HR Certification: Past, Present, Future

HR Cert.BlogIn 1997, I became aware of two HR certifications: the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). I knew these certifications were associated with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), but when I looked into receiving them, I realized they were actually issued by the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI), with SHRM providing the marketing and exam preparation materials. I took HRCI’s exam and received my SPHR that year. Later, I would receive my Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR), also from HRCI and with the aid of SHRM study materials.

Last year, SHRM and HRCI ended their relationship. HRCI still provides testing for the PHR, SPHR, GPHR, PHR-California (PHR-CA), and SPHR-California (SPHR-CA). In addition, HRCI recertifies professionals holding these credentials every three years. The credential-holder submits documentation through the HRCI website demonstrating that he or she has earned 60 credits of continuing education. Beginning later this year one, you’ll be able to earn credits just by being an employee of an MSEC member. Other ways include attending training and completing on-the-job projects.

Upon ending its affiliation with HRCI, SHRM introduced its own HR certifications, the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and the SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). Through the end of 2015, current holders of an HRCI certification can acquire the corresponding SHRM certification by visiting the SHRM website at: and completing an online tutorial.

For those who do not have an HRCI certification, SHRM offers its certification through a testing process similar to HRCI’s. Even though I have two HRCI designations and could have gotten the SHRM-SCP simply by completing a tutorial, I took the SHRM-SCP exam to satisfy my curiosity. The process was nearly identical to taking my computer-based GPHR exam. I even went to the same testing location.

The exam was challenging. About 60 percent of the questions seemed knowledge-based while the remaining 40 percent involved situational judgment. The knowledge questions related to tasks and duties an experienced HR generalist would probably have experienced, and the situations described in those questions were realistic. Although I found myself guessing several times, I was almost always able to narrow the choices down to two from four, and very often I knew the answer immediately. I continually asked myself what the test authors were really looking for, particularly on the situational questions, and it helped that I had studied the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge. It is difficult for me to compare taking the SHRM-SCP and the SPHR exams since nearly 18 years elapsed between the two tests, but I do know that I felt the same way exiting both exams; i.e., I had no idea if I passed or not. In 1997, it was because the test was on paper and had to be turned in and scored before the result could be reported. In 2015, SHRM is using this first testing window to conduct a final review of all results before scoring the exams and will not be releasing results until mid- to late-August.

So what is the future of HR certifications? In the near-term, both HRCI and SHRM will continue to offer their own general certifications. Right now, the HRCI certifications (PHR, SPHR, etc.) are better-known, while SHRM has pulled out all the stops to make their certifications accessible and relevant. In addition, we have the ever-expanding list of specialized certifications relating to HR such as:

  • CCP – Certified Compensation Professional
  • CEBS – Certified Employee Benefits Specialist
  • CPP – Certified Payroll Professional
  • CPLP – Certified Professional in Learning and Performance

The number of HR certifications just keeps growing. Getting and keeping professional certifications seems key for professionals to demonstrate their commitment to their profession and their expertise. That’s why I expect to see more and more initials on business cards.