Will Getting an HR Certification Help You Earn More Money?

professional skills

As an HR professional, you may be considering earning certification through HRCI or SHRM. However, will getting an HR certification actually help you earn more money? Read on for the answer.

HR Certification and Salary Potential

Many professions have optional certifications that appear to be valuable, but will they really help you earn more money? According to Payscale.com, an HR certification can increase salary earnings for all levels of HR professionals, from assistant through director. For HR managers, the salary difference between certified and uncertified professionals could be as much as $10,000 per year.

Additionally, where you live in the United States can make a professional certification even more valuable. The same Payscale.com report states that in cities such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Boston, an HR certification can increase salaries by $20,000 per year or more. The city that showed the biggest salary difference between certified and uncertified HR professionals was Washington D.C., with a salary difference of $27,400 per year. Los Angeles came in second, with a salary difference of $26,200 per year.

According to BusinessAdministrationInformation.com, a study that looked at HR salaries in 20 different metro areas reported that 93% of professionals with a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification earn more than those without it.


HR Certification Types

There are two main certifying organizations: the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The HRCI offers seven different certifications, depending on location, education and experience. The most common are the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). Those just starting out in the field can take the aPHR, which is ideal for college graduates or those transitioning into the field.

The HRCI used to be the certification arm of the SHRM; however, in 2014, the SHRM launched its own certification exams: the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and the SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). SHRM began accepting applications for the certification exams in 2015.

Steps to Certification

Both the HRCI-PHR and SHRM-CP certifications require similar steps:

  • Apply for certification
  • Pay for the exam
  • Study
  • Take the exam and
  • Maintain certification

The exams are similar in price:

  • The HRCI-PHR certification costs $100 to apply and $395 to take the exam, for a total of $495.
  • The SHRM-CP exam costs $300 for members and $400 for non-members; both prices include the $50 application fee.

Study.com Prep Tools

While both exams include their own certification study guides, there are also tools you can find on Study.com. These tools include the study guides for many HRCI exams, like the:

Choosing between an HRCI or SHRM Certification

Given the option of HRCI or SHRM certification, you may be wondering which option is right for you. HRCI certification has been around longer, since 1976. While SHRM was founded in 1948, the organization only started offering certification a few years ago. According to Edge Information Management, a provider of employment screening solutions, the type of certification that you hold is not as important as being certified. Each HR professional should investigate the options and choose the certification that best meets his or her needs.



Both the HRCI and SHRM credentials require you to renew your certification every three years by demonstrating participation in ongoing professional development. However, HRCI recertification and SHRM recertification differ slightly in their requirements. Those who choose not to recertify through professional development also have the option of retaking the exam.

While there are certain standards in some areas of HRCI recertification as far as what counts toward maintaining the credential, keep in mind that online course offerings are also available that can be completed at your convenience.

Other Benefits of Certification

Hireability and Promotability

Certification has other benefits in addition to an increase in salary. Payscale.com notes that holding either a PHR or an SPHR certification increases the likelihood of a promotion at all levels. Certified HR assistants are 37% more likely to be promoted within five years than those who are not certified. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, candidates with a certification or master's degree have the best job prospects. Additionally, certifications can sometimes be tiebreakers among candidates with similar education and experience.

For some jobs, certification can even be a requirement. According to HR Payroll Systems, most mid-level to senior-level job postings mention certification, and there are ''some recruiters that literally throw your resume aside if you don't have those magical 3 or 4 letters'' after your name, even if you make it past the application system that may be scanning candidates for certification.

Evidence of Professionalism

By going through the steps of certification and paying the application and test fees, certified professionals demonstrate a commitment to the field of HR. According to Terry Henley (SPHR, CCP), Director of Compensation Services for the Employers Resource Association, having certification means you are serious about HR as a profession and a career.


Certified professionals generally perform better in their jobs, which could be due to an increased commitment to their profession, or from the knowledge they've gained while studying for certification exams. According to the SHRM, certifications are linked to realistic job scenarios and work situations, which may lead to better job performance.

Proof of Up-to-Date Skills

As mentioned previously, certified professionals must maintain their credentials. Because of this, many pursue professional development opportunities rather than opting to retake the certification exam. By taking professional development courses, certified professionals remain current in their field; the certification itself establishes that they are committed to doing so.

Networking Opportunities

One of the key benefits associated with any professional certification is the chance to connect with other professionals in the same field, which could lead to friendships or even future job opportunities. In 2016, HRCI had 140,000 certified professionals while the SHRM claimed 60,000 certified professionals, though it has a total membership of 275,000.

Both organizations offer a host of opportunities to network with other HR professionals. HRCI offers events based on job type, as well as state and national conferences. SHRM offers conferences on topics related to leadership, law and more, including an annual conference. The SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Conference even offers a dinner event that allows attendees to meet each other as well as popular speakers while enjoying local restaurants.

Bottom Line

Regardless of which HR certification you choose, having either credential can lead to a higher salary and increased promotion and employment opportunities and improve job performance, among many other benefits. Certification proves that you are a committed HR professional who will stay current in your chosen field of human resources.

By Michelle Garrigan-Durant
December 2017
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