Certifications in HR
In addition to education, another way to prepare yourself for the HR field is through certification. Why are certifications important? Not only do they show a proficiency in HR, but they also recognize HR professionals who have a certain level of experience and ongoing training in their field.
Certifications are also an immediate way for a recruiter or hiring manager to know that you have a baseline of HR-related knowledge. Since most certifications can only be attained through exams, they demonstrate that you have a collection of HR-specific knowledge that non-certified professionals can't always prove. Most HR certifications require at least one or two years of HR-related work experience, so you'll want to pursue certifications as you grow your career.
Having an HR certification also shows commitment. Most professionals won't take the time or spend the money to get certified unless they plan to stay in the field for a significant period of time. Most certifications require renewal after a certain period of time (typically three years), so professionals also have to commit to a certain number of professional development hours each year to maintain their certification status.
If you're a career changer, it's worth noting that many certifications require the certification candidate to demonstrate that a high percentage (at least 51%) of current job responsibilities are HR-related.
There are a number of different certifications to get--each with its own distinction and process. If you're unsure about which certification is right for you, there are a number of ways to investigate:
- Use the chart and certification overviews below to link to certification websites
- Research each certification carefully to make sure you understand the process, costs, and requirements to maintain your certification through the years; you don't want to lose it after all your hard work
- Read job descriptions in your areas of interest; many will indicate a certain certification as a requirement or preference in the hiring process
- Ask mentors and experienced HR professionals in your area of interest to share their experiences with the certification process and their insight on the many certification options
The most popular HR certifications are generalist certifications, which include the PHR and the SPHR. These certifications demonstrate knowledge of the broad HR profession as well as a certain level of experience for those candidates who want to grow their HR careers into broad management responsibilities.
The PHR stands for "Professional in Human Resources." It requires a minimum of two years of exempt work experience and suggests an average of two to four years. Exempt experience means you were/are salaried (as opposed to receiving hourly pay) and are ineligible or exempt from receiving additional pay for overtime hours worked. The PHR is a great certification for HR professionals early in their careers.
SPHR is the "Senior Professional in Human Resources" certification. It requires a minimum of two years of exempt work experience as well, but most candidates for this exam have 6-8 years of work experience. The SPHR exam demonstrates a career commitment to HR and shows you have significant HR experience and knowledge typically at a manager level or above.
Questions on the PHR/SPHR exams come from the following core areas:
- Strategic management
- Workforce planning and employment
- Human Resource Development
- Compensation and Benefits
- Employee and Labor Relations
- Occupational Health, Safety and Security
While both the PHR and the SPHR cover the same topics, the SPHR exam is more difficult and has a higher concentration of questions in areas such as strategic planning and workforce planning. If you're considering a generalist certification, discuss which exam is right for you with your manager or supervisor. Once you attain a generalist certification, you will have to renew it every three years. This involves either re-certifying by exam, or, the more preferred method, through sixty hours of continuing education across the three year period.
Specialty certifications are those that are focused in a subset of the HR profession, such as benefits or international HR. Like generalist certifications, they demonstrate a level of knowledge and experience, but with regard to the related specialty area. Most candidates for specialty certifications are committed to working in that specialty area for a significant period of time, or have a large percentage of their job committed to that specialty area. HR consultants or specialized outsourcing professionals often seek these credentials, as do those who are subject-matter experts in areas such as benefits or compensation.
The Certified Benefits Professional (CBP) is a designation earned by compensation specialists demonstrating a certain depth of knowledge in benefits strategies and practices. Certain benefits positions may require CBP certification, earned through an exam administered by World at Work, the professional association for those in compensation, benefits and rewards.
CCP is a designation earned by compensation specialists demonstrating a certain depth of knowledge in compensation strategies and practices, and stands for Certified Compensation Professional. Certain compensation positions may require the CCP, which is also earned through an exam administered by World at Work.
A "Global Remuneration Professional," or GRP, certification is also a specialty option. GRP is a designation earned by compensation specialists demonstrating a certain depth of knowledge in international remuneration and compensation strategies and practices. Certain compensation positions may require GRP certification, which, too, is earned through an exam administered by World at Work.
Perhaps the newest specialty option is the GPHR: "Global Professional in Human Resources." Designed for those who have specific experience in global HR, the GPHR is earned only through an exam administered by HRCI (Human Resources Certification Institute).