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The Best Degree(s) For A Career In HR

I find articles and posts about the best and worst degrees to have really enjoyable to read through, not because my degree always shows up on the best degree list – but because they routinely show up on the worst majors/degrees to have. So what subjects did I choose to study? In undergraduate I majored in Psychology and minored in Gender Studies graduating with a Bachelor of Social Science, I studied Sociology for a year and graduated with a Graduate Diploma in Social Sciences, and then focused on Organizational Psychology and graduated with a Masters of Applied Psychology (Specified Program in Organizational Psychology). Typically on any list, I’ve read, at least one if not all of my areas of study are listed. None of this stopped me from earning a six-figure salary, indeed the creative and alternative solutions I came up with to justify that salary were because of my areas of study.

The point I’m getting around to here is that the degree that you have should never be seen as a limiting factor in your HR career. I’ve employed people into HR with a range of degrees, Finance, Economics, Social Sciences, and a multitude of others – indeed of the two top generalist recruiters I’ve ever worked with, one had a Ph.D. in Chemistry while the other had a teaching degree. What holds many people back in HR, is that they don’t know how to apply the knowledge of their degree to Human Resources. As an example I interviewed a recent graduate with an MBA, a very solid education on paper, and one that should have been easy to relate back to HR, however they simply couldn’t relate their degree to what we do in HR. They were beaten by a fellow graduate with a bachelor's degree who could relate their education to a career in HR.

So what do I mean by relating your degree to HR? Well, let's start with not what to do, remember the candidate above with the MBA that didn’t get the role, well he spent most of the interview talking about a robotics project he had worked on. Please don’t do this. Robots are cool, I get that, but relate it to the job at hand. The economics guy that did get the job, they talked about data, about using data to understand behavior. There were other aspects that they spoke about as well, but last time I spoke to her she had recently been promoted and is doing exceptionally well in an HR data role. For myself when people query my education, I tell them very directly that all my majors and minors were chosen with the intention of applying that knowledge in an HR career. My choice to study Gender Studies was based on my being male, but around half the workforce (depending on industry) is female, so I thought it was important to increase my understanding of some of the historical and current challenges that women experience within organisations. Sociology in part is the study of how we function in groups – from small teams to large organisations, I felt this again was important for a career in HR. And finally Psychology, many of the tools that have been developed for HR have come out of Psychology, so an understanding of this area is critical.

By relating your degree to HR – and ideally, the specific area of HR that you’re applying for, you’re communicating a depth of thought to the selection panel. You’re telling them not just how your knowledge relates to HR, but you’re also giving them some insights in how you can add value to their organization. So if you’ve held off on starting your higher education journey because you weren’t sure what subjects might both interest you and be worthwhile for a career in HR, why not take a look at Degrees Finder and see what your future might look like?

So the best degree to have for a career in HR…is that one that you can relate back to HR.

By Brendan Lys

Operating at the intersection of Human Resources and Data Science, I leverage extensive specialist experience within Human Resources, with the methodologies and approaches of Data Science. This focus on the discovery of actionable insights from data, has been applied to areas such as: remuneration & benefits, workforce planning, recruitment, health & safety, diversity, and training. But what does the application of data science to HR challenges and opportunities actually look like. Within an HR framework the data we work with typically comes directly from our HRMIS, an advantage of using data science methodologies is that we can bring in additional data either held within the organization or from external sources - data which is out of reach from a pure HR analytics approach. Consider for example position descriptions, these contain a wealth of data that we typically ignore as its not in a analysis ready format. A side project I'm working on currently (April 2019) is using text mining on job descriptions to provide insights into which job family the position may fit into. The insights of my work have been enjoyed by organizations across a diversity of sectors including: Government (Australia and New Zealand), ASX and NZX listed companies, utilities, not for profit and higher education.

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