HR Certification Pays Off in Satisfaction, if Not Dollars

By Erin Binney Jun 18, 2008
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It’s not easy to attain an HR certification from the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI). Passing the initial exam requires a lot of time and preparation, and staying certified calls for additional commitment over the course of a career. So is all that work worth it? Absolutely, say certified HR professionals who participated in a recent study on the value of certification conducted by the Hay Group.

In fact, a whopping 97 percent of survey respondents who are PHR-, SPHR- or GPHR-certified said they would do it all over again. They cited the following benefits of certification:

  • Provides me personal satisfaction (98 percent).
  • Strengthens my resume (98 percent).
  • Differentiates me from non-certified HR professionals (94 percent).
  • Increases my chances of getting a better job outside my organization (90 percent).

In addition, 64 percent said certification is “valuable” or “very valuable.” Only 41 percent of non-certified HR professionals who responded to the survey felt the same way, but they perceived similar benefits to certification as the certified HR professionals did.

“Whether you have [certification] or not, everyone realizes that its value has significance,” said Mary Power, executive director of HRCI.

The value of certification to organizations was not as clear. While most of the business leaders interviewed for the study had positive opinions of HR certification, only about one-half said they saw a difference between certified and non-certified HR professionals in terms of motivation, knowledge of the HR field and performance.

“Real-world experience will trump what HR professionals get from a certification,” one business leader said.

Still, a majority of the business leaders said their organization shows support for certification by encouraging HR professionals to become certified and by paying the exam fee, which runs between $175 and $300 for Society for Human Resource Management members and between $225 and $350 for nonmembers, depending on the designation.

Seventy-four percent of certified HR professionals said their organization paid for them to take the exam.

But HR professionals expecting a change in responsibilities or compensation after achieving certification might have to remain patient, the study found. Slightly less than one-half of certified respondents (49 percent) believe that being certified improves their advancement opportunities in their current organization, and only 29 percent said their compensation increased as a result of achieving certification.

The link between pay and certification might begin to appear in subtle ways. According to Power, many of the HR professionals surveyed said that even though achieving certification might not have resulted in a bonus or a raise, it did help them get their next job.

And, in fact, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of certified HR professionals believe that being certified increases their earning potential.

Power noted that if an HR professional’s company pays the exam fee, it’s almost as if the individual got a bonus beforehand.

Business leaders and HR professionals said HRCI should step up marketing and public relations efforts and demonstrate the business case for its certifications. As a result, the Hay Group recommended that HRCI consider conducting research to determine whether certified HR professionals actually perform better in their roles and have a positive impact on business success.

Business leaders indicated that they might be more likely to encourage HR professionals to pursue HR certification if they see a documented business case.

Power said HRCI is working to do a better job of explaining what certification is and why it is valuable not only to individuals but also to organizations. The initiative includes making a “crisper distinction” among the PHR, SPHR and GPHR designations and making it clear that there is more to certification than passing the initial exam.

The fact that an HR professional is certified doesn’t just mean that he or she “passed a test 20 years ago,” Power emphasized. “It means they’re current in the industry,” because they must accumulate 60 educational hours every three years to retain the designation.

The study incorporated interviews with 23 business leaders and survey responses from 2,662 certified and 400 non-certified HR professionals. Hay Group also conducted interviews with 19 academic leaders.

In addition to its three core certifications, HRCI recently added PHR-CA and SPHR-CA certifications to test mastery of California’s human resource laws.

Erin Binney is staff writer for SHRM Online.

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