Human Resources Certification: What HR Professionals Should Know

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Category: Value of Education

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In 2018, more than 102,000 human resources professionals participated in a PayScale survey about HR certifications. Of the respondents, 34% had earned at least one certification, and their salaries indicated that their certifications were becoming more valuable over time.

Certifications are not always required for positions in HR, but they can help you stand out compared to other candidates. Some additional benefits of HR certifications may include:

In this article, we explore human resources certification and what HR professionals should know about their options.

Certification Providers

In the HR industry, there are two leading certification providers:

Your choice for which certification to pursue will depend on your experience and career aspirations. Most require both academic qualifications and HR experience. Continue reading below for information about the various options offered by the HRCI and SHRM.

HRCI Certifications

The Human Resource Certification Institute was originally known as the American Society of Personnel Administration Accreditation Institute when it was founded in 1973, and it began administering exams in 1976.

Today, the HRCI has a long list of HR certifications, and we’ll focus on three of the most popular options.

1. Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR)

For aspiring HR professionals without work experience, the Associate Professional in Human Resources® is a good place to start. This knowledge-based certification offered by the HRCI is designed for professionals who are just starting their HR careers, as the only eligibility requirement is a high school diploma.

The content covered by the aPHR exam includes:

2. Professional in Human Resources (PHR)

The Professional in Human Resources® is a more advanced certification that validates technical and operational skills in human resource management. In order to be eligible for PHR certification, participants must meet one of the following criteria:

The PHR exam tests participants in their knowledge of higher-level HR functions, including:

3. Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)

Finally, the Senior Professional in Human Resources® is a prestigious certification offered by the HRCI that focuses more on HR strategy than implementation. It's a good choice for professionals who already are – or who want to one day become – human resource managers. Participants must meet one of the following criteria to be eligible:

The SPHR exam tests HR management topics like:

SHRM Certifications

The Society for Human Resource Management has more 300,000 members across the globe. The organization offers two competency-based human resources certifications: the SHRM Certified Professional and the SHRM Senior Certified Professional.

Both certifications are based on the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge. They test participants on their HR knowledge as well as their situational judgement skills.

1. SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP)

The SHRM Certified Professional is an excellent certification for HR professionals who deal with policy and strategy implementation. Primarily, these are professionals who perform and deliver the operational functions of human resources.

To be eligible for the SHRM-CP exam, participants must have professional experience in HR; the years of experience required varies based on the highest level of education completed and whether the participant was in an HR-related academic program.

2. SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP)

HR administrators who have completed the SHRM Senior Certified Professional have been tested on their knowledge in developing human resource strategies, streamlining them with organizational goals, leading various functions, and analyzing performance metrics.

Participants can qualify for the SHRM-SCP exam with three years of professional experience if they have a master’s degree in human resources; more years of experience are required for participants who have lower-level degrees or degrees in academic areas outside of HR.


At Columbia Southern University, we offer online degree programs in human resources at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels, and both programs align with the SHRM curriculum guidelines. These programs offer courses in collective bargaining, compensation, benefits, employment law, international human resource management, staffing and more.

To learn more about CSU’s online degree programs in human resources and many other areas, visit