Why Should I Get a Credential in Human Resources – Ask HR Bartender

Many professions have a credentialing process. Just because a credential exists doesn’t always mean the reasons for obtaining that credential are obvious. Today’s reader question asks some tough questions:

I have been asking some of my colleagues about recent changes to the qualifications for HR certification.  No one can seem to answer the question for me.

I’m interested to know whether you must have a HR degree before you can take the PHR/SPHR certification exam?  I’ve worked in the HR field for 20+ years and am currently pursing an HR degree but do not have one at the moment. Would I still be allowed to sit for the exam?

I’m also interested about how the HR Certification Institute promotes the credential. It’s important to understand what the credential represents and how it will be perceived in the marketplace.

To help answer this question, I reached out to Bennie Johnson, chief global marketing and global business development officer at the HR Certification Institute for answers. The HR Certification Institute is the global leader in professional credentialing for the HR profession.  It’s an accredited credentialing body that offers HR professionals a way to showcase their experience and education, their adherence to high ethical standards and demonstrated knowledge, their achievement through exam and their ongoing commitment to continuing professional development.  More than 120,000 HR professionals in 100 countries hold credentials from the Institute as a mark of high professional distinction.

HRCI, hr, human resources, credentials, certification, institute, SHRM, professional

Bennie, what does having the credential mean?

[Bennie] Holding credentials from the HR Certification Institute shows dedication to the field of human resources and a commitment to staying abreast of current policies, regulations and practices that affect the profession. Certified HR Professionals are leaders, willing mentors and trusted strategic partners, serving both their organizations and the profession.

By passing one of the HR Certification Institute’s rigorous exams – from the Professional in Human Resources (PHR®), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), Human Resource Business Professional (HRBP℠), Human Resource Management Professional (HRMP℠), Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR®) to the California Certification exam — HR professionals prove their mastery and real-world application of forward-thinking HR practices, policies and principles and a solid base of understanding of the HR Body of Knowledge.

In addition, in a recent survey conducted by the Institute, 93% of applicants responded, “Earning my certification will raise my credibility with my colleagues, peers and employer(s).”

Can you answer the reader’s question about the qualifications to sit for the exam? Is a degree required?

[Bennie] The HR Certification Institute requires a balance of experience and education from those who apply to take one of our exams. In order to be eligible for certification, an HR professional must prove experience and that level of experience depends on the amount of education the professional has completed. For example, if an HR professional has less than a bachelor’s degree, he or she will be required to show more years of relevant experience in the HR field to be considered to sit for an exam.  Professional-level experience includes:

  • Activities in which one works independently in both planning and decision-making
  • In-depth work requirements, including data gathering, analysis and interpretation
  • Interactions with a broad spectrum of contacts, including decision makers
  • Ultimate responsibility and accountability for one’s work

Each of our credentials has different eligibility requirements. Click here to learn more.

I know the HR Certification Institute recently changed the qualifications for the exam. Could you briefly share some of the rationale behind making those changes?

[Bennie] In 2011, the HR Certification Institute raised the basic requirements for eligibility to sit for one of our exams. The changes were implemented based on extensive research, input and feedback from certificants, business leaders and HR professionals. The eligibility requirements were tightened to better reflect the increased responsibility of today’s HR professional as a leader, mentor, teacher and one who influences not only the HR function but also the business as a whole.

How does the HR Certification Institute promote the credential?

[Bennie] The HR Certification Institute has a myriad of programs and offerings for those who hold credentials. From educational webinars to an online community, the Institute has created several forums for our 120,000+ certified HR professionals to use to connect and share ideas and best practices. In addition to those, we recently launched Certified, a magazine designed specifically for certified HR professionals that offers input and interviews from other certified HR professionals and is an idea-generation and idea-sharing platform.

The Institute offers several platforms for HR professionals who obtain certification, including our “We Just Heard” blogs and the opportunity to be recognized in our Newly Minted or In the News columns in Certified.

And more importantly, how can individuals promote being certified?

[Bennie] When an HR professional earns his or her certification from the Institute, he or she can request a “Boss Letter” that he or she can use to share the good news about the accomplishment.  We also encourage our certificants to share the news with their professional networks and with any organizations of which they are members.

Many thanks to Bennie and the team at the HR Certification Institute for helping us understand HR credentialing! If you want to learn more about certification, the Institute, the HR bodies of knowledge and eligibility requirements, be sure to visit the HR Certification Institute website and blog. Lots of great information is available.


  1. Jay Kersting says

    Thank you for this article. As a Corporate Trainer, that works in an HR function as well, a friend with her CPLP and SPHR recommended that I get my PHR, then CPLP and finally my SPHR. This echos her advice and it is nice to see that reinforced. [I started my studying with her advice, your article makes me feel better about it.]

  2. says

    Thanks for the comments.

    @Ebonee – According to Bennie, the main difference between the SPHR and HRMP is that the new HRMP credential is specifically designed for HR professionals practicing outside of the United States. While both are designed for those in management, the SPHR includes questions about U.S.-based laws and regulations and the HRMP does not include U.S.-centric questions.

    @Jay – I got my PHR, SPHR then CPLP. I found the CPLP work product to be a very rewarding and challenging process. Thank goodness I had a terrific study group!

  3. says

    I also think with either certification or HR qualifications, there’s an aspect of suffering for ones craft. Through gaining these type of formal acknowledgements it broadcasts in my view very prominently that you have a thirst for knowledge in this discipline and will go out of your way to gain that knowledge.

  4. says

    I graduated with an HR degree in 2011 and was fortunate enough to be part of the 50% who passed the Assurance of Learning Assessment, which is the appropriate certification following graduation. As I’ve applied for entry-level HR positions over the last 18 months I have been asked many times if I held a PHR certification, but I have not had a single employer even know about the Certificate of Learning.

    I think SHRM has done a good job promoting certification for exempt-level HR practitioners, but has utterly failed the next generation of Human Resources professionals. While I am an active member of both SHRM and the local chapter, I see little to no value if I cannot use their tools in finding employment.

  5. says

    Thanks for sharing Christopher. I totally agree that part of the value in a credential is the marketing. Employers need to know about it and HR pros need to understand how it will help their career. While the person holding the credential has some responsibility in marketing, the organization issuing the credential or certificate has much of it too.

  6. says

    The problem is if I have to “market” my employer-unknown credentials at the interview it is too late. If they expect a PHR for someone starting out in HR, my having to explain what a Certificate of Learning is really isn’t going to go over well. Assuming you are interviewing with people from the HR department, it just brings up that they are not knowledgable about their own profession’s credentials.

  7. says

    Not sure I agree with this. I have a relatively new credential called the CPLP (Certified Professional in Learning Performance). A lot of people don’t know what it is – because it’s new, not because they’re not knowledgeable. It’s an opportunity to start a discussion and to share what the credential means, how it was obtained and what it means to me.