7 Ways to Pave Your Human Resources Career Path

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

To reach the types of human resources roles you want, it helps to evaluate alternate routes and professional skills that will get you there. And don’t forget to consider some valuable shortcuts – such as certifications and industry connections. If you’re ready to hit the gas as an HR professional, start by exploring seven ways to pave your human resources career path. Let’s go!


Tip No. 1: Start With a Degree

Earning a bachelor’s degree in human resources, workforce development, or any business major gives you momentum. But so could a humanities, education, psychology, communications, economics, or human services degree. Why? Because HR pros have a wide skillset.


In addition to strategic thinking, budgeting, proposal writing, and an understanding of compensation and benefits packages, you’ll need discernment, tact, empathy, problem-solving, and persuasion skills to climb the HR career ladder. A well-rounded background and education can help you develop these soft skills.


Follow your curiosity when choosing a major. If you want to go into HR but you also love biology, consider the science degree as a smart path to an HR role at a hospital or pharmaceutical company.


A male and a female shaking hands in an office before meeting to discuss human resources career paths.

Tip. No. 2: Know Your Value

Even if you don’t have a degree, getting your foot in the HR door is possible. You may just need to work your way up from an entry-level position. If you already have experience in a field, it’s possible to transition to the HR department. For instance, if you’ve worked in manufacturing, you bring perspective on the kinds of employees who thrive in that line of work.


Use your communications skills, professional background, and thorough understanding of the business to qualify for an industry-specific role, with or without a degree. Particularly in smaller, privately owned companies that emphasize skills over a school degree, you can often find a rewarding HR role.


Tip No. 3: Make Contacts Along the Way

To get where you want to go in your human resources career, you’ll need guidance, connections, and goodwill from people who know you and your work ethic. Developing strong internal relationships can position you for advancement if opportunities arise. But so can making connections outside of your company.


Start building your professional network on social media – prioritizing LinkedIn and Facebook. Then build it by joining HR organizations, such as National Human Resources Association (NHRA), Human Capital Institute (HCI) and World at Work.


Tip No. 4: Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Road Less Traveled

When you’re breaking into HR, you don’t necessarily need to plot every career move you hope to make. But planning the broad direction of your HR career can improve your chance for success. Research the types of human resources careers and the industries that fascinate you. Will you be a generalist or look for a niche role? Fortunately, there are many HR-related roles available:

  • Employment specialist
  • Recruiter
  • Labor relations specialist
  • Health and safety specialist
  • Training and development specialist
  • Compensation and benefits specialist
  • Executive recruiter
  • HR consulting


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects human resources specialist jobs to grow by 10 percent in the next eight years. Before you decide if generalist or specialist is your preferred path, know that some specialty areas are growing faster than others. Do your research and find the niche that interests you, aligns with your skills, and offers room to grow.

 Female wearing glasses conducting an interview with HR.

Tip No. 5: Merge into the HR Lane

Merging from an unrelated career lane into HR is achievable, but plan to identify and acquire the skills you need to be successful in the HR job. Register for HR training courses to gain a practical foundation before you transition into the field or shortly after taking on a new role. And don’t forget to ask your hiring manager if the company will pay for HR training and certifications.


If you started out in one career direction and now want to take a turn into human resources, you won’t be the first person to change career lanes into HR. Because hiring is at a fever pitch, companies are searching for talent anywhere they can find it. But recognize that the current job market may try to reroute you. Due to the labor shortage, individuals in a variety of roles are now being asked to take on a recruitment role. And at the top of that list of professionals being squeezed into recruitment is HR:

  • Human resources
  • Account manager
  • Administrative assistant
  • Salesperson
  • Customer service representative
  • Account executive
  • Business development manager
  • Project manager


Tip No. 6: Map Your Route While Climbing the HR Career Ladder

Although you don’t need to have it all figured out, it may help you to create a pathway chart mapping out your climb up the HR career ladder so you can visualize where you’re headed. Note the new skills and certifications you plan to acquire in each role.


While there are multiple routes to your HR career destination, many professionals follow a common path, starting at an entry level and progressing from there:

  • Entry-level roles: Staffing coordinator, HR assistant, HR associate, HR administrator
  • Mid-career roles: HR specialist, HR generalist, HR supervisor, personnel manager, benefits administrator, staffing manager, recruiter, safety manager
  • Senior roles: HR manager, HR director
  • Executive roles: Chief human resources officer (CHRO), vice president of human resources


As an HR professional, you’ll be expected to provide strategic planning in your hiring and benefits approach. Apply the same techniques to your own career. Identify the future type of human resources job you want – and the next – long before you’re ready to fill the role.


Tip No. 7: Be Open to Detours

Stay flexible. Don’t be so focused on your charted path that you miss a golden opportunity to go off-road and take a more “scenic” route to HR success.


As you follow your HR career plan, know that the path will not always be straightforward. If you follow the twists and turns with a sense of discovery and excitement, you might arrive at a much more wonderful destination than the one you planned.


For instance, say your current employer offers you a lateral move instead of a promotion. Does this add a delay to your plan? Or will taking the sidestep actually allow you to leap over an intermediate role you expected next? Should you accept a role in a field you know nothing about, but one with more responsibility and potential for advancement?


Turbocharge Your Resume with HR Certifications from USF

There is an express lane to your career destination: human resources training courses and certifications. USF offers a range of programs, including courses certified by SHRM. Earning one or more of these highly respected credentials will distinguish you as an HR expert, making you a stronger candidate for your next move. Ready to discover how SHRM certification from USF can accelerate your human resources career?


Learn More