Earning a Ph.D. in Human Resources Online

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Become Team
September 7, 2021

Earning a Ph.D. in human resources (HR) helps graduates qualify for a wide variety of high-level, high-earning jobs. Ideal candidates for this degree include experienced HR workers seeking promotions and better pay, along with working professionals in other fields who want to change careers and undergraduate students who want leadership positions in HR.

Graduates can work in nearly any industry as human resources directors and consultants, and in other management and administrative roles. Organizations in every field need human resources professionals to manage employee recruiting, interviewing, and hiring, and to serve as intermediaries between management and employees. They may also participate in strategic planning with organization leaders. This degree best serves people who have developed interpersonal, leadership, organizational, speaking, and decision-making skills. Students pursuing a Ph.D. in human resources online benefit from the increased flexibility, convenience, and affordability of distance education.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Human Resources?

Online Ph.D. human resources programs prepare graduates for careers as HR directors, consultants, and directors of compensation and benefits. HR professionals work in virtually every industry. These professionals coordinate administrative functions and work with both employees and management. Since a HR professional's job involves working with people, these workers benefit from strong interpersonal skills.

Human Resources Director

Annual Median Salary: $110,120
Projected Growth Rate: 9%

Human resources directors manage organizations' administrative functions. They recruit, interview, and hire new staff, and explain organizational policies, procedures, benefits, and compensation to employees. They possess knowledge of local, state, and federal employment laws, and are a link between an organization's managers and their employees.

Consultant, Human Resources

Annual Median Salary: $72,083
Projected Growth Rate: N/A

HR consultants help organizations with employee recruitment, hiring, and training, among other responsibilities. They work to improve the relationship between an organization and its employees. Companies often hire HR consultants to create new evaluation systems and guidelines. HR consultants usually gain extensive experience in human resources before moving into consulting.

Director, Compensation and Benefits

Annual Median Salary: $122,778
Projected Growth Rate: 5%

Directors of compensation and benefits create and coordinate employee compensation programs. They plan program budgets, ensure compliance with state and federal regulations, set pay and benefits guidelines for their organization, and supervise support staff. Compensation and benefits managers can advance to director positions by earning a Ph.D. in human resources.

The Top-Paying Industries for Human Resources Managers

Source: BLS

Traits of a Successful Human Resources

Successful HR professionals serve as intermediaries between an organization's employees and management. They hold extensive knowledge in personnel and human resources, administration and management, and law and government. HR professionals typically exhibit a strong command of the English language and communication skills. They actively listen, but also command attention when speaking.

HR professionals understand how to train and educate groups. They typically boast technical acumen in software for accounting, document management, time accounting, and enterprise resource planning. Other important skills include reading comprehension, judgment and decision-making, conflict resolution, and deductive reasoning.

Active Listening: Since individuals can serve as intermediaries between employees and management, HR professionals must give their full attention to others to understand concerns.
Management of Personnel Resources: HR professionals identify the best individuals for each position and understand how to motivate and direct employees. They recruit, interview, hire, and train workers.
Speaking: HR professionals typically possess excellent speaking skills. They must communicate rules, regulations, and policies to individuals of various backgrounds and positions within their organization.

Salary by Experience Level

HR professionals garner higher salaries with experience. Entry-level workers make about $59,000 a year, while late-career professionals with more than 20 years of experience make more than $100,000 annually. After five years of experience, HR directors can increase their earning potential by $20,000, with annual salaries of $79,000. The chart below details pay by experience level, demonstrating the importance of professional experience in the HR field.

Pay by Experience Level for Human Resources

Source: PayScale

Certifications and Licenses a Ph.D. in Human Resources Prepares For

Steps to Earning a Ph.D. in Human Resources Online

Requirements for earning a Ph.D. in human resources online may vary by institution. For example, some programs require an internship, while others do not. The sample curriculum below outlines the typical application process for many human resources Ph.D. online programs.


Experts recommend starting the application process for an online Ph.D. in human resources programs about six months before the deadline. Applying as early as possible demonstrates serious interest and gives you plenty of time to submit your best application. Specific requirements vary by program and school, but most mandate three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, transcripts, and GRE scores. Some programs also request that applicants submit answers to essay questions or complete an in-person or phone interview.

Curriculum for an Online Ph.D. in Human Resources

  1. Lifestyle Benefits and Compensation: Students learn the fundamental theories and practices of total compensation. They explore issues like job evaluation, employee motivation, strategic compensation, compensation administration, and external competitiveness. They learn about the design and policies of organizational compensation. The course also looks at the relationship between human resource directors and other managers in organizations when creating compensation programs. This course prepares students to become compensation and benefits directors.

  2. Human Resources as a Strategic Partner: This class teaches learners how human resources managers can be effective organizational partners by participating in institutional strategy. It explains how human resources departments can help other organizational leaders understand how HR can play more than just an administrative function. Future human resources directors gain skills to help lead their organizations.

  3. Legal Issues in Human Resources: Students explore federal guidelines and statutes relevant to HR professionals, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, the Equal Employment Opportunity regulations, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. They learn the role of the human resources manager in ensuring organizations legally comply in treatment of employees, including hiring, disciplinary actions, promotions, compensation, and firing. Students gain the legal knowledge to work as HR specialists and directors.

  4. Ethical Problems in Human Resources: This course covers ethical challenges for human resources professionals. Students consider the role of the HR professional in dealing with issues like sex discrimination, seniority, retaliatory discharges, affirmative action, and the right to privacy at work. The course emphasizes the importance of HR professionals maintaining employee confidentiality related to ethical questions. Learners gain the knowledge necessary to find work as HR specialists and directors.

  5. Strategic Recruiting, Retention and Succession Planning: Students pinpoint the best practices of strategic organizational planning. They look at developmental interventions and advanced reward and compensation systems. The course also covers issues such as labor force trends, retention of talented employees, developing a qualified pool of job candidates, and long-term strategic growth. Students gain the skills to work at major companies as HR directors.

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