Is Earning HR Certification Worth My Time & Money?

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HR certification is not mandatory in the HR field, which means professionals need to decide for themselves if the cost and time spent earning these credentials merit the potential advantages that come with them.

Should I Earn an HR Certification?

Unlike some professions, professionals working in human resources do not need to hold a professional certification in order to find and hold a job. Though the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offer several unique certifications for all types of experience levels and knowledge areas, these credentials are not always required when looking for an HR job.

Naturally, this raises the question of whether or not it is worth it to pursue an HR certification. Do the resources (time and money) spent earning a credential merit any advantages that having it might bring?

Benefits of HR Certification

Career Advancement

Whether you're looking to break into the field of HR or have been working for a while and are looking to move up, there are few better ways than HR certification to prove your value.

A study commissioned by the HRCI found that 96% of employers believe HR certifications are important and, when reviewing job applications, would favor a candidate with certification over a non-HR certified candidate. In short, having certification makes you stand out from the crowd and increases your chances of landing a job or promotion.


Furthermore, companies have a financial incentive to bring in employees with HR certification. In a five-year study from 2011-2015, companies who employed five or more HRCI-certified professionals saw their stock prices outperform companies who employed fewer certified professionals by a margin of 51%.

International Recognition

If you plan to work for an international corporation or take your talents to a country other than the U.S., you should know that HR certification is a valuable commodity when dealing with international employers.

The aforementioned HRCI study also found that professional certification was second only to graduate degrees when considering which credential employers valued most. In addition, certification was seen as the best-performing qualification in several fields, including career advancement and (most important to the title of this article) return on investment, or ROI.

Better yet, you don't even need to hold a certification specific to the international market. While globally-focused HR certifications such as the PHRi and GPHR are certainly valuable, other credentials such as the SHRM-CP and SPHR are also respected in other countries as they are perceived to add value and professionalism to international HR departments.

Better Salaries

Though HR certification is not given freely (you need to pay to sit for the exams), the financial benefits that you can expect to receive will far outweigh any initial costs that come from paying for the exam.

In addition to opening up paths to more senior jobs that invariably come with higher salaries, the simple act of holding an HR certification makes you more likely to earn more money. The HRCI-commissioned study found that professional certification was the sole qualification that employers both highly valued and showed a high willingness to pay for. Graduate degrees, while desirable, did not also generate a willingness to pay.

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A study by looked at HR salaries in 20 metropolitan areas and found that professionals with specialized certifications could expect to earn up to $19,000 more than their uncertified counterparts.

How Much Time Does it Take to Get Certified?

In regards to concerns about time, HR certifications do not require the completion of courses or programs. Unlike HR certificate and degree programs, HRCI and SHRM do not require candidates to complete any sort of pre-certification program. All you need to do is satisfy the eligibility requirements and pass the certification exam.

The only eligibility requirement for the HRCI and SHRM exams is work experience, or a combination of postsecondary education and slightly less work experience. The exact amount of required work experience will vary depending on the seniority of the certification you are pursuing and your education level. The work experience requirement can vary from one to seven years, but there is no additional training that you'll need to complete in order to pursue certification. The only exception is the HRCI's aPHR, a certification designed for entry-level HR professionals that only requires a high school diploma (and no work experience).

Of course, this is not meant to imply that earning HR certification is in any way easy. In theory, all you need to do is spend a few hours taking an exam; in practice, you need to spend weeks, months, even years studying material and making sure you know the content inside and out. HRCI exams are far from a formality; the PHR (55%), SPHR (57%) and GPHR (67%) all feature first-time pass rates of two-thirds or less. For SHRM, the SHRM-CP credential has a pass rate of around 70% and the SHRM-SCP clocks in with a pass rate that is below 60%.

Don't make the mistake of assuming that your years of working in HR will be an acceptable substitute for study and preparation. Despite their extensive experience and knowledge, thousands of seasoned HR professionals fail these exams on a regular basis.

Fortunately, online study guides are available to help you get ready. These study guides for the PHR, SPHR, GPHR (Global professional; for international professionals), PHRi (international version of the PHR), SPHRi, and PHR-CA(for professionals in California) provide in-depth reviews of important test topics.


The Cost of HR Certification

If you've looked into HR certification, you may be deterred by the prices of the certification exams. These exams don't come cheap; SHRM exams cost $300 for members and $400 for non-members, and HRCI exams start at $350 and climb as high as $495 (not to mention the $100 application fee).

For some professionals, this can be a dealbreaker. When factoring in the cost of preparation materials and the time spent getting ready, you can expect to spend upwards of $1,000, and that's assuming that you pass the test on your first try. Candidates needing to sit a second, third, or more time will need to pay their registration fees a second time.


One future consideration that you should keep in mind deals with the matter of recertification. In order to maintain credentials, HR professionals who hold certification will need to satisfy certain requirements to prove that their knowledge has stayed current with recent developments in HR. For SHRM credentials, this means earning 60 professional development credits every three years. Candidates looking to renew their HRCI certifications will also need to complete professional development activities every three years. These credits can be earned in a wide range of ways, from completing PD courses to attending conferences to participating in a webinar.

If you would prefer to avoid earning credits and want to accelerate the process, you can simply re-take your certification exam instead. If you pass, you will maintain your certification. The choice is yours; if you trust your knowledge, you can opt for the re-take. If you enjoy continuing education or if your job requires you to attend webinars and conferences anyway, you're probably better off earning the credits.

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Arguments Against HR Certification

For all the benefits, earning HR credentials does have its downsides and is far from a unanimously approved career decision. The primary objection from those who do not favor this path is that not all hiring managers believe in the value of HR certification.

While some companies seek out applicants who hold certifications, other hiring managers will completely ignore these credentials, instead preferring to look at a candidate's overall skill set and level of experience. In the eyes of some managers, having an impressive track record means more than having HR certification.

Making the financial commitment, only to learn that a prospective employer does not value certification, is a very real problem for many professionals. Writing for the HR blog HR Payroll Systems, Dave Rietsema notes that he had to endure frequent marathon study sessions, spending long parts of his weekends sitting on the couch for hours at a time getting ready for the exam. Earning certification can be a massive waste of time and money if your intended employer does not value such a qualification.


In summation, earning HR certification requires major time and money commitments. For some professionals, the benefits make it a no-brainer, but others remain skeptical about the long-term advantages of these credentials. When making the decision, be sure to do your research and have a clear picture of your own future professional goals.

By Bill Sands
December 2017
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