How to Become an HR Consultant

Are you considering becoming an HR consultant? There are many opportunities for human resource professionals to perform consulting work either on the side, full time, or part time. A career as an HR consultant can offer an experience beyond a more traditional role within the human resources department of a company.

Businesses today need to keep the systems and processes used in human capital management—sometimes described as people resource management—running well in order to optimize their workforce productivity and to maximize employee effectiveness. Because of this, there is a strong need for human resources professionals in most industries, and reaching out to HR consultants is one way businesses are filling their HR needs. Entrepreneur, citing research from Barclaycard, noted that hiring an HR consultant is one of the milestones of growth when companies scale up.

What Is HR Consulting?

When it comes to the role of HR consultant, definitions can vary greatly. The Society for Human Resource Management defines HR consulting as the practice of delivering any or all aspects of human resource management as an external provider. The job may also entail client development, contract writing and negotiations, client management, and many other business-related tasks associated with operating a freelance practice.

As organizations are required to adapt to new health care, safety, and wage laws, outsourcing opportunities are growing for HR consultants. These opportunities may often be found in large, mid-size, and small organizations, and specialty areas can include talent acquisition, regulatory compliance, training, and employee relations.

HR consultants may be generalists or specialists. Generalists often work on basic needs for an HR department—big picture issues such as recruiting, hiring, and benefits. HR specialists focus on certain strategic services that larger operations tend to seek out, such as risk management or information systems. Some of the tasks and responsibilities hired out to HR generalist and specialist consultants can include any of the following:

  • Implementing and managing the employee benefits program
  • Managing software systems for payroll
  • Advising on HR policies and procedures
  • Analyzing an organization’s current HR programs and recommending solutions
  • Ensuring state, local, and federal regulatory compliance in HR programs, services, policies, and procedures
  • Vetting job applicant information and interviewing potential candidates for employment
  • Conducting background checks
  • Conducting HR audits
  • Providing HR-related training to employees and/or management

What Does an HR Consultant Do?

Payroll and benefits administration, recruitment, and training are key areas of HR outsourcing forecasted for growth and opportunity by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (GIA). As companies face compliance challenges, time constraints, and talent shortages, the need for HR consultant roles and responsibilities may increase.

HR consultants are essentially small business owners and should possess a few entrepreneurial traits in addition to strong human resources skills, according to SHRM. Successful consultants can work independently, have basic business management skills (technology, accounting, office management, customer service, etc.), and are able to market their services well. HR experts should also be able to do the following:

  • Identify the target market for their expertise
  • Demonstrate strong HR experience, skills, and accomplishments to potential clients
  • Stay up-to-date on HR trends, technology, and issues
  • Participate in professional organizations and conferences
  • Show relative neutrality to clients seeking objectivity on real issues and solutions
  • Set up and maintain office space, either at home or in a rented location

In addition to advanced business and human resources skills and knowledge, HR consultants should possess certain qualities in order to be successful, including self-confidence, strong communication skills, the ability to coach others, possess an understanding of leadership, and demonstrate integrity. All are keys to developing strong relationships with clients.

Other issues HR consultants should address before launching a business:

  • Determining whether they will operate as a sole proprietorship, limited liability corporation (LLC), S corporation, or some other form of business entity
  • Acquiring the necessary licensing for federal, state, and local compliance

What Degree Do You Need To Be an HR Consultant?

A solid human resources education is essential for anyone considering a career in human resources consulting. Majoring in business and/or human resources in college helps prepare individuals. Courses in organizational behavior, applied social psychology, and talent management help develop the needed skills. A master’s degree in human resource management may be something that sets an HR professional apart from the competition, as it offers a strong foundation in HR-related topics and business management studies, such as:

  • Management information systems
  • Marketing management
  • Financial management
  • International business management
  • Organizational behavior
  • Business ethics
  • Leadership
  • Strategic management

The online Master of Science in Human Resources from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Business School offers the opportunity to develop valuable leadership, communication, change-management, and conflict-management skills necessary to manage essential human resources functions as an HR consultant. Students learn about integrating best business practices and maintaining high standards of ethics through this specialized master’s degree program.

To be considered for admission, an individual must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. A minimum of two years of work experience is recommended but not required. The online Master of Science in Human Resources program combines self-paced coursework with live online classes, which allows students to earn their degree while managing professional and personal commitments. The online program aligns with official curriculum requirements of SHRM (the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management).

Certain certifications may enhance an HR consultant’s resume. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, many professional associations that specialize in human resources offer courses that help enhance HR skills, and some offer certification programs. The BLS notes that SHRM offers the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). Additionally, the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) offers a range of certifications for varying levels of expertise. Certification is usually voluntary, but some employers may prefer or require it.

HR Consultant Salary and Career Prospects

When it comes to work environments, HR consulting jobs run a wide gamut and remote HR consulting is a popular option. This is true whether you are a full-time or part-time HR consultant. HR consultants may be called in for very specific functions, such as training and development, labor relations, payroll, recruiting, benefits analysis, risk management, or regulatory compliance.

Human resources consultant jobs can also place you at your client’s executive table. As an HR business partner, for instance, you serve as a management consultant, aligning employees and management to business objectives within one or more designated business units of the organization. As an organizational development consultant, you help clients improve their businesses by providing strategic services such as change management, group problem-solving, and talent management.

HR consultants work in a wide variety of industries. This is one reason why the average HR consultant salary is hard to generalize. As of May 2018, the BLS reports that human resources specialists in the area of professional, scientific, and technical services have a median annual wage of $68,620. For consulting HR managers, the average salary was $139,040.

When it comes to HR business consultant salary, a lot will depend upon the level of specialization their work requires. It is not always easy to decide on a rate for specific services, but HR consultants need to charge enough to reflect their expertise and value, SHRM advises. Fees that are too low can be a red flag for potential clients, and fees that are too high can be cost prohibitive. Consider factoring in several important things when you decide what rates to charge:

  • What other consultants are charging for similar services
  • Type of business or industry being targeted
  • Client's payment history with other consultants
  • Current levels of supply and demand
  • Your level of experience and expertise
  • If the project is one-time or ongoing
  • Hourly rate versus a set fee for specific tasks

Human resources consultants help companies manage their human capital effectively to meet their business goals. HR professionals with an entrepreneurial spirit may find this role an exciting career choice.

Citation for this content: Business@Pepperdine, the online Master of Science in Human Resources from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Business School.