In the Human Resources industry “only 34.2% of all HR professionals have one or more HR certifications,” according to Payscale. This leaves a unique opportunity for those wanting to advance in the Human Resources industry to fill a gap and highlight their hands-on, up-to-date industry knowledge. More and more we are seeing people forego formal higher education due to many factors, the most common being cost and time. Furthermore, despite many available degrees, the knowledge gained in the classroom can become obsolete as time passes. The laws and policies within Human Resources, in particular, change at a much more rapid rate - making continued education on a smaller, more consistent scale the more productive option. Hands-on experience is the best way to learn how to navigate situations that cannot be presented and facilitated in a classroom. Experience is everything within the field of Human Resources, and with this in mind, many employers are favoring experience and certifications in lieu of formal degrees. But with so many certifications available, the task of choosing the one that’s right for you can feel daunting. Everyone’s situation and goals are different and luckily, there are lots of associations and certification titles to choose from. We suggest starting by narrowing your list of options by evaluating your experience, time, budget, and target industry. To simplify your search further, we’ve created a list of the top 10 HR certifications that will get you noticed and set you up for success in your career.
Additional Schooling vs.Certifications
HR Professional Insight — Karli Larson, Human Resources Manager
“Given my own experience, I may be a bit biased, but also being an HR professional who has reviewed thousands of resumes I would recommend anyone considering additional schooling to strongly consider HR certifications instead. Look at job postings and ask other HR professionals what their employers value; they will likely tell you experience and a certification from a recognized organization.”
SHRM HR Certifications:
The prevalence of the “Certified Professional” certification has steadily picked up in the last four years. A big part of this has to do with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which started to offer its own certifications, the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP, in 2015. SHRM has represented the HR community for nearly seven decades and has more than 300,000 members in 165 countries.
SHRM conducted global research, including outreach to major corporations, universities, and over 35,000 members of the profession worldwide. Their findings determined that a successful HR career will also be determined by behavioral competencies apart from solely technical knowledge — the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP include both of these essential elements, making it a unique certification process.
Skills tested: The certification program covers behavioral competencies and functional knowledge areas within the themes of HR competencies, people, organization, and workplace. The SHRM certification measures an HR professional’s most critical skill - the ability to apply HR principles to actual, everyday situations. It is among the first to focus on practical, real-life HR information; teaching and testing both competencies and knowledge.
Certification process: This exam is 4 hours in length with 160 questions which include 95 knowledge items and 65 situational judgment items. Applicants now have the option to test from home through live remote proctoring. Certification fees cost anywhere from $300 - $475 depending on membership and registration date. Team delivery methods are offered as an option for organizations to provide group certifications.
SHRM-CP Requirements: SHRM-CP Certification requirements differ depending on education and years of experience.
- For those with less than a Bachelor’s degree but in an HR-related program; 3 years in an HR role is required.
- For those with less than a Bachelor’s degree and are not in an HR-related program; 4 years in an HR role is required.
- For those with an HR-related Bachelor’s degree; 1 year in an HR role is required.
- For those with a non-HR Bachelor’s degree; 2 years in an HR role is required.
- For those with an HR-related Graduate degree; currently being in an HR role is all that is required.
- For those with a non-HR Graduate degree; 1 year in an HR role is required.
- For those with less than a Bachelor’s degree but in an HR-related program; 6 years in an HR role is required.
- For those with less than a Bachelor’s degree and are not in an HR-related p
- rogram; 7 years in an HR role is required.
- For those with an HR-related Bachelor’s degree; 4 years in an HR role is required.
- For those with a non-HR Bachelor’s degree; 5 years in an HR role is required.
- For those with an HR-related Graduate degree; 3 years in an HR role is required.
- For those with a non-HR Graduate degree; 4 years in an HR role is required.
Click here to review what degrees and experience qualify as HR-related.
Benefits: HR professionals who implement policies and strategies, serve as points of contact for staff and stakeholders, deliver HR services, and/or perform operational HR functions should take the SHRM-CP exam. Along with providing updated information, sharpened skills, and new perspectives, certified professionals have a positive influence on employees and colleagues. Based on one single SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK), the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP credentials are relevant and applicable worldwide. Earning this credential will give professionals the recognition and flexibility to use their knowledge, skills, and competencies anywhere their organization operates, now and in the future.
HRCI HR Certifications
Earning a credential from HRCI® speaks volumes as it distinguishes you as an expert in the HR field, with proven levels of skills, knowledge, and competence necessary to mitigate risks and drive business results. HRCI has a long list of many proven credentials that are a great fit for every level of experience.
The aPHR is an HR certification designed for professionals who are both just beginning their HR career journey, as well as for non-HR managers who are looking to expand their skills when managing people.
Skills tested: The aPHR certification test includes 38% HR operations, 16% employee relations, 15% recruitment and selection, 14% compensation and benefits, 12% human resource development and retention, and the remaining percentage on health, safety, and security.
Certification process: The exam is timed at 2 hours and 15 minutes and includes 100 scored questions (mostly multiple-choice) and 25 pretest questions. This is a computer-based exam at a Pearson VUE testing center or at your home or office using OnVUE. The fee for the exam is $300 plus an application fee of $100.
Requirements: No HR experience is required since this is a knowledge-based credential.
Benefits: Candidates can gain an understanding of tactical and operational tasks related to workforce management and the HR function; complying with the laws, regulations, and policies that affect the organization. They will understand the hiring process including regulatory requirements, sourcing of applicants, formal interview and selection process, and onboarding of a new hire. Gain confidence in concepts related to total rewards such as pay and benefit programs, responding to employee questions, and handling claims in compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and company policies. Certified professionals will gather the techniques and methods for delivering training programs and developing individual employees. They will understand the methods organizations use to monitor and address morale, performance, and retention. They will learn how to balance the operational needs of the organization with the well-being of the individual employee. Lastly, they will gain an understanding of the laws, regulations, and policies that promote a safe work environment; using risk mitigation procedures to protect against workplace hazards.
The PHR certification is a great way to establish yourself in the HR field. This certification allows for advancement in your HR career and demonstrates mastery of the technical and operational aspects of HR management, including U.S. laws and regulations. The PHR is for the HR professional who has experience with program implementation, has a tactical/logistical orientation, is accountable to another HR professional within the organization, and has responsibilities that focus on the HR department rather than the whole organization.
Skills tested: The PHR certification test skills are broken down into 39% employee and labor relations, 20% business management, 16% talent planning and acquisition, 15% total rewards, and 10% learning and development.
Certification process: The exam is timed at 2 hours and includes 90 scored questions (mostly multiple-choice) and 25 pretest questions. It is a computer-based exam taken at a Pearson VUE testing center or at your home or office using OnVUE. The cost of the exam is $395 plus an application fee of $100. The PHR certification is valid for three years after testing. To maintain the PHR credential, candidates must earn 60 recertification credits over a three-year time span or retake the exam.
Requirements: Applicants must have at least one of the following requirements to test: at least one year of experience in a professional-level HR position plus a Master’s degree or higher; at least two years of experience in a professional-level HR position plus a Bachelor’s degree; or at least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position.
Benefits: Certified professionals will be able to use information about the organization and business environment to reinforce expectations, influence decision-making, and avoid risk. They will identify, attract, and employ talent while following all federal laws related to the hiring process. They will contribute to the organization’s learning and development activities by implementing and evaluating programs, providing internal consultation, and providing data. They will learn to implement, promote, and manage compensation and benefits programs in compliance with federal laws. Once certified, professionals will be able to manage, monitor, and/or promote legally compliant programs and policies that impact the employee experience throughout the employee lifecycle.
The SPHR demonstrates mastery of the strategic and policy-making aspects of HR management as practiced in the U.S. The credential is designed for big-picture thinkers responsible for planning rather than implementing HR policy. Organizations seek out SPHR professionals for their proven accountability for HR department goals, for breadth and depth of knowledge in all HR disciplines, and for understanding business issues beyond the HR function.
Skills tested: The SPHR certification test questions are broken up into 40% leadership and strategy, 20% employee relations and engagement, 16% talent planning and acquisition, 12% learning and development, and 12% total rewards.
Certification process: You will have 2 hours and 30 minutes to answer 115 scored questions (mostly multiple-choice) plus 25 pretest questions. You can take the exam at a Pearson VUE testing center or at your home or office using OnVUE. The exam costs $495 plus an application fee of $100. The SPHR certification is valid for three years after testing. To maintain the credential, candidates must earn 60 recertification credits over a three-year time span or retake the exam. Of those 60 recertification credits required, 15 must be Business Management & Strategy credits.
Requirements: Applicants must have at least one of the following requirements: at least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position plus a Master’s degree or higher; at least five years of experience in a professional-level HR position plus a Bachelor’s degree; or at least seven years of experience in a professional-level HR position.
Benefits: Accredited professionals will learn to lead the HR function by developing HR strategy, contributing to organizational strategy, influencing people management practices, and monitoring risk. They will be able to forecast organizational talent needs and develop strategies to attract and engage new talent; developing training and employee retention strategies. They will understand how to monitor the effectiveness of compensation and benefits strategies for attracting, rewarding, and retaining talent. Also, they will be given the tools to develop and/or monitor strategies impacting employee satisfaction and performance including diversity and inclusion, safety, security, and labor strategies.
HR Professional Insight — Karli Larson, Human Resources Manager
“My degree is in Human Development & Family Sciences and my path to HR was not typical. When I wanted to take my professional marketability to the next level I looked at HR certifications that employers required or preferred. SHRM-CP and PHR/SPHR are the three most recognized and requested HR certifications. SHRM certifications are more focused on soft skills and being a strategic partner to the company. You are tested on competencies like leadership, ethics, and business acumen. HRCI (issuer of PHR/SPHR) is more granular and focuses more on legal and compliance.
My takeaway from my previous research was that an HRCI certification is better suited for small companies who need their HR professional to be a generalist, aka someone who can do everything HR related. While SHRM certifications are better suited for mid-to-large companies who are looking for a partner and thought leader. My decision was based on my professional goals and interests; ultimately I took the SHRM-CP exam. The exam was not for the faint of heart, and I have heard this for HRCI exams as well, but it was definitely worth it!”
The PHRi credential demonstrates the mastery of generally accepted technical and operational HR principles on a national scale. The PHRi is for practitioners based outside of the United States and validates professional-level competency, knowledge, and skills to help propel an HR career forward.
Skills tested: Skills tested for the PHRi certification include 19% talent acquisition, 19% HR administration and shared services, 19% talent management and development, 17% compensation, benefits, and work experience, 16% employee relations and risk management, and 10% HR information management.
Certification process: The exam is timed at 3 hours and 15 minutes, and includes 145 scored questions (mostly multiple-choice) and 25 pretest questions. The test is available in English as well as in Spanish. The cost of the exam is $395 plus an application fee of $100. The PHRi certification is valid for three years after testing. 60 recertification credits must be earned over the three-year time span or those certified will be required to retake the exam.
Requirements: Applicants must have at least one of the following requirements to test: at least one year of experience in a professional-level HR position plus a Master’s degree or global equivalent; at least two years of experience in a professional-level HR position plus a Bachelor’s degree or global equivalent; or at least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position.
Benefits: Accredited professionals will be able to determine actions needed to make sure an organization has employees with the right skills in the right positions at the right time. They can manage activities that support employees and managers by responding to requests for information and gathering and storing information in a manner that ensures integrity and accurate retrieval. They are skilled in processes that support effective talent management, employee engagement, and development.
This certification lets the business world know you have the knowledge and skills needed to manage HR challenges in a global marketplace. The GPHR demonstrates professional expertise in multinational HR responsibilities, including strategies of globalization and development of HR policies and initiatives that support organizational global growth.
Skills tested: The GPHR certification test skills are broken down into 25% strategic global human resources, 20% global talent management, 15% global mobility, 15% workplace culture, 15% total rewards, and 10% risk management and compliance.
Certification process: The exam is timed at 3 hours and includes 140 scored questions (mostly multiple-choice) and 25 pretest questions. It is a computer-based exam that can be taken at a Pearson VUE testing center or at your home or office using OnVUE. The exam costs $495 plus an application fee of $100. The GPHR certification is valid for three years after testing. To maintain it, 60 recertification credits must be earned over the three-year time span, 15 of which must be Global credits.
Requirements: Applicants must have at least one of the following requirements to test: at least two years of experience in a professional-level HR position plus a Master’s degree or higher; at least three years of experience in a professional-level HR position plus a Bachelor’s degree; or at least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position.
Benefits: Accredited professionals are able to formally understand global business factors and the unique HR challenges faced by such organizations while serving as a strategic business partner. They can use appropriate tools and metrics to ensure an organization is able to find, develop, engage, and keep talent. Certified professionals are strong at determining when to send employees abroad and ensuring smooth transitions for those on expatriate assignments and upon return while ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations. They maximize organizational results by facilitating an inclusive workplace through cultural competence, corporate social responsibility, and ethical behavior. They are experts in ensuring voluntary and required total rewards are appropriate for the work location and circumstances of employment. These professionals are skilled in keeping an organization’s employees safe, secure, and free of discrimination and harassment while protecting their privacy and ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
HCI HR Certifications
HCI allows individuals to grow their capabilities and advance their careers through industry-recognized certifications in critical areas like HR business partnership, workforce planning, people analytics, change management, and more.
This certification allows individuals to create and grow high-performing HR teams through intention, interaction, and influence.
Skills tested: Professionals who become certified through this course will learn how to assess team leadership skills, connect teams to a larger purpose, intentionally design teams, optimize team interaction, and influence outcomes.
Certification process: The training for this certification is offered as a two-day program or as a virtual series with half-day sessions delivered over four weeks, with many dates and times offered to fit most schedules. Participants are able to chat and interact with facilitators and peers via the Zoom platform when using the virtual training option. Official certification will be earned after attending all of the sessions, completing all classwork, and passing the multiple-choice exam with a score of 80% or higher. Renewal will be required every three years by obtaining 60 credits.
Benefits: Those who formally or informally lead a team would greatly benefit from this certification course. Through practice, they will learn to give feedback and coach a team to improve both their performance and engagement. Throughout the training program, they will also walk away with 30 tools and templates they can use right away to improve leadership and their team's performance. When attending this training, participants also earn 12 HCI, 12 HRCI, 12 SHRM, and 12 ATD recertification credits.
ATD CI HR Certifications
The ATD Certification Institute’s vision is to provide world-class credentials for the talent development community. ATD CI is responsible for the development, administration, and governance of ATD’s credentialing program, including the APTD and CPTD credentials. ATD CI operates in accordance with international accreditation standards for certification programs along with ATD’s education and training programs. These programs allow for separation from the assessment process and training or test preparation.
The Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD) is a professional certification for those in the talent development field. It is broad and measures a professional’s knowledge and skill application across the breadth of talent development capabilities. Successful CPTDs report that the process of getting their credential was a tremendous growth opportunity, allowing them to learn, give back to the profession, and make a positive impact on their careers. ATD offers a free downloadable letter template for those not sure how to start the conversation with their employer about the value of the CPTD.
Skills tested: The CPTD exam focuses on a subset of capabilities from the Talent Development Capability Model and covers three domains: 20% on personal capabilities, 45% on professional capabilities, and 35% on organizational capabilities. Testing focuses on skills application and decision-making for more experienced professionals. Follow this link to review and download the CPTD exam outline.
Certification process: In post-exam surveys, candidates report that they have spent an average of 80–100 hours preparing for the exam and allowed themselves six to nine months for the process. The exam is timed at three hours and includes a mix of multiple-choice questions and case management questions. The test is a computer-based exam at conveniently located testing centers worldwide or in a secure location of your choosing, via remote proctoring. The exam costs $900 for members and $1250 for non-members. This fee covers a testing seat for the CPTD exam, exam score report, and a CPTD certificate and lapel pin once the credential is achieved. Prep courses and materials are optional and not included in the exam fee.
Requirements: Applicants are required to have at least five years of professional work experience in talent development or related fields and must have completed 60 hours of professional development in talent development within the last five years. They should also have deep knowledge and experience applying the principles for enhancing employee talent development.
Benefits: Benefits that come with acquiring a CPTD, or working with a colleague who is certified, include a strong understanding of and ability to add value and impact through talent development strategies and solutions, ultimately bringing success to the organization.
IHRIM HR Certifications
The International Association for Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM) has been the leading membership association for HR information management professionals since 1980. They offer a unique community that blends education, collaboration, and professional certification.
The Human Resource Information Professional (HRIP) Certification is designed to assess the knowledge and competencies of professionals in the HR information management field. Passing this exam indicates a demonstrated comprehensive understanding and proficiency of the defined body of knowledge in HR information management.
Skills tested: The skills tested on the HRIP exam is made up of 30% HR technology and business processes; 30% systems selection, implementations, and upgrades; 25% HR systems operations; and 15% technology strategy and solutions assessment.
Certification process: Candidates will have 2 hours to answer 90 questions and can take the exam one of two ways; via Live Online Proctoring (LOP) or at one of Scantron’s worldwide test centers. The cost of the exam ranges from $385 - $670 depending on membership and registration date. Upon passing the exam, the credential is active for 3 years. n order to maintain certification, a total of 60 recertification credit hours are required during that 3 year period. Click here to review the IHRIM recertification tracking form.
Requirements: While there are no specific requirements, the ideal candidate should have five years of experience in HR technology solutions or HR information management, or comparable education. A Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university is preferred, however, professional experience in the field bears greater weight on the candidate’s success.
Benefits: This certification demonstrates a professional’s expertise as it is a concrete measure of experience and command of HRIM/HRIS concepts and processes. The HRIP designation communicates a candidate’s motivation, knowledge, and commitment to quality to clients and employers. It distinguishes professionals as industry leaders and shows that they stay current and promote high standards in the HRIM/HRIS field. Preparation for the HRIP exam covers all aspects of HRIM/HRIS, including the latest trends and best practices. Plus, the recertification requirements ensure keeping abreast of changes in the field.
No matter which credential you chose, each of these top 10 HR certifications will get you noticed and set you up for success in your career by keeping you moving forward. Attaining one of these HR certifications relevant to your industry and/or career advancement goals sets you apart from others in the space, and shows your dedication to continued education and excellence in your role. Upon earning a new certification, be sure to maintain the credential accordingly as these associations that provide these certifications are updating and changing the information as quickly as our state and federal governing bodies are. Resources like webinars, conferences, books, and additional training can satisfy these professional development requirements. As always, with any new certification or skillset, be sure to update your HR certifications on all sites and platforms such as LinkedIn and resumes/cover letters. This ensures you are marketing yourself in the most impressive and accurate way to potential career advancement opportunities. As you toy with the idea of acquiring a new certification in HR, don’t hesitate to reach out to Blue Signal to connect with a recruiter that can help guide you through the process, and offer advice based on the individual factors that make up your career goals.