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Gain a Competitive Edge with a SHRM Certification

A young woman using a laptop in a library.

​Landing your first job can be tough, making it necessary to differentiate yourself from a stack of applicants. An HR certification is one way to catch a hiring manager's attention.

"Every field has its own certifications. For example, if you find out an accountant is a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) that sticks out a little bit more," said Doug Coffey, assistant teaching professor in the Rutgers University human resource management department.

With all other candidate experiences being equal, an industry-recognized certification can give you an edge.

"It's not just about completing courses and getting a good GPA. A credential puts the icing on the cake," said Bryce Dupree, Rutgers University HR management student and SHRM student chapter president. "It may seem like something extra now, but it adds value further down the line and adds to your credibility."

How Certification Benefits Your HR Career

Hiring managers and employers recognize that certification exams are designed to reflect the skills and competencies required in today's HR roles. So if you've earned a certification, it demonstrates you have a certain amount of knowledge and proficiency in the HR field.

"For a hiring manager, it is not as much of a risk of hiring someone, or paying more to a person with a certification because the certification shows that you have a certain amount of knowledge and are proficient in HR areas," Coffey said. "It demonstrates you know a lot and could hit a job more quickly and not need as much training."

Not only will a certification help you stand out from other candidates, but research shows that HR professionals who earn the SHRM Certification report higher salaries — 14 percent to 15 percent higher than their peers without a certification.

Two Certification Levels

SHRM offers two certifications, the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and the SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP).

The SHRM-CP certification emphasizes operational skills such as policy implementation and day-to-day HR operations. The SHRM-CP can especially benefit new HR graduates and HR professionals in their first HR role by demonstrating mastery of fundamental skills.

While the SHRM-CP is the first step to differentiating yourself in the field, Coffey encourages students and recent graduates to have their eye on the longer-term future by planning to take the SHRM-SCP.

"It demonstrates continual learning and is even more recognizable than the CP," he said.

The SHRM-SCP certification requires having earned the SHRM-CP and three years' strategic HR experience. It is designed for professionals who are directing an HR enterprise, overseeing HR operations, developing policies and procedures, and part of HR leadership.  

"Even though I haven't taken the CP yet, I am thinking about the SCP," Dupree said. "My mindset is that I want to get to a chief HR position, and those certifications can help me get to there as efficiently as possible."

3 Certification Test Prep Tips

Studying for an industry-recognized certification exam can feel overwhelming. It is doable, and there is an advantage to taking the exam while you're still in college. First, you're already in the studying and test-taking mindset. Second, many college HR programs include or offer a test preparation class to set you up for success.

In addition to the resources your college or university offers, these three strategies can also help you better prepare for the certification exam:

  • Leverage your network. Coffey recommends talking to other HR professionals or networking with other certified HR specialists and ask if they can share tips on preparing for the test.
  • Use SHRM resources. SHRM's extensive test prep resources, including the SHRM Body of Applied Skills and Knowledge (SHRM BASK) and the SHRM Learning System, significantly increase an individual's likelihood of passing both the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams.
  • Set yourself up for success. "When you're taking the test, give it the proper attention and priority so you are fully attentive," Coffey advised. "Get a good night sleep before the exam, take care of the general biologic things so you can be fully focused to give it your best."

Promote Your Certification

Coffey suggests thinking of your certification as part of your elevator pitch and finding opportunities to highlight it. These are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Include certifications on your resume, e-mail signature and cover letter.
  • Add SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP to your professional social media account bios.
  • Mention your certifications in an interview.
  • Add your SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP digital badge to your social media profiles.


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