What is Human Resources Certification? Comparing SHRM, HRCI, Degrees, and More

What is Human Resources Certification? Comparing SHRM, HRCI, Degrees, and More
What is Human Resources Certification?

Professional certifications are a valuable way to demonstrate knowledge, qualification, achievement, and commitment to your profession. There are several certifications that apply to human resources, with the two most common being PHR and SPHR certification.

Who is HR Certification For?

HR certifications can be beneficial for HR professionals at various stages of their careers. Whether you’re a budding human resources specialist just beginning your career, an established professional seeking to deepen your expertise, or an experienced HR professional aiming to stay ahead in a constantly evolving field, HR certifications can help enhance your skill set and credibility.

HR certifications are designed to support a wide range of skills within the HR profession, providing a solid foundation for newcomers while offering advanced insights for experienced HR professionals.

SHRM and HRCI logos

Two Primary HR Certification Organizations: Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI)

For human resources professionals looking for certifications, the choice often boils down to two primary certification bodies: SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) and HRCI (HR Certification Institute). We’ve compiled a quick comparison of the certifications offered by SHRM and HRCI below.

CriteriaSHRM CertificationHRCI Certification
*As of 2024
$300 to $475, depending on registration timing and SHRM membership status​​.PHR: $395 exam fee + $100 application fee; SPHR: $495 exam fee + $100 application fee​​.
DurationCertifications are valid for three years​​.Certifications are valid for three years​​.
Exam RequiredYes, a four-hour exam for both SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP​​.Yes, a three-hour exam for PHR and SPHR​​.
Experience RequiredVaries depending on education level. For SHRM-CP, 0-4 years; for SHRM-SCP, 3-7 years​​.PHR: 1-4 years; SPHR: 4-7 years, depending on education level​​.
Test FormatSHRM-CP exam consists of 134 questions, including behavioral competencies and functional areas​​.PHR and SPHR exams cover topics like employee relations, talent acquisition, and compliance, with focus areas varying​​.
AccreditationAccredited by The Buros Center for Testing​​.Accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies​​.
Recertification RequirementsEarn 60 “professional development credits” (PDCs) through SHRM-certified conferences, events, and webinars​​.Either retake the exam or earn 60 recertification credits through HRCI-sanctioned programs​​.
Primary FocusSHRM-CP for operational roles and SHRM-SCP for strategic-level HR functions​​.PHR for technical and operational HR management, SPHR for HR policy and strategy management​​.
SHRM logo

SHRM Certification Options

SHRM offers two certifications: SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP. According to SHRM, 77% of applicants take the SHRM-CP first. Below we compare the two certifications offered by SHRM.

CriteriaSHRM-CP CertificationSHRM-SCP Certification
Target AudienceHR professionals at the operational level.HR professionals at a senior/strategic level.
Eligibility RequirementsVaries based on education and HR experience. Less experienced HR professionals are eligible.Higher eligibility requirements, targeted towards more experienced HR professionals.
Exam FocusFocuses on the implementation and operational aspects of HR practices.Focuses on strategic thinking, policy-making, and high-level HR leadership.
Exam ContentExam covers HR competencies and knowledge relevant to operational roles.Exam tests advanced knowledge of HR competencies and strategic decision-making.
RecertificationRequires 60 professional development credits (PDCs) over 3 years.Also requires 60 PDCs over 3 years, but with a focus on more advanced and strategic topics.
Career ImpactSuitable for HR professionals looking to strengthen their operational HR roles.Aimed at HR professionals aspiring to or already in senior management or leadership positions.
HRCI logo

HRCI Certification Options

HRCI offers numerous certification options based on an individual’s experience level and the location and geographic reach of the organization. Below we’ve compared four of the most common HRCI certifications that HR professionals may consider during their careers.

CriteriaaPHR (Associate Professional in Human Resources)PHR (Professional in Human Resources)SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources)GPHR (Global Professional in Human Resources)
Target AudienceEntry-level HR professionals or those transitioning into HR.Experienced HR professionals focusing on program implementation, with tactical or logistical orientation.Senior HR professionals who plan HR policy and have depth in all HR disciplines.HR professionals who manage HR challenges in a global marketplace.
Eligibility RequirementsNo HR experience required. High school diploma or global equivalent.Minimum 1 year of experience in a professional-level HR position with a master’s degree, or 2 years with a bachelor’s degree, or 4 years without a bachelor’s degree.Minimum 4 years of experience in a professional-level HR position with a master’s degree, or 5 years with a bachelor’s degree, or 7 years without a bachelor’s degree.Minimum 2 years of global HR experience with a master’s degree, or 3 years with a bachelor’s degree, or 4 years without a bachelor’s degree.
Exam FocusCovers foundational HR operations, recruiting, retention, compensation, benefits, and employment law in the U.S.Covers technical and operational aspects of HR management, including U.S. laws and regulations.Focuses on strategy, policy development, and service delivery.Focuses on global HR policies and strategies, global talent acquisition and mobility, global compensation and benefits, organizational effectiveness and talent development, workforce relations, and risk management.
Recertification45 recertification credits every 3 years.60 recertification credits every 3 years.60 recertification credits every 3 years.60 recertification credits every 3 years.

Other Certification Organizations

Compensation and Benefits Certifications Through WorldatWork

WorldatWork is an association for human resources management professionals and offers several certifications, including the following:

CCP, the most common certification offered by WorldatWork, demonstrates that an individual possesses the essential knowledge about integrating compensation programs with business strategy, designing and administering base and variable pay programs, complying with legal and regulatory requirements, and effectively communicating compensation information. 

This certification is for individuals who are responsible for their organization’s base pay and incentive compensa­tion programs. This certification is achieved by earning a passing score on nine examinations through WorldatWork.

CBP demonstrates that an individual possesses essential knowledge about integrating benefits programs with business strategy, designing and administering benefit plans, complying with legal and regulatory requirements, outsourcing and working with benefits service partners, and communicating benefits information. 

This certification is for individuals who are responsible for reviewing, designing, and implementing the organization’s practices, policies, and programs that support efforts to help employees achieve success at both work and home. It is achieved by earning a passing score on seven examinations through WorldatWork.

GRP demonstrates that an individual possesses essential knowledge about integrating global reward programs with business strategy, designing and administering base and variable pay programs, managing the impact of globalization and regional influences on the design and delivery of global reward programs, and communicating total rewards program information. 

This certification is for individuals who are responsible for their multina­tional organization’s compensation/remuneration programs. It is achieved by earning a passing score on eight examinations through WorldatWork.

CECP demonstrates that an individual possesses the knowledge, experience, and critical skills to design, evaluate, implement, and manage effective executive compensation programs. This certification is for individuals involved in multiple executive compensation aspects. It is achieved by passing a comprehensive exam based on experience in the field of executive compensation and the overall executive compensation body of knowledge through WorldatWork.

Training and Development Certification Through ASTD

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is an association dedicated to the training and development profession. ATD offers two certifications based on training and development: the Associate Professional in Talent Development (APTD) and the Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD).

CriteriaAPTD (Associate Professional in Talent Development)CPTD (Certified Professional in Talent Development)
Target AudienceEarly-career professionals or those new to talent development.Experienced talent development professionals.
Eligibility RequirementsAt least three years of relevant work experience.At least five years of relevant work experience.
Exam ContentFocuses on foundational knowledge across a broad spectrum of talent development topics.Covers a wide range of talent development practices with a deeper focus on strategic and leadership topics.
Knowledge and Skill AreasInstructional design, training delivery, and learning technologies.Global talent development, change management, and future readiness.
Exam FormatMultiple-choice questions assessing core competencies in talent development.A combination of multiple-choice and case management questions.

Diversity Certification Through the Institute for Diversity Certification (IDC)

The Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) certification, offered by the Institute for Diversity Certification, is a credential for HR professionals aiming to lead diversity and inclusion initiatives within their organizations. This certification dives deep into the complexities of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), equipping leaders with the knowledge and skills to foster an inclusive workplace culture.

Key aspects of the CDE certification include a focus on developing and implementing DEI strategies, understanding and addressing systemic inequalities, and leading organizational change towards greater diversity.

Staffing and Recruiting Certification Through the American Staffing Association

The American Staffing Association (ASA) offers certification programs for HR professionals in the staffing and recruiting industry. These programs include the Certified Staffing Professional® (CSP®), Technical Services Certified℠ (TSC℠), Certified Search Consultant® (CSC®), and Certified Health Care Staffing Professional® (CHP®).

Each of these certifications focuses on a specific aspect of staffing and recruitment, with the CSP® covering labor and employment law; the TSC℠ dealing with technical and IT staffing; the CSC® focusing on federal employment law for recruiters; and the CHP® tailored towards healthcare staffing.

Adult Learning College Classroom

Comparing HR Certifications and Bachelor’s/Master’s Degrees

When choosing between pursuing a degree in HR or obtaining an HR certification, HR professionals should weigh several factors based on their career goals and the demands of their positions.

HR Degree Programs

College degree programs in HR typically offer a comprehensive education, covering a wide range of HR topics, theories, and practices, and are especially beneficial for those seeking a deep, foundational understanding of human resources. A degree can provide a broad base of knowledge, which is useful for a long-term career in HR and may be particularly appealing to those entering the field or looking to advance into high-level HR roles.

HR Certification Programs

On the other hand, HR certifications focus more on practical, up-to-date skills and knowledge that are immediately applicable in the workplace. Certifications can be an excellent way for professionals to specialize in a particular aspect of HR, stay current with the latest HR trends and practices, and demonstrate their commitment and expertise to employers. Certifications are often more flexible and less time-consuming than college degree programs, making them a good choice for working professionals looking to enhance their skills without committing to a full degree program.

Ultimately, the choice depends on the individual’s current position in the human resources field, their career aspirations, the time and resources they can commit to further education, and how they wish to shape their professional trajectory.

Woman learning HR skills through online HR certification program

What Skills Do You Learn through HR Certification Programs

The following table showcases which skills are included in the curriculum of each HR certification program. For HR professionals, understanding which certification aligns best with the skills they wish to develop or enhance can guide their certification choice.

SkillCertification Programs
HR Expertise (HR Knowledge and Practice)SHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP, PHR, SPHR, GPHR
Leadership and NavigationSHRM-SCP, SPHR, GPHR
Business AcumenSHRM-SCP, SPHR, GPHR
Relationship ManagementSHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, CDE
ConsultationSHRM-SCP, SPHR
Global & Cultural EffectivenessSHRM-SCP, GPHR, CDE, GRP
Workforce ManagementaPHR, PHR, CPC, CECP, CSP, TSC, CSC, CHP
Employment Law and RegulationsaPHR, PHR, SPHR, GPHR
Learning and DevelopmentSHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP, APTD, CPTD
Office building with many offices and employees

Certification Programs and Current Trends and Challenges in HR

The HR certifications from SHRM and HRCI have evolved to address current trends and challenges in the HR field. Here’s how these certifications align with key HR trends:

Diversity and Inclusion

SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP: These certifications cover diversity and inclusion, focusing on creating an inclusive environment, understanding cultural differences, and implementing diversity policies. They equip HR professionals with the knowledge to foster an inclusive workplace culture.

GPHR: As a global certification, GPHR also addresses diversity and inclusion, especially in an international context, teaching HR professionals to manage a diverse global workforce.

People Analytics

SHRM-SCP and SPHR: These certifications delve into people analytics, providing skills in analyzing workforce data to make informed decisions. They focus on using analytics for strategic planning and measuring HR’s impact on business outcomes.

GPHR: Also covers aspects of people analytics but with a global perspective, training HR professionals to analyze and interpret data across different countries and cultures.

Digital Transformation in HR Processes

SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP: These certifications include learning modules on the digital transformation of HR, highlighting the importance of leveraging technology for HR processes such as recruitment, training, and performance management.

PHR and SPHR: While focusing more on HR operations and strategy, these certifications also touch upon the impact of technology on HR practices and the need for digital literacy among HR professionals.

Remote Work Management

SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP: These certifications include content related to managing remote teams, focusing on remote workforce engagement, virtual team building, and online performance management strategies. They prepare HR professionals for the challenges of managing a distributed workforce.

PHR and SPHR: While these certifications are more operationally and strategically oriented, they also address aspects of remote work management, such as legal considerations, remote employee relations, and maintaining productivity in a virtual environment.

GPHR: Given its global perspective, this certification covers managing remote teams across different countries, focusing on cross-cultural communication and remote work policies at an international level.

Each of these certifications provides a different level of depth and focus, but all are aligned with the need for modern HR professionals to be adept in diversity and inclusion, skilled in people analytics, and knowledgeable about digital transformation in HR processes.

Woman on a laptop obtaining her HR certification

The Process of Obtaining HR Certification

The process of obtaining HR certification has been designed to accommodate the needs and schedules of working professionals. Many of these programs offer flexible learning options, including both online and in-person formats, catering to various learning styles and time commitments.

Many of these certification programs offer condensed intensive courses, extended part-time studies, or self-paced online modules. The varying instructional hours and accessible formats make it easier for HR professionals to integrate learning into their busy lives.

Below we’ve outlined the general process of obtaining HR certification from both SHRM and HRCI.


  1. Determine Eligibility: Check if you meet the educational and work experience criteria required for the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exam.
  2. Apply for the Exam: Complete the application process for the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exam on the SHRM website.
  3. Prepare for the Exam: Utilize SHRM’s study materials and resources to prepare for the exam.
  4. Schedule Your Exam: Once your application is accepted, schedule your exam during one of the testing windows.
  5. Take the Certification Exam: Attend the exam at the scheduled time and location.
  6. Recertification: After passing the exam, engage in professional development activities to earn recertification credits over three years.


  1. Choose Your Certification: Decide which HRCI certification (aPHR, PHR, SPHR, GPHR, etc.) suits your career level and goals.
  2. Review Eligibility Criteria: Ensure you meet the specific educational and professional experience requirements for your chosen certification.
  3. Prepare for the Exam: Use HRCI’s preparation materials, which may include study guides, practice exams, and online courses.
  4. Apply for the Exam: Complete the online application process for your chosen HRCI certification.
  5. Schedule and Take the Certification Exam: Once approved, schedule your exam at a testing center and take the exam.
  6. Recertification: Maintain your HRCI certification by earning recertification credits through continuing HR-related activities and learning.

Certifications in HR can be highly beneficial to an HR professional’s career as they help establish credibility, enhance knowledge, and show a commitment to continuing education and development in the profession. While the PHR and SPHR certifications are the most popular, other certifications such as the ones described above, can also be extremely valuable for certain specialists in HR.

ERC offers several programs that are eligible for HR certification credits, including HR One-on-One, which helps leaders build the right set of skills and knowledge to implement HR best practices, and Compensation One-on-One, which helps HR and finance professionals advance their knowledge of compensation best practices.