There’s a strange dynamic at play when applying for a position in human resources (HR). You sit on one side of the desk as an applicant, but—in many cases—if you land the job, you might just vault right over that desk into the hiring seat.
Pursuing an HR career is not for the faint of heart. Being a trusted consultant for managers making hiring and firing decisions, keeping watch over employee welfare and handling a company’s most sensitive information isn’t for everyone. You feel like you’re up for the challenge but want to know what exactly will be expected of you. This preparedness is especially important, given how well your potential interviewers may know the job—you’ve got to know your stuff.
We’re here to help you prepare and better understand what employers are seeking. To do this, we spoke to a few HR professionals and used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 140,000 human resources job postings from the past year.1 The data helped us identify the top thirteen skills employers are seeking in HR candidates.
Of course, a list of commonly sought-after skills and competencies for HR professionals is only a starting point for exploring the demands of a role. We’ll help by expanding on each—and what you can do to showcase these skills and abilities as a prospective HR hopeful.
13 In-demand human resources skills
- Employee relations
- Human resources information software (HRIS)
- Performance management
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Payroll processing
- Customer service
- Project management
- Worker's compensation
- Technological aptitude
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
As you consider your proficiency in each of the HR skills and competencies listed, think about how you could represent them in an interview and on your human resources resume.
Read on to get a more in-depth look!
1. Employee relations
Successful businesses thrive on secure employee–employer relationships and the professionals who support those connections. Being able to identify and resolve employee concerns as they develop creates a more satisfying work environment for employees and employers alike. This is a relatively broad area in the HR field—everything from labor disputes to managing employee benefits packages can be tied to it. Fundamentally, it comes down to your ability to manage conflict and be an advocate for both your employer and its employees.
How to highlight this in a job interview: Ask yourself if there was a time when you were involved in a discrepancy between two individuals in a professional setting. How did you work to resolve their differences in a respectful, empathetic and efficient way? Be specific. Which soft skills were important to use? How did you address concerns and determine an outcome? This is also an opportunity to highlight your knowledge of labor laws and the key regulations surrounding employer–employee disputes.
Employee turnover is expensive, and a strong onboarding process can help reduce it. Onboarding refers to the process that allows new hires to become adjusted to the social and performance aspects of their new job quickly and smoothly. Companies are looking to hire HR professionals who can comfortably bring new hires “onboard” with orderly and well-thought-out processes, increasing the chance that they will settle happily and successfully into their new jobs for the long run.
How to highlight this in a job interview: Share occasions where you helped someone feel at home or make a transition. Specific examples of taking initiative to prevent hard feelings and promote open communication between co-workers will speak well of your ability to thrive in an HR position.
3. Human Resources Information Software (HRIS)
Human resources information software are IT tools used for managing HR-related activities and processes electronically. There are a variety of specialized HRIS systems out there, but most have similar core functionality that helps automate some of the more tedious work HR staffers would tend to.
How to highlight this in a job interview: This admittedly can be a tricky requirement to fulfill if you haven’t previously worked in an HR role. If you have any experience working with an HRIS system, it’s clearly a good idea to mention what software you’ve worked with and how you used it.
If you lack experience with this software, then your best bet may be showcasing how you’ve learned to use other software and tying it to your eagerness to quickly learn. Most are fairly intuitive, so this likely won’t be a big sticking point for most employers.
Recruiting skilled and sought-after employees is an art form of its own. HR professionals need to understand their company deeply to be able to draw in solid, talented employees who will stick around. Recruiters are often their own specialized role, but talent acquisition is also a valuable skill for generalists as well.
How to highlight this in a job interview: There isn’t always an easy direct example to highlight if you’re new to the field, but anything that highlights your ability to listen well, negotiate, build relationships, keep organized and stay determined can be a nice starting point.
5. Performance management
Performance management is defined as how a company involves its employees in improving effectiveness towards the accomplishment of company goals, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM®). The OPM lists performance management tasks that fall under this umbrella as setting expectations for employees, monitoring performance, developing their capacity to perform and rating performance. This skill relies heavily on strong communication and interpersonal abilities and can help with long-term employee tenure trends.
“If you’re pursuing a career in HR, then you should have great listening skills, empathy and emotional intelligence,” says Sophie Lhoutellier, HR manager at Badger Maps®. “I wish more HR applicants would show great listening skills as well as proactivity. People tend to forget that they’re here to listen to the employees and their needs, and to do everything they can to make the company a better place to work at.”
How to highlight this in a job interview: Talk about any experience you have teaching, coaching, tutoring or mentoring someone else. Think of times when really listening to what someone was saying helped you solve a problem. Highlight these experiences on your resume and be prepared to discuss them in a way that shows you’re open, tolerant and versatile.
6. Teamwork and collaboration
“Because HR professionals are focused on finding and creating the best workplace possible, it is extremely important that we find collaborative team members who believe in our mission,” says Vicki Choi, director of HR at Course Hero. You might think that teamwork would be a given in a field like HR, but it’s in demand to the point of making the top-five skills on job postings.
This could reflect a mindset of HR professionals who look to the overall vision of the company instead of just the rules and tasks that make up their daily work. “I wish that more applicants would be oriented toward change and growth instead of just working with the existing HR processes,” Lhoutellier says.
How to highlight this in a job interview: Collaborating in HR often means working with professionals from many different departments, some of which might be outside of your personal wheelhouse. It’s important to know what you don’t know—and be willing to learn.
“Candidates who stand out during the interview process are able to show that they communicate honestly and are willing to be transparent about their successes, failures and progress,” Choi explains. “We have found that candidates who show these skills continue to create value for our HR team and the entire company.”
Employers want HR candidates with scheduling skills because many positions require juggling and prioritizing tasks on a team or company calendar. It’s important to be able to create a plan that allows everyone to achieve their goals.
How to highlight this in a job interview: Ask yourself if you have experience planning a multi-step project and how you had to strategically organize and prioritize time to complete each task along the way. This could have been for a wedding, school project or even a vacation overseas.
8. Payroll processing
Understanding how an organization’s payroll processing system works is important for many HR roles, particularly those that focus on employee benefits. For instance, if an employee elected to change their 401k contribution level and finds that change isn’t reflected in their paycheck, an HR specialist may be able to clarify and assist with addressing this issue. Compensation and benefits can get fairly complex, so having a solid understanding of payroll systems is a helpful asset.
How to highlight this in a job interview: When just starting out, this may be a challenge to highlight without prior experience. That said, knowing how payroll and HR interact and where their responsibilities overlap is the key if you’re asked about this subject.
9. Customer service
Human resources professionals need plenty of management and leadership ability to do their jobs. But customer service skills are a huge part of resolving workplace issues. HR professionals spend lots of time in conflict situations. According to Joe Campagna, owner of My Virtual HR Director, simply being a people person isn’t enough to field discipline, mediation and receiving complaints.
How to highlight this in a job interview: “I prioritize candidates who have experience in working with and helping people in some way,” says Lhoutellier. She offers examples such as volunteering, tutoring or coaching. “It shows that they have empathy, which is at the heart of any HR position. You can teach certain tasks of an HR role, but it’s much more difficult to teach soft skills like empathy and communication.”
10. Project management
“Apart from day-to-day administrative duties, HR is almost always in the midst of some large project,” says Campagna. “It can be writing a handbook, installing a performance management system or any other of a myriad of HR-driven projects from HRIS to employee surveys.”
How to highlight this in a job interview: If you’ve managed even a small project before—definitely include that information on your resume. If not, showcasing assertiveness, leadership and a great work ethic can be helpful for this skill. “HR isn’t the picnic department, it’s the productivity department,” Campagna says. “If HR cannot align managers to goals and ask the tough questions, then it is not worth having in a company.”
11. Worker's compensation
HR handles any incidents of work-related injuries or illnesses. Each company should have a plan of action and compensation for employees who are hurt on the job that is in accordance with state and federal laws. HR representatives need to understand the laws regarding worker’s compensation and how to help the employee and company navigate the compensation process.
How to highlight this in an interview: Since an injury incident can be fraught with tension, having strong communication and professionalism is vital in compensation conversations. If you haven’t had experience with worker’s compensation, try to showcase your ability to remain professional and compassionate in conflict.
“The most important soft skills in a professional HR specialist are conflict management and ethics,” says Eva Wislow, HR manager at Careers Booster. “Listening to others, resolving issues in a respectful and appropriate way, all while handling lots of sensitive information are the most common tasks for this role.”
12. Technological aptitude
Though technology-specific skills didn’t appear in the top-ten skills employers are asking for in their job postings, many of our experts shared that being tech-savvy gives you an edge on the market. This could be anything from data analysis to virtual reality adaptations in HR, according to Wislow.
“HR applicants need to have love for numbers and data, projections and analysis,” Wislow says. “Many HR professionals make all kinds of decisions without looking at the numbers—their job revolves around theories and politics.” Wislow adds that many job candidates get lost when data analysis and projection come into the conversation.
How to highlight this in a job interview: Courses or certifications in data analytics would be excellent things to include. Definitely read up on what is happening in the industry, as well as which technologies are enabling the trends. “New employees should be up-to-date on the latest HR trends,” Wislow says. “Big data, gamification, virtual reality in HR—it’s all already here.”
13. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993, and it covers eligible employees for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave due to various family or medical situations. During your work in HR, knowledge of this law and its various components will be a key part of the job that you need to be aware of.
How to highlight this in a job interview: If you are currently unfamiliar with the FMLA, read up on it. Being able to refer to this law and some of its different uses for employees will only highlight to your interviewers that you know your stuff.
Are your HR job skills up to par?
As you can see, there is a lot more to human resources job skills than being good with people. If you could see yourself getting into some of these aptitudes, you might have what it takes to thrive in human resources. “Go into HR because you like to make order out of chaos,” Campagna says. “Go into HR because you like to impact people’s lives for good by influencing pay, benefit packages and employee-friendly policies.”
If you don’t quite feel you’ve mastered these skills enough to list them on your human resources resume, don’t be intimidated. This is precisely the knowledge and experience you’ll acquire in an HR degree program. Learn more about how you can develop your HR skills by checking out the Rasmussen University Human Resources and Organizational Leadership degree page.
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 211,391 human resources job postings, Jul. 01, 2021 - Jun. 30, 2022).
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in July 2013. It has since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2022.
OPM is a registered trademark of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Badger Maps is a registered trademark of Badger Maps, Inc.
Course Hero is a registered trademark of Course Hero, Inc.
Critical thinking and problem solving. Teamwork and collaboration. Professionalism and strong work ethic. Oral and written communications skills.What is the #1 skill that employers are looking for? ›
Critical thinking and problem solving. Teamwork and collaboration. Professionalism and strong work ethic. Oral and written communications skills.What skills are looked for in HR? ›
Whether you're a seasoned HR professional or an intern, your HR skills such as communication skills, employee relationships, decision-making, performance management, and organizational skills need to be sharp.What are the top three HR skills? ›
The top HR competencies include interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, communication, and administrative skills.What skills are employers looking for in 2023? ›
- Adaptability. Adaptability is a key soft skill that employers are looking for in 2023. ...
- Creativity. ...
- Collaboration. ...
- Self-motivation. ...
- Problem-solving. ...
- Communication. ...
- Time management. ...
- Digital literacy.
In terms of good soft skills, both verbal and written communication is key. This includes the ability to compose emails or text messages, as well as to speak clearly and concisely. Active listening is also considered in this sense too.
Aside from recruitment, onboarding and payroll and benefits management, HR practitioners' contributions to business have evolved as they adapt to the requirement of modern human capital management. These include forecasting and managing skills demands, recruitment investing, and talent development, among others.What does HR look for when hiring? ›
On resumes for positions in the HR department, HR employees typically look for experience in human resources, such as the responsibility of hiring people in the past, a history of effectively responding to the grievances of employees and a track record of hiring employees that have been a good fit for the roles they ...What are the 3 C's of HR? ›
In human resources, the three Cs refer to compensation, career path, and culture.What are the 5 core HR activities? ›
Human Resources manages 5 main duties: talent management, compensation and employee benefits, training and development, compliance, and workplace safety.
- Compensation and Benefits. ...
- Recruiting and Staffing. ...
- Safety and Compliance. ...
- Training and Development. ...
- Talent Management.
Trends in recruiting: super skills and micro-skills
Super skills are defined by one expert as “the 'components' that make up the unique 'operating system' of a person.” Things like critical thinking, creativity, coachability, leadership, and problem-solving qualify as super skills.
Are you familiar with the Four Cs? I first discovered them in Yaval Noah Harari's “21 Lessons for the 21st Century.” They are: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. Knowing how to apply those four ideas will help prepare you to adapt and excel in your career, today and in our uncertain future.What are the top 5 skills of 2025? ›
- Analytical thinking and innovation.
- Active learning and learning strategies.
- Complex problem-solving.
- Critical thinking and analysis.
- Creativity, originality and initiative.
- Leadership and social influence.
- Technology use, monitoring and control.
- Technology design and programming.
The same report predicts that the following skills will be in high demand by 2025: Data Science & Cloud Computing (Cloud computing goes hand in hand with data science, and cloud computing jobs range from architects and developers to data scientists) Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)What are high demand skills needed in the next 5 years? ›
- Digital Literacy. Digital literacy is one of the most in-demand skills for the next decade. ...
- Data Literacy. ...
- Critical Thinking. ...
- Emotional Intelligence. ...
In 2025, HR departments will have to understand better how technology is changing to embrace the changing industry standards. The future of HR will be driven by automation and innovation, with little human involvement needed for routine tasks.What is the most difficult job in HR? ›
- Implementing Diversity in the Workplace.
- Staying Up to Date On Legal Matters.
- The Entire Recruiting Process.
- Balancing Compensation and Retention.
- Having to Terminate or Lay Off Employees.
- Asking Leadership for Support and Resources.
- Workforce Relationship Building.
HR deals with many issues, but probably the biggest challenges facing HR Departments today are Recruitment, Retention & Motivation, Leadership Development and Corporate Culture.What makes a good HR? ›
In order to achieve this success, you must possess a wide variety of social skills including workplace professionalism, honesty, integrity, good manners, and a good attitude. When you are a Human Resources Professional, you not only need those skills, but also a few others that are niche to the industry.
- Understand the culture.
- Do your research on the interviewer.
- Demonstrate relevant experience.
- Be enthusiastic.
- Show that you're easy to work with.
- Be precise about why you want the job.
- Ask thoughtful questions.
- Talk to people at the company before the interview.
Right level and years of experience for the job, relevant experience, titles, skills, education, etc are the first few things Recruiters and Hiring Managers look for in your resume. Ensure your skills and certifications compliment the job you apply for. Avoid including unrelated or irrelevant hobbies and interests.How to win an interview with HR? ›
- Tell me about yourself. ...
- Why are you interested in this position? ...
- What are your strengths and weaknesses? ...
- What is the most difficult task you've accomplished?
We refer to them as the 4 A's: Alignment, Ability, Architecture and Agility. The 4A framework can help you see your business through the lens of execution requirements and how it can serve as a platform for engaging others in important discussions to prioritize action and intervention.What are the 4 pillars of HR? ›
Human Resources | Recruitment Executive | Head…
Talent management systems are generally considered to be consisting of four "pillars:" recruitment, performance management, corporate learning and compensation management.
These can be broken down into four key components: planning, recruitment, development, and retention. Learning objectives: Identify the four basic HR functions.What are the 7 HR basics? ›
What are the basics of Human Resource Management? Recruitment & selection, performance management, learning & development, succession planning, compensation and benefits, Human Resources Information Systems, and HR data and analytics are considered cornerstones of effective HRM.What are the 6 element of HR? ›
The six main function of HR are recruitment, workplace safety, employee relations, compensation planning, labor law compliance and training.What is the most important part of HR? ›
One of HR's primary roles is managing payment and benefits for an organization's staff. Proper management of compensation, time off, and insurance is what keeps employee satisfaction high. As a human resource manager, you'll be in charge of distributing, communicating, and improving compensation and benefits packages.What does HR do all day? ›
HR responsibilities. HR's primary activities include recruitment, administration, compensation and benefits, training and development, and employee relations and performance management.
- Engagement. Engagement is the first concept that every generalist in human resources should be familiar with. ...
- Job Demands-Resources Model. ...
- Strategic Human Resource Management. ...
- HR Analytics. ...
- Employee Turnover. ...
- Applicant Tracking System. ...
- HR Report. ...
- Employee Experience.
- Leadership. Even in entry-level positions, most employers look for evidence of leadership qualities. ...
- Teamwork. ...
- Communication and Interpersonal Skills. ...
- Analytical Skills. ...
- Dependability and a Strong Work Ethic. ...
- Maturity and a Professional Attitude. ...
- Adaptability and Flexibility. ...
- Good Personality.
- Networking. ...
- Enthusiasm. ...
- Professionalism. ...
- Communication Skills. ...
- Teamwork. ...
- Problem Solving and Critical Thinking. ...
- Trust. Trust exists both ways, and every employee rely on each other to “watch over each other's back”. ...
- Engagement. Employees are focused and keen to take up work challenges as well as acquire new skills and knowledge. ...
- Transparency. ...
You Show Integrity
More than anything, we value integrity—people who are honest about their time at the office, work hard, and are committed to the company. Bright employees who figure out shortcuts can be a liability. Integrity is the most valuable quality.
These skills are often referred to as employability or generic skills. They include skills such as problem solving, collaboration, self-management, communication and information technology skills.What are the 7 essential soft skills? ›
- Teamwork. With effective teamwork, teams are more productive, deadlines are met, relationships with your team members are stronger and knowledge is shared. ...
- Problem solving. ...
- Communication. ...
- Adaptability. ...
- Critical thinking. ...
- Time management. ...
- Effective communication. Working in any industry affords the opportunity to improve your communication skills. ...
- Teamwork. ...
- Influencing without authority. ...
- Problem solving. ...
- Leadership. ...
- . . .
Critical thinking/problem solving
A whopping 60 percent of hiring managers believe candidates lack critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Summary: Honing the 'Three C's of interviewing (Calm, Confident, Competent) can help you be more successful in your job search.
- Job is stimulating & challenging.
- Able to learn new things and develop your skill set.
- Achieve measurable results.
- Feel valued and a core part of the team.
- Opportunities to grow and progress within the company.
Employability skills are the essential skills, personal qualities and values that enable you to thrive in any workplace. These are also called 'enterprise skills', 'communication skills' or 'workplace skills'. Employability skills include things like: good communication. motivation and initiative.What are professional values in HR? ›
What are professional values? Someone who displays professional values will: portray a professional image through reliability, consistency and honesty. dress and act appropriately. deliver work outcomes to agreed quality standards and timescales.What do employees value most? ›
Loyalty to Workers
Employees expect to be appreciated by Management if they have good behavior, attitude, and loyalty towards the company. Personal loyalty is the key element of a company's success.
- INTEGRITY. Know and do what is right. Learn more.
- RESPECT. Treating others the way you want to be treated. Learn more.
- RESPONSIBILITY. Embrace opportunities to contribute. Learn more.
- SPORTSMANSHIP. Bring your best to all competition. Learn more.
- SERVANT LEADERSHIP. Serve the common good. Learn more.