My SHRM Credential Tells the World ‘Yes! I Know HR!’

Pilot program enables military spouse to prepare for SHRM-CP exam at no cost, validates lifetime of work experience

By Helen Flores-Ford, SHRM-CP September 17, 2020
My SHRM Credential Tells the World ‘Yes! I Know HR!’

​I've got more layers than an onion.

I am a military spouse. Like many military spouses, I worked while my husband was on active duty, providing support for our family as we moved around the country. After his retirement, I looked for new business opportunities and completed my education.

I love the business of business. I've enjoyed three full careers. I was an operations manager for a national school photography studio. I'm a licensed cosmetician/esthetician and have taught the subject at one of the largest community colleges in Texas. I studied to become a licensed massage therapist and worked my way up to administrative and management positions, handling all aspects of spa operations at major hotels.

Then came Hurricane Ike in 2005 and the consequent losses in tourism in the hospitality industry, followed by the 2009 economic downturn. I was eventually laid off. It was time to look for something completely different.

One day, I wandered into a gourmet popcorn store and bought more than I should have or would have expected to. Once again, I realized the possibilities of a new career. Over the next 18 months, I researched and learned all about the retail specialty food industry and drew up a business plan. Shortly after my husband retired from a 30-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2013, we opened our first store, The Popcorn Bag, in Fredericksburg, Va.

An Investment in Myself

Starting the business was a response to our economic situation, but it became the catalyst for my return to school, which, in turn, led to my pursuit of SHRM certification—an investment in myself.

While running The Popcorn Bag, customers and friends would often ask us how they could open their own popcorn businesses. Soon, we became consultants to these like-minded entrepreneurs. That led us to license additional stores under our brand. We are involved in every process of the business—from obtaining seed for our corn, to signing leases and managing buildouts, to creating recipes and providing guidance to our licensees.

Among the first issues that new business owners need to address are their employees, workplace culture and potential liabilities. In this industry, workers are usually young, are not highly skilled, and start at or near minimum wage. Consultations with our licensees sometimes grow into sessions that address HR challenges: understanding employees' mentalities and motivations, creating strategies for organizational culture, and developing employee relations and management practices.

It's all about finding a purpose in your work and taking care of people—the common threads that appear in the braid of my many careers.

Increasing Credibility

I knew that by gaining a more formal education and a professional certification, I would increase my credibility with our licensees. Earning a SHRM certification became an essential part of our overall business plan. It had also been a longtime personal goal. In true military spirit, it was a mission I was determined to accomplish.

I enrolled in the bachelor's program in applied administration at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD). In my last semester, while doing research on the Family and Medical Leave Act for a class in industrial psychology, I went to the SHRM website to locate accurate information. I was already familiar with SHRM from all the jobs I had held over the years. My responsibilities had included all aspects of HR, even though I'd never had an official HR title.

HR skills are interchangeable from one business or industry to another. It's a puzzle you put together—compliance, culture, people—no matter where you're doing it.

While on SHRM's website, the SHRM Foundation's Veterans at Work Certificate caught my eye, and I called to inquire. When I described my circumstances to the very helpful customer service representative, she put me in touch with Andrew R. Morton, SHRM's director of veterans and certification affairs, who is himself a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. He told me about a pilot program for military service members and families that would enable me to earn my SHRM-CP at no cost—the pilot would cover the fees for both certification preparation and the exam—and asked if I would be interested. Yes!

Onward to Opportunity with SHRM

The pilot was a collaborative effort funded by the SHRM Foundation and Onward to Opportunity (O2O), a free online career training program providing military service members, veterans and spouses with professional certification and employee support. Andrew described SHRM's long-term commitment to providing eligible members of the military community with no-cost access to SHRM certification. I had heard of O2O because it's part of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families based at Syracuse University.

Andrew made it possible for me to participate in the SHRM/O2O pilot after I demonstrated that I met the requirements. As one of 22 enrollees, I received access to the SHRM Learning System. I worked through each section of the four modules based on the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK) and completed the six Competencies in Action exercises to hone my decision-making and judgment skills. I also got the hard-copy book version because I liked having the ability to go back and mark a page or section that required more study time. The excellent content was relevant to what I studied at UHD. In-person prep classes were also available, but I chose to study on my own.

Everyone at SHRM was willing to go the extra mile for me with outstanding service and support. In my business, one of the cornerstones is the guest experience, and if I were asked to rate SHRM, the entire team would rate all 10s.

As for my grade: I'm SHRM-certified!

Pride and Validation

I took the SHRM-CP exam in August 2020 from my home office (barefoot!) using the remote proctoring option.

When I passed the exam, I felt a great sense of validation. SHRM certification says "Yes! I really know HR! And I can prove it!" It says that my skill set and knowledge base are on point and I know what I'm talking about. Having my SHRM-CP credential has given me more confidence in my ability than I can express.

The test was definitely not a gimme. While not as difficult as some licensing exams I've taken, which required essay writing and memorization, it was a different kind of challenge. I had to rethink my entire business and employee experience. The process has brought me to a whole new level of understanding and competence.

I've wanted this credential for so long, and now that I have it, I underestimated how much it would mean to me. Passing the SHRM-CP exam is a reinforcement and validation of the work I've done over the years as an office manager, operations manager and business owner—all part of the journey to where I am today.

SHRM certification is my capstone accomplishment.

My husband got a well-deserved medal when he retired from the military. My SHRM-CP is my medal.

Thank you, SHRM and O2O, for the opportunity.

Helen Flores-Ford, SHRM-CP, lives in Houston and is co-founder of The Popcorn Bag, a small business with licensed locations in Texas and Virginia.

For more information on SHRM certification and today's military community, visit the SHRM Military Eligibility page or connect with us at



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