If you’ve ever browsed the HR Certification Institute’s (HRCI) and the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) available certifications and decided to pass for time or financial reasons, you might want to revisit that idea. While you won’t be required to get an HR certificate to work in human resources, it can be a valuable resource for some HR professionals’ careers. Hopefully, we can help you figure out if an HR certification will be beneficial for your career, and if so, which one you should get.
Why Should You Get an HR Certification?
Last year, Payscale reported that 34.2 percent of all HR professionals have at least one HR certification. And it makes sense that so many would want to be certified when HR professionals with certifications are reported to receive more promotions and achieve career success more quickly. “Certifications are really helpful for people breaking into HR,” says JD Conway, Head of Talent Acquisition at BambooHR. “They can help prove that you have a good knowledge base and can help show businesses that you know what you’re doing. They are a great way to supplement your education and make sure you know your stuff.”
When you’re looking for human resources jobs, many open positions will often include SHRM-CP or PHR as a “strong plus” or say, “Certifications for Human Resource Professionals preferred,” but they are rarely a strict requirement. Yet, while it may not be a make-it-or-break-it element for most HR jobs, it will help give you a boost against the competition and show a recruiter that you are serious about your career in human resources.
Once you’re in the door, an HR certification gives you another advantage: the possibility of negotiating a higher salary. Even if you already have a job in HR, obtaining an HR certification can still be worth the expense when it comes time to ask for a raise. While having a certification in 2008 was associated with a 17 percent higher pay than someone without a certification, in 2018 that percentage has increased to 31.6 percent, according to Payscale.
Maybe you already have a great HR job, but it’s time for a promotion. An HR certification is one way to prove you have the knowledge and skills to move up in your career, especially if you want a management position. A certification can give you an up to 29 percent greater chance of getting a promotion.
While there is evidence that an HR certification can benefit your career, not every HR professional needs to rush out to get one. If you have an undergraduate or master’s degree in human resources, that should give you the credentials you need to start your career. Reconsider a certification later in your career when you’re looking to refresh your knowledge. Similarly, those in specialized HR positions may find certification unnecessary. HR certifications are mostly geared towards HR generalists, so if you are, for example, a benefits specialist, you might find many HR certifications too broad.
What Types of HR Certifications Are There?
The two most common HR certification providers for HR professionals are HRCI and SHRM. Each of them offers multiple certifications to help train HR pros on additional skills and further their careers. There are certifications available for every level of experience, but all require an exam administered through the certification provider.
The HR Certification Institute offers eight different credentials, but the two most commonly seen after people’s names are the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). According to the HRCI website, the organization has issued over 500,000 HRIS certification in over 125,000 countries during their past 40 years of operation. HRCI has been around since 1976 and is accredited by The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Their full list of available HR certifications includes:
Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR)
This certification is designed for HR professionals who are just getting started, and as such, it doesn’t require any previous HR experience. An aPHR is geared towards college students planning careers in human resources, so it places a strong emphasis on basic skills and HR knowledge like HR operations, recruitment and selection, compensation and benefits, human resources and retention, employee relations, and health, safety, and security.
Associate Professional in Human Resources – International (aPHRI)
Similar to the aPHR, the aPHRI does not require previous experience and is intended for people starting out in the HR field. If you work outside the United States or with a company who predominantly does business outside the U.S., this is the correct certification for you. An aPHRI covers the same information as an aPHR while excluding guidelines specific to the U.S.
Professional in Human Resources (PHR)
This is considered an advanced certification and is meant to indicate skills in technical and operational aspects of HR management. To be eligible for the PHR, you must already have one of the following combinations of experience: one year of experience in a professional-level HR position and a master’s degree or higher, two years or longer experience in a professional-level HR position and a bachelor’s degree, or at least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position and a high school diploma. This certification focuses on employee labor relations, business management, talent planning and acquisition, total rewards, and learning and development.
Professional in Human Resources – California (PHRca)
If you are an HR professional in California (or work for a company that predominantly serves California), this certification will help you specialize in laws, regulations, and practices unique to the state of California. The PHRca has all of the same prerequisites as the PHR, and will help you gain knowledge in employment and employee relations, compensation wage and hour, benefits and leaves of absence, health, safety, and workers’ compensation specific to the Golden State.
Professional in Human Resources – International (PHRi)
The differences between the PHR and PHRI are similar to the distinction between the aPHR and the aPHRi. The eligibility requirements are the same as for a PHR, but the exam and credentials are instead focused on working in an international setting. This certification will require you to have an understanding of talent acquisition, HR administration and shared services, talent management and development, compensation, benefits, work experience, employee relations and risk management, and HR information management.
Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)
If you are looking to move into a manager position in your HR department or want to take on responsibilities relating to strategy rather than implementation, this is the correct certification for you. To qualify for this certification, you must meet one of the following sets of criteria: at least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position and a master’s degree or higher, at least five years of experience in a professional-level HR position and a bachelor’s degree, or at least seven years of experience in a professional-level HR position and a high school diploma. The topics on the SPHR certification exam will have you studying up on leadership and strategy, employee relations and engagement, talent planning and acquisition, learning and development, and total rewards.
Senior Professional in Human Resources – International (SPHRi)
A SPHRi certification will help show that you know your stuff when it comes to being a leader in the HR industry in the international space. This certification has all of the same eligibility requirements as an SPHR but instead focuses on business leadership, talent development and management, HR service delivery, and measurement and analytics.
Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR)
This certification is intended for HR professionals working in a global marketplace who have a role that supports organizational growth on a global level. Eligibility for this HR certification requires one of the following combinations: at least two years of experience in a global professional-level HR position and a master’s degree or higher, at least three years of experience in a professional-level HR position and a bachelor’s degree, or at least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position. This certification helps prepare you for strategic HR management, talent and organizational development, global talent acquisition and mobility, global compensation and benefits, and workforce relations and risk management.
The Society for Human Resource Management has a more limited but still prestigious offering of HR certifications. SHRM is an HR membership organization. HRCI used to administer their certifications via SHRM, but in 2014 SHRM created their own certification program. According to the SHRM website, more than 5,000 employees seek out SHRM certifications each month. SHRM offers the following competency-based certifications:
SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP)
This certification is intended for HR professionals involved in policy and strategy implementation who deliver and perform operational HR functions. You may qualify for this certification in one of the following ways: that you are working on an HR-related bachelor’s degree and have three years in an HR role, are working on a non-HR related degree and have four years experience in an HR role, have an HR-related bachelor’s degree and one year in an HR role, have a non-HR degree and two years in an HR role, have a graduate degree in an HR-related field and be currently working in HR, or have a non-HR-related degree and one year in an HR role.
SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP)
SHRM-SCPs benefit HR professionals whose focus is helping develop strategies, leading an HR department, and contributing to organizational goals. Eligibility for this HR certification requires one of the following: that you are working on an HR-related degree and have six years in an HR role, are working on a non-HR related degree and have seven years in an HR role, have an HR-related bachelor’s degree and four years in HR, have a non-HR bachelor’s degree and five years in HR, have a graduate HR-related degree and three years in HR, or have a non-HR graduate degree and four years in HR.
How Long Does It Take to Get an HR Certificate?
Your timeline will be highly dependant on which certification you are hoping to get, how much time you have to dedicate to studying, and when the certification test is available in your area. Both HRCI and SHRM have study resources available for purchase on their websites. But if self-guided study isn’t the best method for you, you can find both classroom and online courses to help you prepare for your certification exam. The HRCI has a list of certification preparation providers, and SHRM offers its own three-day educational program that travels to different cities throughout the year, as well as a list of SHRM-approved education partners.
You will need to apply to take either an HRCI or SHRM certification exam so you can prove you meet all the prerequisites. HRCI exams are available at Pearson Vue testing centers; you can schedule your exam appointment online or over the phone via their website. For SHRM, you must apply for a certification exam during a specific window. Once you’ve received an Authorization to Test email from SHRM, you can schedule your test via Prometric.
How Much Do HR Certifications Cost?
You are going to spend a pretty penny to get your HR certification, but the hope is the cash you spend up front will be worth it for an increased salary and better job prospects in the long run.
HRCI Certification Costs
SHRC Certification Costs
SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP
With an SHRM membership $350
Without an SHRM membership $450
A SHRM membership costs $209 a year, $95 a year for a SHRM Global Online Membership, or $40 a year for a SHRM Student Membership.
It can reflect well on a company if their HR professionals are HR certified, so some organizations may even reimburse you for the cost of an exam or provide bonus incentives for being certified. So while the initial cost can be steep, it might be a good idea to discuss options like these with your company.
How Do You Choose Which Certification to Get?
The first question you should ask yourself is why you want to get certified. The prerequisites for certification may be a big factor in which certification you will be able to get. JD Conway recommended looking to the head of HR at either your own company or the company you’d like to work for to determine if there is a preference towards HRCI or SHRM certifications. Be sure that no matter which certification you select you are prepared to put in the work to pass the exam and stay certified through recertification activities.
What Is Required for Recertification?
Unfortunately, your HR certification does not last for life. All SHRM and HRCI certifications are good for three years. If you want to take the test again you can—or, rather than spend long nights studying again, you can earn recertification credits. All of SHRM’s certifications and a majority of HRCI’s certifications require 60 credits (aPHR and aPHRI only require 45 credits) every three years to continue your certification. Some of the ways you can earn credits include attending conferences, watching webinars, participating in online courses, and volunteering.
BambooHR offers multiple opportunities to earn recertification credits throughout the year. Our big HR Virtual Summit rewards attendees with four credits, and three mini versions of the event presented afterward offer one credit each. We also host regular webinars that count toward recertification, covering everything from company-wide strategies like building company culture, to personal skills like time management. Credits are only awarded for webinars that you watch live, so get registered for an upcoming webinar today (and feel free to browse some older ones too even though you won’t get credit).
An HR certification requires a real investment on your part, both in time and money, but it could be the boost you need to take your career to the next level. But, don’t rush into getting a certification right away. Carefully consider your career path and if a certification will benefit you. Make sure you take the time to select the right certification for you, and once you’ve put your resources into a certification stay certified by completing the necessary recertification credits. Maybe it’s not a requirement for success in an HR career, but evidence shows it will probably be a smart move for your career.