Human Resources vs. Human Services: What's the Difference?


When considering whether to work in human resources vs. human services, it's important to understand that these are two very different fields. HR is a business discipline focused on managing people — literally allocating people as resources to achieve specific tasks — while the field of human services is concerned with providing assistance to those in need, often by providing counseling services and other forms of assistance. Both professions require strong interpersonal skills, but the way in which employees in these fields leverage those skills are very different.

Human Resources

An HR degree is designed to prepare students to work in the human resources field for an organization or as a consultant. Job duties can include recruiting candidates for open positions, managing employee relations, and administering benefits and compensation programs. HR professionals are also generally responsible for maintaining employment records and processing paperwork. It's possible for HR professionals to serves as generalists — performing functions across the HR spectrum — or to specialize in a given area, such as recruitment.1 With enough experience, HR professionals can become human resource managers, who often oversee a given part of an organization's operations, such as payroll, labor relations, or recruiting.2

The human resources management program at American Intercontinental University aims to give students a foundational understanding of business along with knowledge of employment law, the process of acquiring employees, negotiating compensation and benefits, managing training and development, and more. This knowledge, together with the program's emphasis on teaching students team-building and conflict-resolution skills, is designed to prepare students to pursue human resources career paths.

Human Services

The human services field encompasses a wide variety of professions with the general goal of meeting the needs of various populations, focusing on prevention as well as remediation of problems, and maintaining a commitment to improving the overall quality of these populations.3 Some fields and roles that fall under the umbrella of human services may include:

  • Social work
  • Substance abuse/rehabilitation
  • Probation officers
  • Mental health workers
  • School counselors4

While the educational path for human resource careers tends to be straightforward — pursuing an HR degree — the education programs that may serve those who are looking to enter human services tend to vary broadly by specialty. Degrees in psychology, social work or counseling are common, with many roles requiring a master's degree.

Which is Right for Me?

Human resources and human services can both be rewarding fields, and while each requires excellent communications skills, they're ultimately very different. If you like the idea of managing people and playing the role of a mediator and organizer within a business, you may want to pursue a career in HR. If, however, you want your immediate focus to be providing help to those in need — and you can handle the emotional challenges that come with these fields — a human services occupation may be for you.

Ready to learn more? Explore online human resources management degrees at AIU.

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Human Resource Specialists, on the Internet at (visited on January 31, 2016).

2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Human Resource Managers, on the Internet at (visited on January 31, 2016).

3. National Organization for Human Services, What is Human Services? on the Internet at (visited on January 31, 2016).

4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Community and Social Service Occupations, on the Internet at (visited on January 31, 2016).