I’ve written before about the value of certification. I believe being certified can set you apart and I think the process of becoming certified can be educational and rewarding.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of working with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) as an item writer for their certification exams and now I work with them to facilitate certification prep seminars. I love being able to share my knowledge and help people earn their certification.
One of the questions I’m asked a lot is “What tips do you have for someone working toward their certification?” So, I’ve decided to share with you my top ten tips. While this is focused on the SHRM credential, I’m sure you can take these tips and apply them to any type of certification you’re pursuing.
- Get familiar with the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (BoCK). First things first, the exam is based on the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge, also known as the BoCK. Want to know what’s on the exam? Review the BoCK. You can download the SHRM BoCK on their website. Also on the SHRM website is an interactive guide that allows you to read more about each competency and access career development resources.
- Learn about the exam itself. I believe one of the keys to success is understanding the exam details like the number of questions (160), format (multiple-choice), and time limit (4 hours). ICYMI, there’s a new book out from SHRM titled “Ace Your SHRM Certification Exam”. Among many other things, the book covers the exam structure and the two different types of exam questions.
- Determine which exam you want to take. SHRM offers two credentials: the certified professional (CP) and senior certified professional (SCP). It could make sense to do your research in tips #1 and #2, then decide which exam you want to earn. Each credential has its own eligibility criteria, so you’ll want to review each and decide for yourself.
- Create a study schedule. And stick to it! Yes, you are a knowledgeable, successful HR professional. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to study. This is a standardized exam and many of us haven’t taken this type of exam for a while. So, plan to study. And make studying a priority. This is the top regret I hear from people who don’t pass the exam. They fall behind in studying and never catch up.
- Find a study buddy. Or a study group. If you’re concerned that you might be one of those people who could become easily distracted from your study plan, think about finding a study buddy or group to help with accountability goals. I’m one of the moderators for a Facebook group focused on certification study (and that’s all we discuss). It’s called The SHRMinators. You’re welcome to join us.
- Consider taking a prep course. I’m not just saying this because I teach prep courses. Some people find that taking a prep course at the beginning of their study helps them to focus. Some people take the prep course at the end of their study as a final boost before the exam. Either way, a prep course can help you achieve your certification goals. One thing I do want to add though, certification prep courses do not teach you what’s on the exam.
- Make yourself a set of flash cards. I just read an article on Lifehacker about “Using Old School Index Cards for Capturing New Ideas”. Index cards are inexpensive and a great way to jot down acronyms you want to remember or the essential elements for a piece of HR legislation. You can carry them with you and do a quick review while waiting at the dentist’s office.
- Take practice exams! There are quite a few SHRM study resources available that offer practice exam questions including the SHRM Learning System. I always like to say that the key to certification is 1) the content and 2) the exam. Taking a practice exam, studying, and then re-taking the exam can be a great way to gauge your study efforts and build confidence.
- Develop a ritual for answering questions. What I mean by this is, when you read an exam question, put a little process in place for yourself to answer the question. For example, “I’m going to read the question and all the responses. Then eliminate the responses I know are incorrect. Finally, I’ll choose the best answer.” It will take some time to turn this process into a habit, but it could help with second-guessing yourself on exam day.
- Practice self-care. Earning your certification is a big goal and it involves a lot of work. Taking care of yourself is important. Get plenty of rest. Eat well. Visit the exam center beforehand to see what it looks like. Be comfortable on exam day. I’d like to think that we would all agree that being stressed out isn’t the best approach for studying or for taking the exam.
Earning your SHRM certification can be a valuable step in your career development. But I’m not going to sugar-coat it…earning your SHRM certification is also hard work. Putting a plan in place to achieve your goal will definitely help.
P.S. If you want to learn more about SHRM Certification Prep Seminars, check out the SHRM website. They offer both in-person and virtual programs as well as a new one-day “Power Prep” program which is focused on test-taking skills and specifically tailored to the specific exam levels – either CP or SCP.
SHRM logo used with permission26