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Getting Ahead in HR with Additional Education

A young woman sitting at a desk with a laptop.

​Earning an undergraduate degree is only the first step in a successful HR career. Advancing your knowledge through additional learning opportunities can help you stand out from other job candidates, position you to earn a higher salary and prepare you to be agile as the industry and your interests change.

"Completing additional education is about credibility, and it signals to people that you're committed to the field," said Ifedapo Adeleye, professor of the practice and faculty director of the master's in human resources management program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "It's one of the things you want to do to differentiate yourself, especially in organizations that might take people into an HR leadership program. They want people going into those programs to be committed to HR."

Further education can help you stand out in the job application process. However, it's important to choose the right education for your goals and career aspirations. Here, two HR experts offer advice for selecting learning opportunities that can enhance your career journey.

Choosing the Right Continuing Education for Your Goals

After you earn a bachelor's degree, you have numerous opportunities for additional education. You could run out of time and money trying every single option.

To narrow things down, Heather Peters, CHRO of Sikich, a company specializing in technology-enabled professional services, recommends defining your end goal and asking yourself:

  • What is it that you want to gain from additional education?
  • Why is it that you want this additional knowledge?
  • How will this additional education further your goals, career aspirations and learning journey?

Adeleye recommends considering the cost of the investment, the time it takes to complete and the impact it may have on your career. A LinkedIn Learning course, a continuing education course at a college or university, a two-day short course by industry-recognized trainers or a micro-credential requires less effort than an advanced degree and demonstrates your commitment to the field, which can catch an employer's attention. Adeleye also suggests earning industry-recognized credentials such as the SHRM-CP certification.

"The certification exam can be tough, but it is doable, and you can take a prep course," he said.

4 Places to Look for Learning Opportunities

These four educational opportunities can support your professional development regardless of where you are in your career.

Complete an advanced degree

"Going to grad school for a master's in industrial psychology or an MBA are also popular options, and they are more widely available with online options," Adeleye said. However, these degrees "are high-effort, high-impact, so you want to be sure it aligns with your career goals."

Think Outside HR and 'Go for It'

An HR career encompasses broad skills that support flexibility based on your interests. Adeleye gives the example of a student who was fascinated by technology and artificial intelligence.

"I suggested he look for something related to data analysis and visualization because HR people need those skills," he said. "People analytics and data analysis are actually one of the fastest-growing fields in HR."

Peters notes that education can happen in many forms, especially through new life experiences, and your mindset matters just as much as what you learn. 

"I often call it a 'go for it' approach," she said. "Learning anything outside your traditional college degree is critical not only for an HR career but in any career."

Wondering if meditation may help ease stress and anxiety? Go for it!

Want to pursue a certificate or other specialty course in HR, business, finance, law or something else? Go for it!

Look beyond school and the classroom 

It's important to expand and develop who you are as a person because whatever ways you improve yourself will show up at work.

"Your personal life and your work life form your whole self. Improve, grow and learn in ways that make you excited and better at anything," Peters said. "Even if it seems to be non-work related, I promise it will have an impact on you professionally."

Find informal ways to learn 

Read books and join groups. Expose yourself to new topics and new people.

"I recently rediscovered horseback riding, something I enjoyed in my youth and now as an adult," Peters said. "Through this new experience, I am strengthening my leadership skills by being reminded of the importance of trust, listening, following directions and course-correcting. There is tremendous power in taking time to learn new things."


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