career so you can develop the relationships you'll need to advance.
  • Get your bachelor's degree. If you hope to one day become a human resources director, you'll almost always need at least a Bachelor's degree in human resources or a similar course of study.
  • Get some experience. The easiest way to break into human resources is to begin as a specialist. Then, by gaining experience in different areas of HR, you can build up your resume to become a good candidate for a manager or director role. Be on the lookout for opportunities to work with people in the C-suite and take every chance you get to gain experience in the strategic side of human resources.
  • Get your master's degree. To be in the mix for competitive roles as an HR manager or director, it will help to have a Master's in human resources or a related field.
  • Get HR certified. There are many certifications that will help you stand out when applying for a job as a human resources manager or director. (Check out our guide on how to get human resources certified.)

Usually, it takes around five years of experience in the HR field to be ready for the human resources director’s role. 

Don’t be discouraged if you have fewer years of experience than this. The skills you learn during the years of experience you do have may outweigh your lack of experience. But if you find that you're being turned down for higher-level positions, know that it may just be a matter of time. Stay focused on building your experience in areas like:

  • change management programs
  • mergers, takeovers, and acquisitions
  • succession planning and talent management

Work hard to learn the ins and outs of HR and look for opportunities that are particularly well suited to your unique experience in the field.

Go for that position

A role as an HR manager or director will be challenging and come with a lot of responsibilities, but they are also influential roles that have a huge impact on many teams inside the organization. 

If you're just starting out in your career, now is the time to start gaining the skills, training, education, and certifications you need to progress. Start considering the different certifications, look at available educational opportunities, and let your leaders know that you're interested in working to become a manager or director.

Good luck!

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