The Evolution of SHRM Certification: Part I—Changes to Documents and Exams

New research-based updates to SHRM Body of Applied Skills and Knowledge, exam eligibility requirements

By Nancy A. Woolever, MAIS, SHRM-SCP January 20, 2022
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The Evolution of SHRM Certification: Part I—Changes to Documents and Exams

​SHRM certification is designed to reflect the HR competencies that are most relevant in today's world. The documents and exams that make up the program were created with input from tens of thousands of HR professionals across the globe, who contributed their expertise to defining the practice of HR—what HR professionals need to know; what they need to know how to do; and how to use their competencies, knowledge and applied skills to perform proficiently on the job.

These certification documents and exams are continually enhanced and revised. To accomplish this, SHRM conducts a practice analysis every few yearsa thorough, systematic research study of the profession—to ensure that the SHRM certification program remains current with trends in HR and events throughout the world of work (especially important in tumultuous times).

This two-part article discusses the results of SHRM's most recent practice analyses and the changes made based on the results of these research efforts. The changes will go into effect in May 2022.

Part I, below, discusses the updates and revisions to the SHRM Body of Applied Skills and Knowledge (SHRM BASK), formerly titled the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK). It also describes the simplified eligibility requirements for candidates seeking to take the certification exams.

Next month, Part II will discuss the modifications made to the length and timing of the exams themselves.

Practice Analyses and Research Projects

SHRM undertook an extensive review and study of the practice of HR worldwide to understand how the profession is evolving and to inform the future of certification.

SHRM conducted two practice analyses to revise the SHRM BoCK/SHRM BASK, one in 2015-2016 and the second in 2019-2021, with the participation of HR professionals and other subject matter experts representing the global HR community. The practice analysis process includes focus groups, surveys and iterative revisions based on feedback. A validation study was deployed to confirm and further refine the contents of the revised document, and responses were collected from more than 8,000 HR professionals around the world.

Simultaneously, SHRM conducted multiple integrated research projects to determine how to modify the certification exams, focusing on three aspects: 1) the number of questions asked on each exam, 2) the amount of time required to complete an exam and 3) eligibility requirements for candidates seeking to take an exam.

The resulting modifications to the SHRM BASK and the SHRM certification exams are good examples of evidence-based decision-making. Input from real-world practitioners has helped modernize the SHRM certification program, bringing it into alignment with a current definition of HR practice globally.

The revised SHRM BASK more clearly defines and describes the behavioral and technical knowledge required for HR professionals to meet the current and future needs of employers. This additional clarity and guidance will facilitate HR professionals' career development and advancement.

The revised SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams retain their reliability, validity and score-decision accuracy, while enabling candidates to complete the exam within the allotted time without rushing. (Details in next month's article.)

Research also indicated a need to simplify and clarify the exam eligibility requirements. Thanks to feedback from candidates for SHRM certification, this information is now presented in a less confusing way.

Updated SHRM Body of Applied Skills and Knowledge

General highlights of the updated SHRM BASK include:

  • Revised and expanded definitions of the behavioral competencies and the functional areas of the HR Expertise technical competency.
  • Revised and expanded descriptions of the subcompetencies, proficiency indicators and key concepts, reorganized to flow more logically, with more examples to aid in interpretation and implementation.

The most significant specific content change is the addition of a new behavioral competency in the Leadership Cluster, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I). (Diversity & Inclusion was an HR functional area in the earlier SHRM BoCK.) This change occurred as a result of world events over the past two years. Global social justice and the impact of the pandemic influenced the practice analysis in terms of underscoring the need for DE&I to become a more important component of certification—something HR professionals do every day, rather than something HR professionals simply know.

The SHRM BASK now consists of nine behavioral competencies in three competency clusters and 14 HR functional areas in three knowledge domains.

The most significant design change is the transition of the SHRM BASK from a printed booklet to an online, interactive resource. This new format allows HR professionals to access and use it anywhere. It is also easier to navigate.

Additional content modifications and enhancements that better reflect the evolution of the HR profession: 

  • New names for two behavioral competencies, Global Mindset (formerly Global & Cultural Effectiveness) and Analytical Aptitude (formerly Critical Evaluation).
  • New names for two functional areas, HR Strategy (formerly HR Strategic Planning) and Managing a Global Workforce (formerly HR in the Global Context).
  • Updates to the Employee & Labor Relations functional area, to remove content related to collective bargaining agreements and similar issues.
  • More precisely defined terms in the glossary appendix.
  • An expanded resources appendix with live links. Exam developers refer to many of these sources when writing test items. The links will also ease the process of adding valuable information to your personal library.

A virtual tour of the updated, interactive SHRM BASK is now available online. Click on the different areas of the document to see what's new and what's different.

Clarifications to Exam Eligibility Requirements

SHRM research also indicated a need to clarify the eligibility requirements for candidates seeking to take the certification exams. In response to helpful feedback, the information is now presented in a simplified, less confusing way. The statements of exam purpose and intended audience are combined with the experience requirements.

The more clearly communicated eligibility requirements are available online, in time for applicants for the upcoming May-July 2022 exam window.

If you are an applicant, your first and most important decision is to determine which level of certification exam—SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP—is the right one for you based on the type of work you do, then to check your eligibility. Use this tool for help in choosing the correct exam. Simply answer the questions, refer to the eligibility requirements to confirm that you meet them, then apply online.

Part II of this article will appear in the Feb. 17, 2022, issue of the Certification Update. 

Nancy A. Woolever, MAIS, SHRM-SCP, is vice president of certification at SHRM.

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