SHRM vs. HRCI certification comparison

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SHRM and HRCI Certification Basics

If you’re an HR professional in a small business, or an office administrator covering HR duties, you might be asking yourself if you should apply for your HR certification. Or, if you’re an HR professional who is considering making a move to a new organization, chances are you see HR certification in either the desired or required categories for HR positions. Regardless of your situation, you may still be wondering: is an HR certification worth it? The truth is, only you can answer that question. But here are a few additional questions to consider that might help you make a decision.

What is the value of an HR certification?

An HR certification isn’t required to work in the field of human resources; however, for a variety of reasons, today’s HR professionals are seeking this formal recognition of their skills. “[Certification] is important to me because it serves as a culmination of my experiences and knowledge…that shows my peers and potential employers that I am a well-versed and dedicated HR professional,” Brandon Ambrose, SHRM-CP told the Society for Human Resource Management. It’s not only a matter of demonstrating that you have the skills and experiences required, or making yourself more appealing to potential employers, according to data from Payscale, it appears that certifications help HR professionals across all levels earn a higher wage when they have a certification:

  • With certification, median pay range across all HR positions: $59,100

  • Without certification, median pay range across all HR positions: $45,600

The data also shows that with increasing responsibility and scope, there’s an increase in the percentage of HR professionals who hold some type of certification:

  • 5% of HR assistants

  • 11% of HR administrators

  • 28% of HR generalists

  • 30% of HR managers

  • 39% of HR directors

  • 42% of HR vice presidents

In addition to the personal and professional rewards of earning an HR certification, these figures suggest that for career mobility and momentum, obtaining a certification can be a wise choice.

What HR certifications are available? SHRM vs. HRCI

Currently, there are two providers that conduct the HR certification process – the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Both HRCI and SHRM require that applicants must meet specific educational and work experience criteria at the time they submit their application.

Certification from HRCI: aPHR, PHR, PHRca, SPHR, GPHR, PHRi

The first HRCI certification was offered in 1973 (through the American Society of Personnel Administration’s Accreditation Institute). During the past 40+ years, HRCI (an independent nonprofit organization) has been working to create HR excellence. They maintain accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. HRCI currently offers a variety of certifications, with levels of difficulty primarily based on experience:

  • Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR): Professionals who are new to the field of HR.

  • Professional in Human Resources (PHR): Professionals with proficiency in “technical and operational aspects of HR management” (e.g., U.S. laws and regulations and program implementation).

  • Professional in Human Resources California (PHRca): HR professionals with mastery of the laws, regulations and practices unique to the state of California.

  • Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR): HR leaders with a background and significant professional experience in the field of human resources

  • Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR): HR practitioners focused on expanding  HR beyond national borders

  • Professional in Human Resources International (PHRi)—for HR professionals working in a single international location

There are eligibility requirements for each certification based on education, minimum years of experience, and years of experience at specific levels. While a PHR is not required before applying for the SPHR certification, you need to meet the eligibility requirements as stated on the HRCI website: “minimum of 4 years of experience in a professional-level HR position with a Master’s degree or higher; or, a minimum of 5 years of experience in a professional-level HR position with a Bachelor’s degree; or, a minimum of 7 years of experience in a professional-level HR position with less than a Bachelor’s degree.”

Certification from SHRM: SHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP

In 2015, SHRM began offering a competency-based certification for human resource professionals. More than 30,000 HR professionals provided input regarding the HR competencies on which the SHRM tests are based. The exams are accredited by The Buros Center for Testing.  SHRM currently offers two certifications, one for professionals with less experience and scope and a certification focused on senior-level HR leaders:

  • SHRM-Certified Professional (SHRM-CP): Professionals who implement HR policies, deliver HR services, maintain HR operations, and answer HR questions.

  • SHRM-Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP): HR professionals who lead HR functions, develop HR strategies to align with organizational goals, influence results, and analyze performance metrics.

Regarding eligibility, SHRM provides this chart to explain the requirements:



* Less than a bachelor’s degree includes: working toward a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree some college, qualifying HR certificate program, high school diploma, or GED.

Source: SHRM Certification Eligibility Criteria

What steps should you take to get certified?

Taking on this type of goal can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be—break down the steps to make it happen. Use this list as a start and add any details of your own:

  • Talk to HR professionals who are certified to gain insight about what worked for them in the certification process

  • Review the pros and cons of each certification program

  • Pick a certification provider (HRCI or SHRM)

  • Determine the appropriate test level, based on your education and HR experience

  • Evaluate exam preparation and study options; choose one based on your learning style, schedule, and budget

  • Enroll in the test and any associated study programs

  • Study, study, study, and study some more

  • Take your certification test

  • Re-take the test if necessary (many people do, so don’t be hard on yourself)

Once you’ve considered the HR certification options and how they may or may not impact your career, you’ll know if now is the time to sign up to take the test and get certified. Rest assured: test result information is confidential; the test providers don’t publish who failed the exam or the number of times people have failed the exam. Only candidates can share their exam results with third parties. If you don’t feel compelled to begin the journey now, you should wait. Embarking on the HR certification journey requires commitment. But the returns on your investment can be outstanding. According to one SPHR recipient, when she began the process she had no idea how much working towards and achieving the SPHR would mean for her. “The intense preparation, and working with a group of other motivated and like-minded HR professionals (from different organizations and practice areas) in a 12-week prep course, brought me new friendships and professional connections, reminded me how deep my knowledge and experience already is, rekindled my joy in learning, and reenergized my enthusiasm for HR practice and strategic management,” she commented in an online forum. If you do decide to embark on the journey of HR certification testing, you just might be surprised by the impact the journey has on your life and career.

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