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A Day in the Life of a Human Resources Manager

Human resources managers handle personnel decisions, including hiring, position assignment, training, benefits, and compensation. Their decisions are subject to some oversight, but company executives recognize their experience and skill in assessing personnel and rely heavily on their recommendations. Although physical resources—capital, building, equipment—are important, most companies realize that the quality and quantity of their output is directly related to the quality and commitment of their personnel. Human resources professionals make sure that appropriate matches are made between support staff and producers, between assistants and managers, and between coworkers to enhance productivity, support the company’s business strategy and long-term goals, and provide a satisfying work experience for employees. A human resources professional in a smaller firm is a jack-of-all-trades who is involved in hiring, resource allocation, compensation, benefits, and compliance with laws and regulations affecting employees and the workplace and safety and health issues. This multiplicity of tasks requires individuals with strong organizational skills who can quickly shift from project to project and topic to topic without becoming overwhelmed. “You’re the last line of defense between your company and confusion,” wrote one human resources manager at a small firm, “and sometimes confusion wins.” Strong interpersonal skills are crucial for managers at small firms. These managers spend much of their day handling questions, attending budgeting and strategic planning meetings, and interviewing prospective employees. The rest of the time, they take care of paperwork and talk on the telephone with service providers (insurance, health care, bank officers, etc.). At larger firms, human resources managers often specialize in one area, such as compensation, hiring, or resources allocation. Compensation analysts work with department managers to determine pay scales and bonus structures. Hiring specialists (also known as recruiters) place ads in appropriate publications, review resumes, and interview candidates for employment. Allocation managers match assistants, support staff, and other employees with departments that have specific needs. Sensitivity to both personality issues and corporate efficiency are a plus for allocation managers. The most difficult feature of the human resources professional’s job is handling the dirty work involved in the staffing of a company: dealing with understaffing, refereeing disputes between two mismatched personalities, firing employees, informing employees of small (or nonexistent) bonuses, maintaining an ethical culture, and reprimanding irresponsible employees. Performing these tasks can be disheartening for human resources managers who are supposed to support and assist employees, and many human resources managers feel that employees dislike or fear them because of this role.

Paying Your Dues

Academic requirements for a career in human resources vary, but most employers prefer that each candidate have a bachelor’s degree. Undergraduates should pursue a balanced curriculum that includes behavioral sciences, English, economics, general business, business and labor law, accounting, and statistics. Master’s degrees in human resource management, industrial relations, organizational development, organizational behavior, and business administration are also considered worthwhile. Each company has its own internal protocols, and most new hires are trained in them when they begin. A human resources manager must have strong interpersonal skills, and many employers conduct multiple interviews that test a candidate’s ability to relate to a diverse group of people.

Present and Future

The transition of the American economy from an agricultural society to an industrial society created the need for talented, creative workers and a need to manage these resources. Growing companies wanted to have more control over hiring, salary structure, and resource allocation. The future is bright for human resources managers in both small and large firms. Managing a labor force entails an understanding of a number of complicated issues, and many companies have discovered that specialists handle the job more competently than do company managers. In addition, many companies are subdividing their human resources departments into smaller, specialized units, dealing with compensation analysis, benefits administration, or recruiting. Human resources positions are expected to increase more quickly than jobs in the general market.

Quality of Life


Responsibilities in the field of human resources are significant in these first two years, as are the hours. New hires are expected to learn the company’s protocols and procedures while carrying out their assigned duties. Most human resources managers establish mentor relationships with more senior human resources practitioners and learn effective techniques for managing people. Satisfaction is average; the hours are long.


Five-year veterans of small companies have become important staff members, and many of them have discrete areas of control. Individuals who work for large companies have begun to specialize in health benefits, pension plans, 401(k) plans, corporate recruiting, or another area of human resources. Many of them feel that working long hours will earn them a position as vice president or director of human resources. Salaries increase, but many people who want larger salaries move to bigger corporations. Satisfaction is high for career-track professionals.


Many human resources professionals assume managerial duties, with the goal of heading up a large human resources department or directing a benefits, recruiting, or personnel department. A significant number of human resources professionals return to graduate school to acquire more credentials that will distinguish them from other candidates. The hours can increase for individuals still trying to get ahead.