Is HR Certification (PHR/SPHR) Worth It?

To most it would seem that the HR certification tests (PHR, SPHR) through the HR Certification Institute are held in high regard. After all, can you browse through HR job postings without seeing the inevitable “PHR/SPHR Required” towards the end of the ad? You might be asking yourself (as I did) whether or not the tests are worth it.  After all, it IS an investment of your time and money.  You might find yourself asking the questions I did when I was considering HR certification.

Do HR people with certifications make more?

Yes they do. According to a survey done by, HR professionals who are certified make substantially than their non-certified counterparts. While the difference is less noticeable in more junior levels,  as you move up the HR food chain the difference becomes much more apparent. According to Payscale’s survey, the median pay for a certified HR professionals was $63,900 while those without certification made around $45,300—a difference of nearly $20,000! While the numbers vary across different industries and parts of the country, on average the certification pays off.

Are they more respected than those without certifications?

I think it depends on where you work. I’ve talked to plenty of HR professionals whose CEOs don’t even know what PHR or SPHR stands for…Pretty Happy and Resourceful (PHR)?!?! However, in companies where executives are more in touch with the HR department I tend to think that certification sends a signal that the individual is committed to the profession and competent in the field.

Do they have a better shot at getting a job than someone without a certification?

Absolutely.  Let’s call a spade a spade—the primary reason people get their PHR or SPHR is to showcase it on their resume. As previously mentioned, most mid to senior-level job ads make reference to having your HR certification. I’ve talked to some recruiters that literally throw your resume aside if you don’t have those magical 3 or 4 letters. And that is if you ever make to a recruiter, many applicant tracking systems will automatically disqualify you if you don’t have the certification.

Are they smarter?

I think this question goes in the same box as to whether college educated people are brighter than non-college educated. In some cases yes and some cases no. Making sweeping judgments about people I’ve never met freaks me out so I’m pleading the 5th. However, it would be nice if HRCI had you take an IQ test on the way out of the exam so we’d be able to see some hard numbers here.

Should I go for the PHR or SPHR?

Before you even start debating this question, check out HRCI’s Eligibility Requirements-there are unique education and years of experience requirements for each certification. If you’re like me you might be eligible to take both exams.  If so, my advice is to take the pre-exam quizzes and do an asessment as to the strategic level of your HR knowledge. PHR questions are much more terminology and fact-based. SPHR is a 5-headed beast that weaves several concepts together in one question. Ultimately, I decided to go with the PHR because I felt that it was more closely aligned to my experience level and honestly I feared failing the SPHR. However, this is a decision you’ll need to wrestle with as you study. I don’t recommend making a decision on which exam to go for until you’ve been studying for at least a few months. Oh, and the SHRM Learning System is definitely worth its weight in gold—I highly recommend it.

Final Thoughts

Certification is definitely worth it but before you go down the path of certification, understand that like most things we want, there are sacrifices. First, you’ll spend money on study materials-maybe even pay for a prep course at a local community college. Second, the test itself costs money and if you fail they don’t give you a free retry!

Third, you will sacrifice your time studying. I participated in my local SHRM chapter’s HR certification study group which was very helpful but also a time commitment. For 3 months, once a week I met with others who were prepping for the certification exams and we reviewed key concepts. Furthermore,  each Saturday I was married to my couch for 5-6 hours reading the materials in the different modules and taking practice tests.

What do you think—is the certification worth it? Add your comments below.

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