Ani Geragosian decided a few years ago that she wanted to advance her human resources career. The Seattle resident – who already had some experience in employee relations and operations – hoped to study the field from more of a business perspective.
Her desire to potentially move into a director or vice president HR position drew her to the MBA with a human resource management specialization at the online, for-profit Capella University.
"If there are 20 candidates with the same experience, but I have an MBA, I will probably be looked at in detail," says the 39-year-old, who graduated in 2017 and now works in a more senior-level position at an HR consulting firm.
Those looking to launch or boost a career in human resources have many options to study online if they want the flexibility to keep working full time. The types of credentials and programs students choose should depend largely on their prior experience and career goals, experts say.
Here are five ways to study human resources or enhance an HR career online.
1. Free and low-cost standalone courses: Students looking to fill in a gap in knowledge may come across individual online classes for free or low prices on various websites such as Alison.com, Lynda.com or Udemy. These often cover specific issues or topics, such as HR management or employee compensation, or examine HR from a broad, foundational perspective.
Companies such as edX and Coursera, for instance, create massive open online courses – often referred to as MOOCs – in collaboration with universities. Students can audit these classes – which often include recorded lectures – at no cost. Those who pay about $30 to $150 can earn certificates of completion and may receive other additional features such as instructor feedback and graded assignments.
Coursera has a five-course specialization with the University of Minnesota in human resource management. Classes dive into subjects from recruiting, hiring and onboarding processes to employee performance.
Another option is for students to take free or low-cost online courses related to the industry in which they plan to practice HR, says Lin Zhang, director of human resources at Coursera. "Really having that in-depth knowledge of the client you are working with would give you a strong voice at the table to advise them on people-related strategies and decisions," she says.
2. HR certification exam prep: Students pursuing HR may boost their employment prospects by earning a certification from the Society for Human Resource Management, referred to as SHRM, or the HR Certification Institute. While not a requirement to enter the field, employers may request that HR job candidates – especially those early in their careers, Zhang says – hold specific certifications.
Students can prepare for the required certification exams through online learning. The Towson University Center for Professional Studies offers a yearlong online program for $1,695 to ready students for the exam for the Professional in Human Resources, or PHR, certification – one of the certifications that the HR Certification Institute grants.
3. Options for recertification: Professionals with certifications must get recertified to keep their skills up to date. SHRM requires certification holders to earn 60 professional development credits, or PDCs, every three years, for example, or retake the exam.
One way to do that is through online coursework. SHRM allows students to earn PDCs through its eLearning Library. College and university courses or certificate programs may also count as PDCs. An entire online, noncredit certificate in human resource management from Duke University's continuing studies division, for example, can be worth up to 14.
4. Certificates from universities: Some schools offer various online certificates – either for-credit or noncredit – related to human resources. Online certificates are typically cheaper and require fewer courses than degrees; they focus on either the basic principles of a discipline or more concrete subjects within the field, experts say.
"The certificate program certainly allows you to enhance your resume and target specific skill areas in a much shorter period of time," says Lisa Hatfield, vice president of individual student enrollment for eCornell, the online learning platform for Cornell University, which has online certificates for HR professionals at different levels of their careers.
Aside from options in human resource essentials and management, eCornell has online certificates focusing on compensation studies and the use of social media in human resources.
5. Online degrees: There are also full human resources degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels delivered online. Experts recommend prospective students look at their prior experience in HR when choosing one.
Instead of an MBA with a human resources specialization, someone with little to no experience in HR may consider an online human resource management master's degree, which may provide a more in-depth overview of the field, says Shelley Robbins, senior faculty chair for master's programs in business at Capella University.
Alternatively: "If you don't have any business background and you want to work in human resource management, take the MBA path, because that will really give you both," she says.