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How to get human resources certified


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?

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.

The benefits of HR certification

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 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.

Exam format

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.

The exams can either be taken at a Pearson VUE test center or taken at home with an online proctor (from within the US or Canada only). 

There are sample questions and example test structures on the HRCI website.

Exam preparation

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.

Certification renewal

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 certifications

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.

Exam format

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.

Exam preparation

Like the HRCI certifications, SHRM offers several modes of exam preparation:

Certification renewal

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.

For more HR career growth tips, subscribe to our human resources blog below.

Frequently asked questions about how to get human resources certified

How do I become HR certified?

First, you’ll need to decide which certification provider you’re want to get your certification from. The two primary providers are the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). These organizations each provide similar certifications for all stages in your career and all education levels. If you want an international certification, you’ll need to go with HRCI, because SHRM doesn’t have international certifications.

Which is the best HR certification?

It’s not so much about which one is the best as it is which one is the best for you. You’ll want to take a look at what certifications are offered by HR certification providers like HRCI and SHRM to see which ones are aligned with your career goals and your current experience.

How much does an HR certification cost?

To get certified with HRCI, you’ll need to pay an application fee of $100 and an exam fee ranging from $300 to $500. If you decide to pay for exam prep, HRCI offers practice tests starting at $50 and courses starting at $300.

SHRM certification is $375 for members and $475 for non-members. You can get a $75 discount by applying during the early bird period. Like HRCI, SHRM offers exam prep courses. Self-study courses start at $725, while instructor-led courses are $1495.

What HR certification should I get first?

Which HR certification you get first will depend on your previous experience and education. For example, to be eligible for SHRM’s Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) certification, you must have a certain number of years experience in an HR role and a certain level of education.

This ranges from 4 years in HR role for people with less than a Bachelor’s Degree to currently working in a HR role if you have an HR-related graduate degree. If you haven’t gone to college, HRCI’s Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR) only requires a high school diploma.


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