Using Certification to Advance Your Career – Ask HR Bartender

In career development models, there’s a period of career “establishment”. I like to think of it as this place where we Career Developmentdecide our chosen field, which may/may not align with what we studied in school. But it prompts some questions about activities we should pursue to demonstrate our commitment to our chosen profession. Today’s reader is experiencing that challenge:

I’m 28, with a longstanding professional interest in human resources. My first ‘real’ job after college gave me some good exposure to HR, but it was a dead end. I’ve spent the past five years in book publishing and am now working in a technical/process consultant role. I seem to have hit another dead end within my company, and am exploring opportunities elsewhere. I would love to get back into HR, but my relevant experience is not recent, and an entry-level HR position would likely result in a significant pay cut.

My question: Does it make sense to pursue PHR/SPHR certification to prepare for moving into that field? I would definitely pursue certification if I landed an HR job, but am wondering if the certification would allow me to break into the field, given my limited on-the-job experience.

Many thanks for any advice you can provide.

In thinking about this situation, it occurred to me that I’ve written several views on certification that might be good to share –

Why Should I Get a Credential in Human Resources

Resources for HR Certifications

HR Certification or College

Employer Views on Certification

Respect for Letters

Career Development and Certifications

I know certification can do good things for your professional career. I don’t want to imply it won’t but I still believe that the reason a person should get certified and stay certified is because they want to. The letters after your name will always mean more to you than they do to anyone else.

I’ve always been very proud of my certifications. Proud of what I learned. Proud of the rigor it took to get certified and proud of what I have to accomplish to remain certified.

Why should someone get their certification? Would you recommend becoming certified to get a job? Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Image courtesy of HR Bartender


  1. says

    Thanks for sharing all of the links, Sharlyn (you’ve given me some good reading material for the week).

    I agree with you on the value of the certifications – if you want them because *you* want them.

    Using an HR example, I’ve seen some people become Certified Compensation Professionals (CCP) and it’s done wonders for their careers (the market for comp people is sometimes a bit thin). But what they all have in common is that they loved comp…

    So I would say that if someone is going to get a certification that it’s important they know what they’re going to do with it, and they really want it.

    Otherwise what’s the point?

    Keep writing.


    Rory Trotter recently posted..“What Do You Do for Fun?” is a Great Interview Question – Here’s Why

  2. Martha Millhaem says

    While I do agree with HR Bartender that a professional HR designation should come from within one’s self, and have the most meaning to our own aspirations, the reality is many HR position requirements do specify a certification either as a desired or required qualification for consideration of employment. So from a career-pathing premise, I think it is very wise to achieve/sustain a PHR/SPHR for those seriously interested in exploring options in the HR careerfield. Just my two cents. :) Thanks for letting me share!

  3. says

    Thanks for the comments! I do agree with Martha that many employers are starting to request appropriate certifications in the hiring process. It can set candidates apart.

  4. says

    I honestly think (S)PHR are worthless. I only got and kept mine when a joined a company that required it. Outside of HR few people know what it means and inside HR its often a joke. The tests are bloody simple yet the still have like a 50% failure rate, which I don’t think speaks to highly for our industry.
    Corey Feldman recently posted..Contest for a signed paperback of your choice.

  5. says

    Hi Corey. Thanks for sharing. I must admit, there might have been a time in my career when I thought the same. But I found that telling people how I got the credential – and how I keep it – has been helpful to others understanding how much I valued my profession.

    And while the test might be simple to some, to others the test is a challenge. I do wish there was a better way (or alternative way) to demonstrate mastery of knowledge. I know some super smart HR pros who have taken the exam several times and not passed it.

  6. Josh says

    Certifications in any profession are a signal to the marketplace that one has a baseline amount of knowledge in his/her field, which can come in handy in enhancing one’s career. I would recommend anyone considering pursuing a certification, or any other type of education or learning, do so proactively in preparation for a career move, if at all possible. A prospective employer will appreciate the initiative you took to prepare for your career in HR versus waiting until you got a job in HR.