Your work experience, accomplishments, and education largely define your career as a human resources professional. But a competitive certification tucked in your title and resume can go a long way in positioning yourself as a true expert and leader.
Earning human resources certifications will equip you with the latest knowledge and validate your skills. What’s more, it’ll likely result in a boost in pay — 31.6% to be exact, according to research by PayScale. As a bonus, you’ll get access to professional communities of like-minded individuals who share your values and goals.
Earning a professional certification for educational and networking reasons is commendable. However, the investment won’t pay off if you’re not careful when shortlisting programs. It’s vital that whatever certifications you pick align with your goals and are well-recognized in the industry. This roundup of the best HR certifications will provide a firm starting point for your research and your path toward human resources superstardom.
Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Certifications
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the largest HR professional society, with more than 200,000 members across the globe. SHRM offers two prestigious certifications for all HR professionals:
- SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) — Suitable for entry- to mid-level HR staff who perform operational HR services and execute policies. This certification will validate your operational HR expertise. Candidates applying for the SHRM-CP don’t need to hold an HR position or have any previous relevant experience. A professional degree is also not mandatory, although SHRM recommends having a relevant academic background.
- SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) — Suitable for senior-level HR leaders who work with the C-suite to develop strategies that align with the company’s mission and goals. Earning this credential will show that you’re an expert in strategic HR management. The eligibility requirements for SHRM-SCP are a bit stricter. A candidate must have at least three years of experience working in a strategic HR role. Candidates who have maintained their SHRM-CP for at least three years and are currently working in a strategic role (or transitioning to one) are also eligible to apply.
SHRM certifications will validate your skills and expertise as an HR professional and help you land a job anywhere. The exams for both certifications are four hours long and have 134 questions each. The standard exam fee for both certifications is $375 for SHRM members ($475 for non-members). You can also apply by March 31st of every year to take advantage of the early bird discount (exact dates may vary). This drops the price down to $300 if you’re an SHRM member or $400 if you’re not.
Maintaining Your SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP Certifications
Professionals can either earn 60 professional development credits (PDCs) every three years or retake the certification exams to maintain their SHRM-CP and -SCP credentials. To earn PDCs, professionals need to attend conferences and seminars, contribute resources to the advancement of the HR profession, or take select college courses. Local SHRM chapters offer their members educational meetings for credits and a number of companies that serve the HR profession offer webinars for credit at no cost.
HR Certification Institute (HRCI) Certifications
The HR Certification Institute (HRCI) is another prestigious credentialing organization for the human resources profession. They offer various HR certification programs for individuals at different levels. The two most popular ones include:
- Professional in Human Resources (PHR) — Targeted toward beginner- to mid-level professionals. The certification will help you demonstrate your expertise in the fundamentals of operational and technical HR. Candidates with at least one year of experience and a master’s degree are eligible. Those with bachelor’s degrees can also apply, provided that they have at least three years of experience. You can also apply if you have no academic background but possess four years of professional experience.
- Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) — Meant for mid to senior-level professionals. The SPHR credential will prove that you’ve mastered strategic HR management and policymaking. Eligibility requires a greater level of experience than the PHR — four years for master’s degree holders, five years for bachelor’s degree holders, or seven years for those with no academic qualifications.
The exam for the PHR certification lasts two hours, has 90 questions, and costs $395 (with a $100 application fee). The SPHR exam is a bit longer, lasting two hours and 30 minutes with 115 questions, and will cost you $495, along with an application fee of $100.
HRCI has several other certification options to choose from. To help you navigate, the Institute has also created a calculator that will identify the certification(s) you are eligible for based on your experience. They also offer review lessons and practice exam bundles to help you successfully earn the certification you’re working toward.
Maintaining Your PHR and SPHR Certifications
HRCI certification holders have to either retake the relevant exam or earn 60 recertification credits every three years to maintain their credentials. There are two ways to earn recertification credits: completing professional development activities, like attending pre-approved programs, or professional achievement activities, such as conducting research. You can also receive credits for the PHR and SPHR through SHRM luncheons and sponsored events.
For SPHR credential holders, there is an additional requirement that 15 out of the 60 recertification credits must be “Business Management and Strategy credits.”
In 2021, HRCI also announced “ethics requirements” for recertification, which all certificate holders have to fulfill. Under this requirement, All PHR and SPHR credential holders must earn at least one credit from an ethics-related activity. HRCI offers a selection of ethics-themed courses which can help you fulfill this requirement.
International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) Certifications
If you are an HR professional in the public sector looking to get certified, the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) is a great option. With a 100-year history, this association shares valuable industry publications, job listings, a community forum, and certifications in public sector HR. Much like SHRM and HRCI, it offers two main certifications based on seniority:
- IPMA-HR Certified Professional (IPMA-CP) — Aimed at entry- to mid-level professionals who want to demonstrate their knowledge of public sector HR and get an edge over their peers. Applicants must complete the Public Sector HR Essentials Program offered online to be eligible to take the IPMA-CP exam.
- IPMA-HR Senior Certified Professional (IPMA-SCP) — For HR executives or directors interested in developing their knowledge of creating and managing public sector HR strategy. Applicants have the option of applying online and doing an independent study or completing the online Developing Competencies for HR Success course.
Each exam consists of 85 multiple-choice questions and lasts two hours. The cost is $350 for members and $400 for non-members, plus an application fee of $100.
Maintaining Your IPMA-CP and IPMA-SCP Certifications
Certified professionals must accumulate 50 recertification points every three years and complete a Criteria for Recertification Form. The association accepts all HR-related professional development courses, conferences, and webinars and assigns either one or three points to each program, depending on the number of hours it spans.
Strategic HR Leadership (SHRL) Certification
The Strategic HR Leadership (SHRL) certification course is suitable for senior-level HR professionals who are currently leading a team or are transitioning to a leadership role. Offered by Human Capital Institute (HCI) — an organization that trains HR professionals from more than 300 Fortune 500 companies — this course will teach you key aspects of strategic HR, such as:
- Understanding HR’s role in executing a business strategy
- Designing a strong team that aligns with your business strategy
- Providing your team with the opportunity to learn and grow
There are no eligibility criteria for the SHRL certification. You have the option of completing the course either in two days or four weeks, depending on your availability. In order to get certified, you’ll need to attend all sessions, complete all the coursework, and pass an exam with a score of 80% or above.
The total cost of enrolling in the course (which also includes the exam) is $1,995.
Maintaining Your SHRL Certification
Like most credentialing organizations, HCI requires you to renew your SHRL certification every three years. You can either retake the course and its exam or earn 60 learning credits and submit them via HCI’s recertification portal a month before your certificate expires.
Both HCI and non-HCI learning credits are acceptable. You can also earn credits by working on groundbreaking management projects and publishing new research.
Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification
The Project Management Institute is a worldwide membership association for project and program management professionals. Although the Institute does not offer an HR-specific certification, it does present several certifications HR practitioners could benefit from earning. The most popular certification, Project Management Professional (PMP), shows that you are an experienced manager with the ability to direct key, cross-functional projects and meet both deadlines and budgets. With responsibility for organization-wide projects like employee engagement programs and HR software implementation, HR professionals will find these skills helpful, and the certification could help you stand out from your peers.
Like the other certifications, there is a set list of prerequisites you have to fulfill before you can take the exam, including having at least a secondary degree and several thousand hours of leading projects.
The exam cost for members of the Institute is $405 and $555 for non-members. You have four hours to finish the 200 multiple-choice questions.
Maintaining Your PMP Certification
Certified project management professionals maintain their PMP with 60 professional development units every three years. Points are gathered by attending fully accredited courses, symposia, and seminars.
Make a Long-Term Investment in Your HR Career
Certification is a sure way to showcase your expertise in the HR field. While HR certifications require time and money, the benefits of recognition, career advancement opportunities, and a higher salary will outweigh the investment.
This post was originally published on June 29, 2018. It was updated April 25, 2022.