Certification for professionals in the human resources field is not mandatory, leading many to wonder how valuable these credentials really are. Earning an HR certification presents plenty of benefits, from new career opportunities to professional advancement.
Merits of Human Resources Certification
The field of HR is a bit of an anomaly in that certification is not mandatory for professionals. Though the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) offers seven different certifications, these credentials are not required for aspiring HR workers.
This naturally raises the question: is HR certification worth it? Committing to a certification program requires time and money, and if you're short on either one you may be wondering if the reward merits the effort.
In an increasingly competitive workforce, candidates can benefit from every advantage, no matter how slight. Earning HR certification simultaneously improves your skills and bolsters your resume and can make the difference in whether or not you land a given job.
Gives Value to the Intangibles
When looking at a resume and conducting job interviews, employers face the daunting task of assessing candidates' talents using only a limited frame of reference. Earning certification, however, serves as genuine proof that you have the skills and knowledge required of an HR professional.
'It's nice to have a definitive means of assessing a candidate's talents,' says Michael Brunn of Xanthus Design. 'Having a degree is always going to be a factor, but just because someone's graduated from an HR program it doesn't mean that they're automatically going to have the necessary skills.'
The value of HR credentials is noticeably important when seeking a promotion as well. The Senior Professional in Human Resources certification focuses on leadership skills and is designed to showcase a candidate's aptitude in HR domains such as policy-making and strategy.
HR professionals need at least four years of HR experience to get this credential, which serves as proof that you've actually learned useful knowledge during your career. Employers may not be convinced by your experience alone, but tacking on a respected certification such as the SPHR is an excellent way to prove your competency and stand out from the crowd.
Advantages for Junior Employees
You can also use certification as a substitute for experience, especially if you're a junior employee. Most job seekers are familiar with the 'chicken or egg' paradox inherent in all professions: employers tend to give jobs to those who have experience, but you can't get experience until you get a job.
One way to escape this feedback loop is to earn an entry-level certification, such as the Professional in Human Resources (PHR), which is essentially the precursor to the aforementioned SPHR credential. The exam for the PHR covers fundamental HR topics such as employee-labor relations, workforce planning, and compensation and benefits.
Advantages for Specific Positions
The term 'HR professional' is a little ambiguous. The field contains numerous unique positions, many of which require specific skills and talents. HR generalists are expected to know a little of everything, while recruitment specialists focus on acquiring new hires and placement specialists are tasked with matching employers with competent applicants.
Most college degree programs in human resources, however, focus on broader and more general topics. While this is a wise approach to take at the educational level, it does not always translate well to the professional world, as employers may be hesitant to hire candidates for a specialized position if they lack specific training.
Fortunately for jobseekers in HR, the wide range of available HR certifications reflects the diverse and complicated selection of jobs in the field. Depending on the sub-section of HR that you wish to master, you can choose a certain certification that will provide relevant training and prove to your employers that you have a firm grasp of your field.
Alternatives and Options
Returning to the original question posed at the beginning of the article, HR certification is a beneficial supplement to a jobseeker's resume and an excellent means of proving competency to current employees, making it a worthy endeavor for HR professionals of all ages and experience levels.
That being said, you should be aware that HR certification is not a golden ticket that will ensure future job stability. Not all employers value these credentials, as some still prefer candidates who have real-world experience. Nevertheless, HR certification will never impede your progress, and the absolute worst-case scenario is that some employers won't value it.
If you're still hesitant about enrolling in a certification program, there are a couple of other options that you may be interested in pursuing.
Go Back to School
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor's degree in human resources is the entry-level education requirement for HR specialists, but HR degree programs are available at all levels, ranging from an associate's degree all the way up to a Ph.D.
As with certification, completing a master's degree program is not required to work in human resources, but it can go a long way toward improving your knowledge. Master's degree programs typically allow students to specialize in a particular topic. The Master of Professional Studies in Human Resources Management program at Georgetown University, for example, features focus areas in strategic talent management, diversity and inclusion, and international human resources management. These programs typically take two years to complete, but accelerated programs can be finished in about one year.
Doctoral degree programs represent the ultimate form of human resources education. Though making it this far requires an extraordinary amount of time and money, students who complete these programs are much, much more likely to find a job, as the BLS also notes that some positions in HR require a graduate degree.
As beneficial as further education can be, some students are not interested in investing the time and money that such a path requires. If you'd rather not commit to such a lengthy and arduous process, you can take individual courses online to hone your skills. These Intro to Human Resources, Strategic Human Resources Management and Project Management courses from Study.com focus on specific subjects in HR and can be used for building personal skills or transferring college credit.
Even if you're not in an academic program, online courses can help you get ready for upcoming certification exams. These SPHR and PHR study guides, also available at Study.com, contain interactive quizzes and engaging video lessons that prepare candidates for their tests.
Ultimately, the ideal decision is the one that works best for your professional goals. There is no one 'best' decision, as HR certification or degree programs and online courses can be suitable for both junior and senior employees, depending on their respective situations. HR certification, however, offers a respectable and efficient way to demonstrate your skills, allows for promotion to more senior positions, and proves your worth as an HR professional.