Selecting the Right SHRM Certification for You

Use the online certification self-assessment tool to get the best recommendation

By Ashley Silver, SHRM-CP, and Mark Smith, Ph.D. September 17, 2020
Selecting the Right SHRM Certification for You

​After you decide to pursue HR certification with SHRM, the logical next question is "Which exam should I take?" 

SHRM's eligibility criteria shows how HR professionals' combined educational background and years of HR experience determine the appropriate credential they might pursue: 

  • A bachelor's degree in business and three to five years in an HR role? SHRM-CP for sure.
  • An associate degree in HR and six or more years of HR experience? SHRM-SCP, here I come! 

But selecting the right exam is more nuanced than a simple focus on eligibility rules. The SHRM certification levels are targeted toward different types of HR professionals based on their work roles: 

  • The SHRM-CP is designed for an HR professional who engages primarily in an operational role (such as implementing policies, serving as the HR point of contact for staff and stakeholders, or performing day-to-day HR functions).
  • The SHRM-SCP is designed for a senior-level HR professional who operates primarily in a strategic role (such as developing policies and strategies, overseeing the execution of completely integrated HR operations, analyzing performance metrics, or leading the alignment of HR strategies to organizational goals). 

Certification Self-Assessment Tool

SHRM can help you make a more thoughtful decision that will set you up for success. The enhanced self-assessment tool on the SHRM Certification homepage allows HR professionals to measure both eligibility and type of HR experience. To access it, scroll down to the yellow "Which Credential Is Right for You?" banner and click the "Find Out Now" button.


The self-assessment tool asks a series of questions about your career level, educational background and HR experience. It then presents a series of paired statements and asks you to select the statement that most closely describes your current or recent job.

Based on your responses to all of the questions, the tool will recommend the best exam for you: the SHRM-CP or the SHRM-SCP (or, for those who are not yet eligible for SHRM certification, a SHRM Specialty Credential).

Eligibility vs. Experience

What should you do if you are eligible to take the SHRM-SCP exam according to the eligibility criteria but the self-assessment tool recommends the SHRM-CP exam because you have limited experience working in a strategic role? You face a tricky decision.

Over the years, a number of HR professionals with non-strategic backgrounds have decided to take the SHRM-SCP exam but have not passed. That's why SHRM recommends that individuals with this background start at the SHRM-CP level.

The SHRM-CP certification's operational focus is a better fit with your career history. Plus, by taking the SHRM-CP exam first, you will become familiar with the structure of the exams, the format of the questions and the overall testing experience. What's more, you can better refine your study techniques.

Pursuing the SHRM-CP first can be particularly helpful if you experience test anxiety or have been out of school for a while. And it can increase your confidence when you take the SHRM-SCP exam in the future.

Our Recommendation, Your Decision

Remember that the self-assessment tool only provides a recommendation. If you are eligible to take the SHRM-SCP exam, you can still decide to do so, whatever the nature of your work experience. In this case, we recommend that you spend a significant amount of time studying strategic HR as you prepare for the exam.

Ready to find out which is the best SHRM certification exam for you? Use the certification self-assessment tool and then register by the early-bird deadline, Oct. 16, 2020, to save $75.

Ashley Silver, SHRM-CP, is a test development specialist at SHRM. Mark Smith, Ph.D., is SHRM's director, exam development for certification.


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