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Susan M. Heathfield

Qualified for HR With a Two Year Degree?

By September 28, 2013

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This question is so important for people who want to work in the field of Human Resources that I thought I'd post the question and its answer here.

A reader, who is working on a two year degree, which according to her college, would assure her of an HR job upon graduation, has received different information from her HR contacts working in the field.

I burst her bubble further. Agree or disagree with me? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

See the answer in Qualified for an HR Manager Job with a 2 Year Degree?

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Poll: Does an HR leader need a degree?

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January 11, 2011 at 8:14 am
(1) Amy says:

I think there was a time when you could get into HR without a degree and be successful. I think this is changing . HR needs to be more strategic and be a part of the inner circle. In order to get into that inner circle, you need to be seen as an equal with something to offer. This is not to say that isn’t possible without a degree but I think the degree does earn you some credibility. There are still a lot of people out there with degree’s that I would not hire due to a lack of common sense, business sense, soft skills, attitude, etc. But the degree helps get your resume looked at sooner in my opinion.

January 11, 2011 at 9:28 am
(2) Ian W says:

The question was, can you GET a job in HR not, as some have interpreted it, can you hold down an HR job.
A degree doesn’t prove your worth. If you are already doing the job and proving yourself, there’s no problem. But there might be when you apply for a job outside your company.
When I have a choice I employ a degree. It just tells me a little more about the person. So, while it might not be true that you CAN’T get a job without one, you are limiting yourself and your options as a new person in the job market by limiting your studies.
I don’t know about the States, but in South Africa HR is considered a soft option. EVERYONE does something in HR (including horrendous part-time courses of three months, where they are also told they will get an HR job). As a result you are competing against hundreds of other applicants for every HR job. I think Susan’s point is, make yourself more marketable. I wouldn’t call that crappy advice; I’d say thank you and try to adjust.

January 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm
(3) Pam Bennison says:

While I see some valid points with the degree being very important, there is NOTHING that holds it’s own as much as experience and then the validation of that experience with Certification i.e. SPHR or PHR for a successful career in HR. I always recommend someone who wants to get into the field to find some way to get involved with the HR Dept. in your current company. Volunteer to work ar Job Fairs, help with job specific training, or start/participate in a mentoring program. Do things that can show an HR Aptitude…..then if an opportunity occurs, they will be thought of for an internal placement. That is how I “happened” on HR (then Personnel) 20 years ago when I was a Sales Manager and had a Marketing degree.

January 13, 2011 at 6:47 am
(4) Kathleen Monast says:

With all due respect, I think your response was very limiting. While your answer might be accurate in the context of larger companies and perhaps governmental agencies and health care, it is not accurate in the context of smaller and/or family-owned businesses. Nor is it accurate when you are talking about an entrepreneurial environment.

With my two-year degree, PHR certification (going for my SPHR this year) and over 25 years of office experience in hand, I began practicting in HR in 2001. I knew nothing, but I work hard and studied hard – often on my own time and often with the financial support of my employer. For the last 3 years, I’ve been practicing at the Director level.

I know where my experience would be welcome and I know where it would not be, and I target any job search accordingly.

I can’t be the only one out there. There must be many, many HR professionals who are valued for their experience, knowledge, and contributions to their current and past employers.

Your response to this student should have included information on the different kinds of employers as well as on how she might structure her job search with the degree and experience that she has.

September 11, 2011 at 5:01 pm
(5) Dar says:

And I think it is foolish biased people such as yourself who pass up perfectly eligible people because they don’t have that precious piece of paper that proclaims they are so much smarter than the average Joe because they received a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree..it’s hogwash..I know of a woman who only finished HIGH SCHOOL and works in Human Resources and does an excellent job for them! She is very talented but couldn’t afford college..she has been with this same company almost ten years so when you say you wouldn’t even look at an application with a two year degree my blood just boils!!!!

September 17, 2011 at 1:59 pm
(6) HR Manager in the South says:

I happen to agree with an earlier post about getting vs. holding. I have been in the HR arena for about 6 years now and currently work as an HR Manager (non-supervisory) making over 80k. I have had 4 HR jobs in my work career, and ALL of them required a 4 yr degree to get into the door. With that being said, in my last team we had one individual who obtained an entry level HR rep position without a degree. However, she had been employed in this large company since the age of 16 and it took her 16 years to get into the HR rep role. So while it is not 100% accurate that you need a degree to get an HR job, its puts you on a faster track and opens many more doors.
An update about the aforementioned co-worker; when looking at other jobs OUTSIDE of the current employer, she realized she would be limited (she couldn’t spend another 10+ years starting and the bottom and proving/working her way up) so she began going to school part time for her BA. I would suggest you get in the field now in whatever form you can, then go ahead and get your degree AND your PHR/SPHR certification. Just my two cents from my experience….

November 30, 2011 at 12:43 pm
(7) Mary says:

I was looking into getting into HR but i was just going to try to get an associates degree at a community college because I can’t afford to add more school loans onto what i already have and i need to be working now, even if its a crappy job or part time to pay for things. I have a bachelors degree in elementary education, a math minor, and a masters degree in reading + reading specialist. How likely would it be for people to look at me for HR? I know without any experience, it’s really hard, so what can i do? I can’t even get calls for receptionist jobs i apply to in my area b/c jobs are so few and far between now and i live in western pa (pittsburgh area) so teaching is horrible (budget cuts and furloughs). I can’t waste a ton of time and money like that and i’m hoping some things i have will transfer b/c i was an accounting major for about a year and a half during my undergrad.

November 30, 2011 at 1:01 pm
(8) Susan Heathfield says:

Hi Mary,

I’m not sure that you need more degrees although training in some business and HR topicsis good. Have you tried to pursue a paid or unpaid internship to gain some experience? You might also try to hold some informational meetings with HR people in your area to get advice about what is needed.
See: http://humanresources.about.com/od/glossaryi/g/informational_interviews.htm and http://humanresources.about.com/od/humanresourcesjob/f/jobs-in-hr-management.htm and look at some of the transition stories here: http://humanresources.about.com/od/hrbasicsfaq/tp/careers_in_hr.htm

Best wishes, Susan

November 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm
(9) Mary says:


I haven’t tried to find an internship, but if i wanted to do that, how would i go about it? Also, how do i find out about the different areas of HR to know exactly what each job does or to be more informed about the jobs HR does? I really appreciate your help.

November 30, 2011 at 1:44 pm
(10) Mary says:

I actually just did an internship search but most have a requirement of being in college pursuing a degree toward human resources. Should i still apply for these?

November 30, 2011 at 12:48 pm
(11) Mary says:

I was looking into getting into HR but i was just going to try to get an associates degree at a community college because I can’t afford to add more school loans onto what i already have and i need to be working now, even if its a crappy job or part time to pay for things. I have a bachelors degree in elementary education, a math minor, and a masters degree in reading + reading specialist. How likely would it be for people to look at me for HR? I know without any experience, it’s really hard, so what can i do? I can’t even get calls for receptionist jobs i apply to in my area b/c jobs are so few and far between now and i live in western pa (pittsburgh area) so teaching is horrible (budget cuts and furloughs). I’ve had long-term teaching positions but nothing permanent. I can’t waste a ton of time and money like that and i’m hoping some things i have will transfer b/c i was an accounting major for about a year and a half during my undergrad.

December 3, 2012 at 1:54 pm
(12) VB says:

Unfortunately, I think this article is spot on. I graduated 2 years ago with an associates in HR from a community college. Nothing… never even get a call or email back when I apply for something in that department. Wish I would have known this $12,000 dollars ago :(

December 18, 2012 at 8:25 am
(13) John says:

There are levels of opportunity in HR like there are in other fields. Some are accessible with an Associate’s level education, but the majority of the ads I see (and I look often) are asking for a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree so Susan’s opinion is valid. It has been well pointed out here (somewhat defensively I might point out) that there are exceptions, but in the larger HR world a minimum of a Bachelor’s is the gateway to most jobs in HR. Community colleges are running around telling prospective students about the transferrability of their credits for a reason. What you don’t often hear from is the college placement offices – because they cannot tout the successes they once had. Yes, 20 and 30 years of experience will often qualify someone with the equivalent of a higher degree… and, yes, 20 and 30 years ago the Associates was a more valued degree (job-wise) than it is today.

December 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm
(14) Jennie says:

This is a tricky question, I think that it depends on the opening, the company, the hiring manager and your work history. The likelihood of getting to the executive table is slim without a degree, however I have met many generalists, coordinators and even some managers without them. One thing I’ve run across a lot is the hiring manager factor. If the hiring manager got where they are without a degree or with minimal education, they may be more open to others with the same background. Additionally, if the company is a smaller mom and pop operation, they will often hire someone with practical experience who then wears many hats and eventually could be promoted into a high level HR position. The more competitve (and usually the more corporate) the company is the less likely you will get through the door without a Bachelors. Don’t give up hope, each situation is unique.

December 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm
(15) SSK says:

I guess it really comes down to whether you would rather go to school and get a bachelors degree in 4 years, get an entry job in HR, and hop on a faster track. You would have that degree be completely transferrable wherever you go. Or as an alternative, work at a company for 8-10 years to get to the same level (entry level) and possibly risk another company not acknowledging that work because of your lack of a bachelor’s degree. Also SHRM/HRCI requires a bachelor’s degree to sit for any of their exams. Continuing education and starting off with the basics in HR is imperative. HR is the cornerstone and protection from liablity and negligence for any company biggest resource, their workforce. Federal financial aid is availiable and if you are working you couldl supplement the aid to pay for books. Personally going to school shows that you are motivated and willing to get the credentials needed to be a success and an asset to your organization. Would you go to a doctor that said I do have an MD, I’ve just been doing this for 20 years! I know that’s a little exaggerated but if you look into employment law cases you would see most mistakes are made from ignorance of basic HR practices you learn in business school.

December 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm
(16) Sam Ross says:

.Doesn’t it come down to “you need experience to get the job but you need the degree + experience to get the job to get the experience?”

February 18, 2013 at 9:38 am
(17) SUSSANA says:

Am a student who has just finished a Diploma course in Bus. Administration looking for job. Can you please help me? Am from GHANA.

February 18, 2013 at 2:01 pm
(18) Susan Heathfield says:


This is not a job searching site, so I suggest that you check with this site for helpful information: http://jobsearch.about.com. If you are looking in HR, check at:


Good luck and best wishes,


February 22, 2013 at 8:43 pm
(19) Jean says:

As a person who graduated Cum Laude with a BS degree in HR, I have found it extremely challenging to advance in the field. Had I known that competition would be so high, I would have chosen a different major.

I was able to land a HR Assistant position in 2000 and after 5 years and a relocation, I found myself either over or under-qualified for additional HR jobs and unemployed for 4 months. For the last 8 years, I have served as a leader in a different capacity but not directly in the realm of HR.

In my humble opinion, it is too competitive of a field right now. College students would be wise to major in something else that is less competitive.

May 2, 2013 at 6:00 am
(20) Bill says:

I find it very funny that someone teaching people about HR would be so small minded! I have never hired anyone for any position because of the Degree they hold and I have an excellent work force. Work, life experience together with other skills such as attitude, personal skills and latteral thinking are much more important.

June 10, 2013 at 10:30 am
(21) Kelly says:

The Bachelors Degree is the “new” High School diploma. TBH.
I live in the Washington DC area. I’ve been an Administrative Assistant since 1998. When searching for new opportunities in my area – it’s always the standard must have Bachelors Degree.

Employers don’t care how much experience you have… they want to see that piece of paper. I’m not sure why… I seem to have a lot more sense than people that actually have degrees but hey, I guess that’s what they use the HS graduates for, to do their work and they take the credit and reap the benefits. While the hard working ones stay under paid and over worked :(

Seems kinda backwards to me.

September 28, 2013 at 6:21 pm
(22) Gwen says:

I think this is a great topic – I am glad someone asked the question. I first want to say that an Associates Degree in Administrative Technology will certainly get your foot in the door in HR – however in the world of SHRM they really look for strategic management, HRIS and employee relations. Basically, you cannot take the exam without a minimum of three to five years of experience in an exempt HR position. You can have a high school diploma but you must have a solid foundation in HR and have held an exempt position. I encourage aspiring PHR/SPHR holders to check out the web page.

In response to Susan’s comments regarding earning degree…

September 30, 2013 at 9:58 am
(23) Katie says:

I disagree with this article. I’m a firm believer that not having a degree does not make you any less smart. I’m in HR, I make well over 30k a year, I’m 24 and only have a high school diploma. It’s all about how you present yourself, and how badly you want the job. If you believe in yourself you can do anything, sometimes I feel that a hiring boss with a degree that is so quick to overlook the applicants without a degree just doesn’t want to accept that they spent all that time in school just to compare to someone who hasn’t. Just a thought.

September 30, 2013 at 10:10 am
(24) Laura says:

Unfortunately, most hiring managers and recruiters automatically disqualify you if you do not have a degree. It seems that most employers require a degree before they will even look at your resume. And that is truly unfortunate.

I have seen HR Managers hired because they had a degree; however that degree may have been earned ten years ago and/or it was in an unrelated field. I don’t think just having a degree makes you more qualified than an experienced HR professional.

I have been an HR Manager for over 10 years. And I am very successful. When I started in the workforce it was common to work your way up the ladder. I started as receptionist and worked my way up, at that time employers valued experience and work ethic.

Just like any other successful HR Manager. I earned my PHR, and I am constantly reading and taking seminars and I am a strategic partner. And I have been a “strategic partner” before it even became another buzz word.

I would love to go back to school and earn my degree because I would be “qualified” to interview for more opportunities. However, at my age I am not willing to take on a large student loan debt. By the time I finally earned my degree I would be almost ready to retire and the last thing I need is to be paying for a degree when I am retired. There is no guarantee that you will get a better opportunity especially at my age. In a sense the degree requirement feels like age discrimination.

October 3, 2013 at 12:59 am
(25) Swati says:

Helpful. Thanks!
I wanted to know about certifications in Human Resources or Project Management etc.
I found an online certification course. Here’s the link:
<a href=”http://www.wiziq.com/course/24064-certified-human-resource-management-professional-chrmp”>Certified Human Resource Management Professional Online course</a>
I’d like to know more about this field.

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