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The Complete Guide to Human Resources Certifications

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

To stay competitive in the modern business world, you need to have qualifications that set you apart from others. Just having the barebones requirements is no longer enough. 

Instead, you need to go above and beyond to show potential employers that you are the best candidate for the job and that you will have the most success in the position. One great way to do this is with a human resources certification. 

Hiring managers prefer candidates with the background and foundational knowledge that comes with an HR certification. As competition for jobs in HR grows, a certification will help you stand out from the rest. 

If you need more proof of why an HR certification is important, how you can get one, and some long-term strategies, read on for our complete guide on human resources certifications.

Why Human Resources Certifications Are So Important

HR certifications are becoming increasingly important. A 2018 study done by Payscale found that over 34% of HR professionals have at least one HR credential

So, one of the reasons a certification is a smart move is to make yourself a competitive candidate for HR jobs and promotions. This is especially true as you climb up the HR ladder. The higher you want to go in your HR career, the more important it becomes for you to have a certification. 

The same Payscale study found that 35.5% of HR managers are certified, and 51.5% of HR vice presidents are certified. Only 13.2% of HR administrators have at least one credential, so certification is less important if this is where you’re starting or aiming as your next step. However, as you continue to grow in your career, you will find that the knowledge that comes with the certification and its credibility will be a significant benefit. 

As mentioned above, certification is a way to give yourself a leg up on the competition. Some job descriptions say that having a certification is a “strong plus,” but they often are not a requirement. Certifications show a recruiter that continued education in your industry is important to you and that you will likely be a reliable long-term employee. That goes a long way when it comes to hiring. 

No company wants to hire someone that stays for just a few months and then moves on to another company. The costs of hiring and onboarding new employees are high, and it makes more sense for the HR team to take more time determining which candidate will be the best than it does to make a rushed hiring decision.

An HR certification is a quick way for hiring professionals of a company to see you go above and beyond. 

In addition, according to The Balance Careers, professionals who have certifications are more likely to get promoted than those who don’t. Its study showed 63% of HR associates with a certification were promoted while only 34% of associates without a certification were. This is because an HR certificate shows that you have the skills and the knowledge to move up in your career. 

Lastly, an HR certification can come in handy when it comes time for you to negotiate a higher salary. Whether you’re starting a new job or wanting a raise in your current role, a certification will help you make that salary raise more likely because it gives you leverage.

Quick Tips to Improve Human Resources Certifications Today

Spend More Time With Software

HR certifications are a great way to expand your understanding of HR tech, including HR software. Thus, it’s a good idea for you to get comfortable using HR software before diving into your certification. 

There are various HR tools out there for you to choose from, and what will work best depends on your specific needs. 

However, the HR tool that works best across the board is BambooHR. This management software is used and trusted by over 19,000 customers, including major companies like Postmates, Grammarly, and ZipRecruiter.

Why is this software so loved? There are a few different reasons. 

First off, it is simple and easy to use, which is always a bonus when it comes to software. You don’t want to spend too much time getting comfortable with HR software such as BambooHR. Then, it no longer becomes efficient. 

If you work with a team with different user permissions levels, you’ll love the features offered with BambooHR. Employees have easy access to the information and features they need without seeing and accessing what is above their pay grade. 

Some of the major ways BambooHR helps HR teams are in simplifying employee data and creating reports, streamlining hiring processes with a great ATS, onboarding assistance, time tracking, PTO, and payroll.

Bamboo HR offers two different packages for companies, an Essentials package and an Advantage plan. 

BambooHR does not publicly list its pricing. To determine the rate for your company and needs, fill out the online form for a free quote

Schedule the Test Early

Once you are ready to take the exam, it is good to schedule the exam immediately. You don’t need to take the test immediately, but you want to schedule it so that you have the right amount of time to study (which varies from person to person). 

By waiting too long to schedule your test, you run the risk of not getting the time you wanted or having to go out of your way to take it somewhere else. By scheduling early, you have more control over your testing times and places and less stress to deal with on top of the actual test-taking. 

Know how long you need to prepare and whether you work best in the morning, afternoon, or evening, and schedule accordingly.

Learn How the Exam is Structured

The HR certification exams have a different layout than other standardized tests you’ve likely taken in the past. So, you must take the time to learn the structure so that you feel comfortable with this specific test. 

The company you choose to do your testing with should give you the information on what to expect on the exam so that it won’t be a complete surprise. 

For example, one of the top certifications is through HRCI, and they give you the structure of the exams here. Typically, the exams include:

  • Traditional multiple-choice with four answer choices
  • Multiple choice with two or more correct answers
  • Fill in the blank
  • Drag and drop
  • Scenarios

Most testing companies also provide study materials or practice tests, which you should absolutely take advantage of during your study time.

Create a Study Schedule

Doing well on this test requires studying. This is not a test you can “wing it” and expect to do well. Since you are likely already busy in your current job, chances are good you don’t have a wide-open schedule for studying. 

That’s why a study schedule is critical. It helps ensure that you make time in your week to study and have study sessions driven by goals. 

Set aside specific blocks of time every week to have quiet study time. Use study guides, practice tests, and exam review materials to determine where you need to spend your study hours. While it can be challenging to find chunks of time to study, it is imperative. If you do not study well or enough, you risk failing the test and having to pay more money and spend more time preparing to retake it.

Long-Term Strategies for Human Resources Certifications

Focusing on the short-term tips for your human resources certification is important, but you also want to look at the long-term strategies that will help you over time. 

You want to get the most out of this certification, so consider what we share below to get the maximum benefits from it.

Plan Out Your Career Goals

Take a look at where you stand in your career right now, where you want to be in two years, then in five years, and then in 10 years.

Things don’t always go according to plan, but having an idea of where you would like to be is essential for you to set career goals. 

If you start at the bottom of the HR ladder right now, you may not need to get an HR certification yet. However, if you are ready to move up and make yourself a more competitive candidate for higher positions, this is the time to get moving on your certification. And as your career progresses, consider what additional certifications will help you move onto the next step and have the knowledge and skills you need to succeed.

Understand The Difference Between the Certifications

Two of the most popular HR certifications are the PHR certification and the SPHR certification. 

Keep in mind these are not the only two certifications offered by the HRCI, an independent nonprofit organization that is the leading credentialing and learning organization for the HR field. Other certifications they offer are the Associate Professional in HR (aPHR), Associate Professional in HR–International (aPHRi), Professional in HR–International (PHRi), Senior Professional in HR–International (SPHRi), and Global Professional in HR (GPHR).

Below, I go into more detail about the two main certifications offered.

PHR (Professional in Human Resources)

The PHR certification shows that you have the technical knowledge of HR management, including U.S. laws and regulations. 

This certification is meant for those who have experience in professional-level HR jobs and are responsible for focusing specifically on the HR department rather than the company as a whole. 

The eligibility requirements for the PHR certification ask that you meet one of these conditions: 

  • At least one year of experience in a professional-level HR position and a master’s degree or higher
  • At least two years of experience and a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • At least four years of experience and a high school diploma or higher 

This exam focuses on employee and labor relations, business management, talent planning and acquisition, learning and development, and more. The exam is two hours long and includes 90 scored questions and 25 pre-test questions. The application to take the exam costs $100, and the exam itself is $395.

SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources)

This certification is intended for those HR professionals that are looking to be HR leaders. It shows that you understand strategies of HR as well as policy-making, which makes you a good person to be involved in and in charge of planning HR policy; you go beyond just implementing it. 

The eligibility requirements for the SPHR certification ask that you meet one of these conditions: 

  • At least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position and a master’s degree or higher
  • At least five years of experience and a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • At least seven years of experience and a high school diploma or higher

While this exam covers many of the same overall topics as the PHR, it also focuses a large portion on leadership and strategy. The exam is two and a half hours long, with 115 scored questions plus 25 pre-test questions.  The application to take the exam costs $100, and the exam itself is $495.

Both certifications require 60 recertification credits every three years to maintain your active certification. For the SPHR, 15 of those recertification credits must be within business management and strategy.

Next Steps

Once you’ve gotten your HR certification, you will find that HR software becomes even more important in your job. There are some great options for HR tools out there, but we have a few favorites that help make your job easier. 

Check out all of our top picks for the best HR software.

You may also find that you don’t have time to do everything and want to outsource some of your HR tasks. There are outsourcing services out there that help you get the job done. To help you choose the best for you, check out our top HR outsourcing services article and supporting information. 


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