If you’re looking to advance your career in human resources, getting HR certified is a great place to start. This article will explain the benefits of certification and—if you feel like it's right for you—how to get human resources certified.
Certification shows you’re serious about a career in HR or people management. It also shows that not only are you invested in your own career growth, you’re also invested in making an impact at the organization you work for.
There are many HR certifications available, so where should you start?
In this article, we’ll demystify the process by breaking down the most common HR certifications and how to apply for them.
- Why pursue an HR Certification?
- Which HR certification should you get: SHRM or HRCI?
- HRCI certifications
- SHRM certifications
- Take your HR career to the next level
- Frequently asked questions about how to get human resources certified
Why pursue an HR Certification?
While HR certification isn’t required to be able to practice in the field, it does provide many advantages when it comes to job opportunities and promotions—especially early in your career when your resume may be on the lighter side.
Here are a few of the benefits:
Validate your expertise
HR is one of those industries where individual education and experience can vary widely for people with similar work histories. Earning an accredited HR certification is undeniable evidence of your HR know-how.
According to a 2018 study from Payscale, 38.4% of HR professionals have at least one HR certification, so earning a certification can make you stand out from your peers.
Continue your HR education
While on-the-job experience is great, studying for an HR certification is a great way to plug any gaps in your HR knowledge. Studying for the exam helps you learn new practical skills and can help improve your on-the-job decision-making skills.
Increase your pay
According to Payscale, HR professionals with certifications tend to earn higher salaries—especially for early-to-mid-career professionals.
And the gap between certified and non-certified professionals is growing. In 2008, a certification earned you a 17% pay boost. In 2018, a certification earned you a 31.6% pay boost.
Earn a promotion
Earning an HR certification is often used as a stepping stone to earning a promotion.
Payscale also found that earning an HR certification led to an increased promotion rate within a 5-year window. HR assistants, for example, were 21.5% more likely to be promoted within 5 years.
Which HR certification should you get: SHRM or HRCI?
While it’s obvious that HR certification has its benefits, what’s less obvious is which certification you should pursue.
For starters, there are HR certifications for all stages in your career and all education levels.
Eligibility for particular certifications is based on a combination of education level and HR experience. Typically, the higher level of education you achieved, the fewer years of HR workplace experience are needed to apply for the certification.
Once you start your research, you’ll find there are two major organizations from which you can earn HR certification in North America: HRCI and SHRM.
HRCI vs. SHRM certification
The Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) is the oldest HR certification provider. They’ve been in business since 1976 and have historically carried the most brand recognition in the industry.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is a wide-reaching professional HR membership association. They are the most prominent organization when it comes to HR education and networking initiatives. The SHRM certification program is newer—debuting in 2015—but their major influence on the HR scene has quickly caught them up to HRCI in terms of certification popularity.
In reality, the two certification organizations are extremely similar to one another. Both offer certifications for different career stages and both are recognized equally by HR professionals.
If there are any differences between the two testing organizations, HRCI exams tend to have more questions about employment law, whereas SHRM exams have more competency-based questions.
If you’re having trouble deciding between the two, you may not have to. Some people end up taking both certifications at the same time because the prep programs overlap so much in subject matter.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of the HRCI vs. SHRM certifications.
HRCI offers eight HR certification options as of early 2021:
1. Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR): A base-level HR certification for those who are early in their HR careers. A high-school diploma is required to apply.
2. Associate Professional in Human Resources - International (aPHRi): A modified version of the aPHR that certifies an early-career HR professional to work in any locale. A high-school diploma is required to apply.
3. Professional in Human Resources (PHR): A certification for HR professionals who have had a few years of entry-level HR experience and want to take their career to the next level. Either 1, 2, or 4 years of experience are required to apply if you have a Master’s degree, Bachelor’s degree, or lower, respectively.
4. Professional in Human Resources — California (PHRca): A version of the PHR that’s specific to the more complicated laws, regulations, and HR practices of California. The same experience is required as the PHR.
5. Professional in Human Resources — International (PHRi): A version of the PHR for internationally-based HR professionals, allowing you to demonstrate mastery of region-agnostic HR knowledge and skills. The same career and education experience is required as the PHR.
6. Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR): The next step up in certification, SPHR establishes your credibility as an HR leader. The application requires 4, 5, or 7 years of experience depending on whether you have a Master’s, Bachelor’s, or lower.
7. Senior Professional in Human Resources — International (SPHRi): This is the international equivalent of the SPHR, requiring the same experience and education levels to apply.
8. Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR): Showcases expertise in multinational HR responsibilities, including globalized HR policies and global growth initiatives. Requires 2, 3, or 4 years experience (Master’s, Bachelor’s, or lower).
How to get human resources certified with HRCI
You can apply for HRCI certifications here. To apply, you must create a profile, select an exam, and purchase any preparation materials.
There is an application fee of $100 USD and an exam fee ranging from $300 for the associate-level exams and $500 for the senior exams.
Exams must be scheduled within 180 days of your application getting approved.
The HRCI exams range from 2 hours and 15 minutes at the associate level to 3 hours for the senior level. They consist of 100 to 140 multiple choice questions, plus 25 pre-test questions.
There are sample questions and example test structures on the HRCI website.
HRCI exam preparation is an industry unto itself. There are tons of available study resources, although most of them come with a price tag.
The HRCI sells “Build Your Own Bundle” packages directly within the application process, which come in a variety of formats, including:
- Self-paced online courses ($350+)
- Live instructor-led courses ($775+)
- Physical course books ($300+)
- Print and online textbooks with study guides ($300+)
- Practice exams ($50+)
Many test-takers also study from the HRBoK - A Guide to the Human Resource Body of Knowledge, available at online book retailers for around $50.
According to the HRCI, most test-takers spend at least 60 hours studying for a single certification.
HRCI certifications need to be renewed every three years. To renew your certification, you can either retake the exam or earn 60 recertification credits from industry events, webinars, or other HRCI-sanctioned programs.
In general, a one-hour webinar earns you one credit, so certification renewal takes approximately 60 hours of education programs.
SHRM keeps things simple, offering only two certifications:
1. SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP): This is SHRM’s base-level certification for HR professionals. The application criteria depend on your level of education and HR experience, ranging from 0-4 years:
- Less than a Bachelor's Degree (degree not HR related): 4 years in an HR role
- Less than a Bachelor's Degree (HR related): 3 years in an HR role
- Bachelor's Degree (not HR related): 2 years in an HR role
- Bachelor's Degree (HR related): 1 year in an HR role
- Graduate Degree (not HR related): 1 year in an HR role
- Graduate Degree (HR related): Currently in an HR role
2. SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP): This degree is meant for HR leaders who manage their organization's HR programs and strategic goals. The application requires between 3 and 7 years of professional HR experience:
- Less than a Bachelor's Degree (not HR related): 7 years in HR role
- Less than a Bachelor's Degree (HR related): 6 years in HR role
- Bachelor's Degree (not HR related): 5 years in HR role
- Bachelor's Degree (HR related): 4 years in HR role
- Graduate Degree (not HR related): 4 years in HR role
- Graduate Degree (HR related): 3 years in HR role
Unlike HRCI, SHRM does not have international-specific certification programs. For full eligibility requirements, see the SHRM website.
How to get human resources certified with SHRM
You can apply for SHRM certifications on the SHRM website here. The process consists of filling out an application form with your eligibility, job. and demographic information. In some cases, your application may be audited to verify your education and experience.
The SHRM certification exams have specific registration and testing windows, broken into Spring and Winter seasons.
Spring applications are accepted between January and April, with testing taking place from May to July. Winter applications are accepted between May and November, with testing taking place from December to February.
Both SHRM certifications cost $375 USD for SHRM members or $475 for non-members, and you can earn a $75 discount by applying during the early bird period.
Both the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams feature 160 multiple choice questions broken into two categories: knowledge-based items to assess your knowledge of HR facts, and scenario-based questions to assess your situational decision-making skills.
Both tests are 4 hours long, with an optional 15-minute break in the middle.
Check out the SHRM website for more information about the test formats.
Like the HRCI certifications, SHRM offers several modes of exam preparation:
- Self-led study courses ($725+ USD)
- Instructor-led courses ($1495 USD)
- In-house organization training (Quote required)
As with HRCI certifications, SHRM certifications must be renewed every three years and can be renewed by earning 60 professional development credits (known as PDCs).
In general, one hour at an SHRM-certified conference, event, or webinar earns you one credit.
Take your HR career to the next level
Getting HR certified is a terrific way to boost your career—whether it’s to earn a promotion, a raise, or to just continue your HR education.
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