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Top Human Resources Skills and How to Master Them

Human resources manager using skillset to talk to new female employee sitting at a desk in a modern office

The term ‘human resources’ is deceptively simple. Human resources jobs cover every aspect of business involving people, which arguably could mean every aspect of the business. From personnel management duties like hiring and benefits to the well-being of employees, such as wellness initiatives and conflict resolution, any or all of these things could fall on HR’s shoulders, depending on the organization. It takes a range of human resources skills to impress prospective employers as a candidate and succeed in the field once you’ve landed the job.

Here, we’re breaking down 13 of the most essential HR skills employers are looking for right now. First, though, let’s briefly examine the market outlook for human resources jobs. 

HR jobs outlook

The job outlook is strong for HR specialists and managers, the two primary human resource occupations tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

HR specialist employment is projected to grow by 8% by 2031, adding about 82,000 new jobs annually. This is faster than the growth rate for all industries. HR specialists earn a median pay of $58,000 a year. 

The BLS predicts strong job growth for HR managers, as well. The role is expected to add 16,000 jobs annually until 2031, representing a healthy growth rate of 7%. The median HR manager earns a lucrative $99,000 a year.

13 human resources skills employers are looking for

Do you have what employers are looking for in an HR candidate? Before you go to the other side of the desk and start hiring, you’ll need to win your role with the company first. Here are nine of the most in-demand skills employers seek when hiring for human resources jobs. 

1. Communication

First and foremost, an HR professional must be a strong communicator. One of your biggest job functions is to serve as a primary communication channel for employees, acting as a mouthpiece to represent them in front of the company and as an outlet to express grievances and concerns. 

Employees will turn to you for answers to their technical questions and guidance on navigating workplace issues, so providing clear and accurate responses is key. Communication doesn’t stop there; it will be your responsibility to take any necessary next steps to escalate issues up the chain of command where appropriate. Being a strong communicator, both verbally and in writing will serve you well in any HR role. 

2. Ethics

The HR department is critical in shaping and upholding an organization’s ethics or moral principles. They hire candidates they think are aligned with the company’s values, provide guidance for how ethical standards should be interpreted in the workplace, and work to resolve ethical conflicts when they arise. 

Human resources personnel routinely deal with sensitive employee information that must be handled carefully. They also help company leaders stay on the right side of ethical responsibility while pursuing profits. This calls for a strong ethical compass and knowledge of contemporary ethical practices. 

3. Employment Law 

Whereas ethics skills deal with what’s morally right and wrong, legal skills deal with what’s acceptable and unacceptable in the eyes of the law—two areas are of equal importance for HR pros. 

A strong candidate for human resources jobs should have a firm grasp of common employment law principles. This includes fair labor standards, compensation laws, discrimination laws, and workplace safety mandates, just to name a few. 

Simply knowing the laws is the first step. The next is helping the company apply them in a real-world context to keep operations running smoothly while minimizing legal risk. Further, HR deals with legal issues involving employees, like harassment or safety complaints. 

4. Administration 

HR professionals handle many of the organization’s administrative duties. They’re responsible for organizing and administering the company’s benefits package, overseeing payroll, and maintaining important documents like personnel records. Depending on the organization’s size, they may also have a role in scheduling. 

Strong organizational skills are a must to juggle these multiple administrative duties effectively. Companies are seeking HR candidates who know about emerging technologies, like apps, that can be used to automate manual administrative tasks to save time and money. 

What administrative skills should you focus on? Check out these administrative skills that employers want most.

5. Recruiting 

Recruiting is one of HR’s major functions in many companies. Human resources personnel may handle hiring in its entirety or work with an external partner like a staffing agency to attract and onboard new hires. 

To succeed in this duty, you’ll need to package and market the company as a great workplace effectively, so this is another area where strong communication skills will come in handy. Hiring managers will also be looking for HR candidates with strong people skills since they’ll often be the first point of contact candidates have with the organization. 

Employers are always seeking ways to hire stronger talent at a lower cost. HR candidates should showcase their knowledge of tools that make the screening process faster and more effective, like applicant tracking systems, candidate assessment tools, and virtual onboarding platforms.

6. Conflict management

Conflict management was the number one most in-demand soft skill among businesses hiring in 2019. Business leaders said the ability to resolve disputes successfully eclipsed even core skills like communication and organization in terms of importance to a worker’s career progression. 

Conflict management is an even more essential skill for HR candidates; U.S. employers spend an average of almost three hours a week handling conflict, and the bulk of that responsibility falls to human resources. When two or more staffers are involved in a dispute, they can’t work out among themselves or their direct supervisor; someone from human resources typically acts as a mediator. 

Since conflicts can directly affect productivity and are detrimental to workplace morale, it’s in a business’s best interest to have a team with strong conflict resolution skills at the HR helm. Human resources candidates should be proficient in mediation and other proactive conflict resolution tactics. 

7. Human resource information software (HRIS)

Not all of the most in-demand HR skills are soft skills. One of the most important technical HR skills is proficiency with human resource information software or HRIS. HRIS systems like SAP or Oracle help HR professionals streamline their operations and keep track of their company’s human resource activities. 

HRIS systems may enable record-keeping, ensure compliance, facilitate activities like attendance-tracking and payroll, and act as a self-service HR portal for employees to navigate things like benefits. 

8. Teamwork 

In addition to acting as a key communication channel for employees, HR professionals must work collaboratively with other department heads to accomplish the organization’s goals. Everything from hiring new staffers to resolving performance issues to marketing your open roles will require teamwork with other key contacts in the organization. 

Creativity, productivity, and efficiency all see a boost when talented people work together rather than independently. Thus, employers value team players who contribute to shared projects, make decisions as part of a group, and foster an environment of respect that contributes to a positive overall culture. 

9. Resilience 

Not so much a skill as a characteristic, resilience feeds into your ability to tackle all the duties we’ve mentioned thus far successfully. Resilient candidates will have an easier time managing stress, navigating workplace conflicts, juggling numerous responsibilities, and meeting the many daily challenges a job in HR can present.

Resilience will serve you well in an HR job and help keep you in top mental shape. Studies show that resilient employees are more satisfied, engaged with their work, committed to their organizations, and less likely to burn out—all of which will ensure a long and successful HR career. 

Situational questions are a good opportunity for HR candidates to demonstrate resilience when interviewing. These are questions where the interviewer asks, ‘Tell me about a time when…’ You can showcase your resilient qualities by picking an answer that describes a time when you persevered in the face of a challenge or adapted effectively when assigned a new responsibility. 

10. Leadership

HR staff members are often the first point of contact new hires have with an organization. Companies don’t want this important first impression from someone meek and timid. Instead, HR specialists should be assertive and confident, able to give direction clearly and earn the trust of others. 

Leadership comes in handy in HR in other ways, as this department is often the default for announcing and implementing new company initiatives. So, if you want to grow in your HR career, you should feel comfortable taking the lead on projects and getting others on board with them.

11. Coaching

HR professionals do a lot of coaching. This happens through formal initiatives, like training employees on using the company’s benefits software, and informal ones, like helping new hires feel comfortable and acclimate around the office. 

If you’re applying for a job in HR, you can impress a hiring manager by mentioning how you’re a natural teacher and talking about times you’ve successfully trained or coached others.

12. Analytics

This area is important as companies in all sectors strive to do more with less and keep up within a competitive labor market. Analytics help a company understand where their resources are being allocated and what return they get from their investment (a.k.a ROI). Today’s HR professionals are expected to apply these concepts to their recruiting and employee development work. 

Here are a few examples of how you might be expected to use analytics in an HR role:

  • Helping company leaders use data to make better hiring decisions
  • Forecasting the organization’s future staffing needs
  • Analyzing and optimizing benefit spending
  • Using data to make recommendations for better use of HR budget
  • Assessing the success of the company’s onboarding program

13. Risk mitigation

One of HR’s crucial roles is to help keep the company out of trouble. This doesn’t automatically mean the company is doing something wrong, and HR needs to clean up the mess. Rather, it’s HR’s job to take proactive measures to make sure nothing goes wrong, to begin with. 

This includes helping the company stay on the right side of employment law, enacting policies that promote cultural sensitivity and discourage discrimination, assessing the potential risks associated with business dealings like mergers and acquisitions, and more.

How to improve your HR skills

Be an active player in the field

The modern workplace is evolving at a faster rate than ever before. As an HR professional, you can’t sit back and be passive, relying on the skills you learned 10 or 20 years ago to get by. Instead, you need to be an active participant and take steps to keep your skills up to date. 

One way to do this is attending industry events like conferences and seminars. You will learn from the material presented at the event and get a chance to rub shoulders with leaders and peers in the field, which is a great way to learn through osmosis and stay informed about trends. 

Continue your education

If your ultimate goal is to move into the upper levels of company leadership, returning to school to obtain a more advanced degree is highly encouraged. Two of the most popular graduate paths are getting your master’s in human resource management (HRM) or business administration (MBA). 

A master’s in human resource management is the ideal route for those looking to become an expert in the HR field. You’ll go deep into people management techniques and set yourself up to obtain a role like Human Resources Director or Chief Human Resources Officer. 

An MBA, on the other hand, is for professionals looking to move into a more general business leadership role. It’s less about HR strategy and more about business operations like finance, accounting, marketing, and management. This is a suitable path for you if you want to leverage your HR background to move into a position like CEO, COO, or department head. 

Considering furthering your education? Here are the top benefits of continuing your education.

Build your knowledge online

Going back to school formally might not make sense for you right now, or maybe you’re unsure what area you want to specialize in. In this case, online learning is a great option. Countless free and paid programs available online will help you build your soft skills and develop new technical ones. 

Here are a few of our top picks:

  • Recruiting, Hiring, and Onboarding Employees: Recruiting is a skill that takes practice, and nothing can substitute for real-world experience. Still, it helps to have a little training if you’re taking the reins on hiring for the first time. This course will set you up with a solid foundation in techniques used to source, hire and onboard employees. 
  • Human Resource Analytics: This Coursera course is offered by the University of California, Irvine and has been taken by nearly 60,000 students. It approaches data as a “decision science” and will show you how to combine information and technology to achieve strategic HR goals. 
  • World-Class HR: 21st Century Talent Management: We discussed earlier how quickly the professional world is changing. This Udemy course will arm you with strategies to keep pace. You’ll learn contemporary techniques for engaging employees, developing talent, increasing diversity, and more.