In a very competitive market, job seekers hope that getting certified in their industry will better their chances at getting their dream job.  Even for recruiters, earning certifications can provide the kind of professional skill endorsement that can boost your standing with clients and employers.  As in all industries, obtaining HR certifications costs time and money, as well as effort. But taking Continuing Education programs and getting certified can help you keep up with the rapidly changing HR industry. For those new to the HR profession, we’ve come up with a short guide to understanding the basics behind certification in the HR industry.

The Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) currently offers several different certifications that cover various HR disciplines. Deciding which one you should try for depends on your experience and the type of work you’ll be performing under the certification. Here is a list of the most common HR certifications, and what each of them is for.

PHR: The PHR or Professional in Human Resources certification focuses on the technical and operational aspects of human resource practices. According to the HRCI website, this certification is for those who will be focusing on program implementation and tactical/logistical orientation; who report to a more senior HR professional; who have 2-4 years of experience and a focused role in their HR department. The PHR is generally the first certification obtained by those who want to become accredited in their profession.

SPHR: The SPHR or Senior Professional in Human Resources certification covers the overall picture of human resources within an organization. This certification is for those who hold ultimate accountability for human resources in their organization and generally have 6-8 years of experience under their belt. Unlike those obtaining their PHR, SPHR candidates need to have an in-depth understanding of all HR disciplines. SPHRs must also have a good understanding of how an HR department affects the overall functioning of an organization. The test to obtain certification for SPHRs focuses heavily on business management and strategy, as opposed to workforce planning and employment.

California Certification: Due to the nature of California laws, PHR-CA and SPHR-CA certification have been introduced in the state of California. These certifications are for those who are already certified PHRs/SPHRs and want to practice within the state. In order to show a higher level of understanding of California laws, HR professionals in the state need to take these more specified tests. These certifications are not required, but for most HR professionals practicing in California, they are certainly good to have.

GPHR: The Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) certification is designed for those who have HR responsibilities that cross international borders. These professionals need to be able to strategize beyond their local HR policies and programs, and look at the field from a more global perspective. One of the more in-depth certifications available, the GPHR demonstrates strong core knowledge of an organization’s international HR activities.

The HRCI provides extensive information about HR certification on their website. They include guidance on eligibility, benefits, and anything else you might need to know if you are ready to take the next step in your HR career by becoming certified. Learn more by visiting

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.


  • Avatar Emma Hutchinson says:

    Thank you for this article! This answers a lot of my questions on how to offer my position among my colleagues more power and meaning. If getting a certification is what I need to make people take more serious, that is what I will do.

  • Avatar Fiona Manson says:

    HR certifications are just like a college diploma. They can help you land a better job, with better pay and benefits, just because you have at hand a few pieces of paper that certifies you in certain domains. I would definitely recommend HR personnel getting as many certifications as possible, because it empowers the HR department, and will add more meaning to your actions.

  • Avatar Cindy Payton says:

    In the HR field we have to keep up with constantly changing laws and regulations, otherwise we can be outdone. So it is a must that we continue our professional improvement either by means of certification or by getting a higher degree.

  • Avatar Ron Peterson says:

    I agree about constant improvement, but in fact the PHR/SPHR doesn’t prove our competency as high performing HR professionals. However, it might have some weight for people outside the profession.

  • Avatar Kelly Seiden says:

    Though PHR or SPHR is not a proof of expertise, but it does show you’re willing to dedicate time and resources towards forwarding your career. And it’s a good move if you want to have an extra advantage over other jobseekers.

  • Avatar Susan Barkley says:

    Nothing can replace solid skills in interviewing and years of experience, but nowadays competition for work is extremely high and PHR certificate can boost our chances to get the desired position.

  • Avatar Will Bartwell says:

    I have my PHR certification and since it’s necessary to re-certify every few years it gives a possibility to stay at my best in terms of knowledge and skills.

  • Avatar Jessy Stone says:

    Anyone can take a prep course and cram for an exam, but it helps little in showing you as a professional. I think the main reason people do go in for certification is to distinguish themselves as better candidates so they could hop over somebody in a tense competition!

  • Avatar Jim Snyder says:

    So now with SHRM offering their own certification process and certifications, how are employeers, let alone HR professionals, able to distinguish which certification is better?

  • Avatar Ralph Wiggum says:

    Anyone who puts weight into these s.b. cert’s really belong on the used car lot.
    Ever hear of JCAHO? They changed their name cause people caught on, but a health care group pays to get audited, then after you correct it all, they slap a “certified” on your hospital and BAM! You’re up one tier! Means nothing, you pay $$$$ for it and get to say you’re JCAHO certified.
    These are no diff. Take a test, pay to study, get a cert.

    People…its experience, experience, experience. More than a degree, its work.

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