My HR Certification Story

I get at least 1 message on social media a week asking about my certification story! I’m excited to share it here. Please remember that this was my situation. Based on your current position, career goals etc your path may be different. (:

Questions I receive often are:

“Why did you get your PHR first?”

“Why did you get both HRCI and SHRM certifications?”

“Which one should I get first? And should I eventually have both?”

“How did you study for each one?”

So let’s dive in!

Some background: Some folks who reach out to me have just entered the HR field within the past couple of years, and aren’t aware that the SHRM certifications came into existence in 2015. Prior to that, HRCI was the certifying body for the HR Profession. When SHRM came out with their own certifications in 2015, there was a lot of talk of which one people were going to lean towards, should people get SHRM’s if they’re already HRCI certified, etc. This LinkedIn article by Elisa Garn does a good job highlighting what was going on back in 2016 (: Elisa’s article also mentions how those who were HRCI certified already when the SHRM certifications came out, were able to complete a “pathways” program where they could receive the SHRM credential as well without taking the exam. So, some HR pros who are SHRM certified have not taken the exam.

So, onto my story! I got my PHR first in 2016 because that’s what my manager supported at the time and what the company would pay for. She had her PHR as well and I was so grateful that she encouraged me to also pursue the certification. Again, the SHRM certifications had just come out in 2015 and some felt didn’t have enough credibility yet at that time in 2016. I then got my SHRM-CP in December of 2018, primarily to show my commitment to SHRM. I had been a SHRM blogger for the annual conference at that point, and am grateful for all of the opportunities they have provided to me throughout my career! I also love to learn, and after a couple of years was ready for another challenge.

I didn’t feel like I really needed the SHRM-CP career wise since I already had my PHR. However, I definitely gained a lot of knowledge doing a second certification over 2 years later. I’m a learner and love professional development, so I enjoyed the process. In my opinion, having either one of them will help further establish you as a credible HR pro and you will learn a lot during the studying process. My personal experience was that when I reported to a general manager/operations manager in the business (not an HR person) they really valued the PHR. In their mind, HRCI had been around “forever”, and that’s what they were familiar with as the credible certifying body. I found that when I worked for/reported to an HR person, they valued SHRM more, but still valued both. Mainly because they had been a SHRM member for years and had found value in the other resources provided with their membership.

Now onto studying! As Elisa’s article linked above mentioned, each test is a different format, so depending on what type of test taker you are, that may help you decide which one you want to pursue first. Each exam took about 60 hours of study time for me. (Think 1 hour a day, 5 days a week for 3 months. This is what I tried to stick to and it felt manageable!)

The PHR in my experience was all memorization. I was a great memorizer and flash card maker (having just finished my college degrees a few months prior) so this was easy for me. I had joined a group study program, however did not find it very beneficial. I personally learn much better on my own time and my own pace, and find studying with others distracting. I know others who did join group programs, enjoyed it and passed, so do what is best and most helpful for you! I studied for the PHR exam using the red Anne Bogardus text book. As of August 2018, the names of the test topics and how they were weighted have changed, and I’m sure study materials have changed as well. Ashley Leisck, Certification Director of the BNHRA is a great person to get updated information from on what both HRCI and SHRM exams contain.

I memorized Anne’s text book, as well as bought the online HRCI practice tests (about $80 for the tests at the time), which were worth it because some exam questions were verbatim from the practice exams. I also got the PHR/SPHR pocket prep app for iPhone (it was about $40 for the app at the time). This was also worth it – it was nice having digital flash cards wherever I went and those questions were also very helpful for the exam. The app also breaks it down by topic so I could focus my studying in a certain area if I was weaker in it.

The SHRM-CP exam had much more situational based/judgement questions than fact questions, so for me it was more challenging. I learned a lot about how to think through situations and approach them with the first best step. After learning I didn’t like the group program for the PHR, I decided to purchase the SHRM learning system and self study. Between all the SHRM learning system content – reading the books, doing the online flash cards and practice exams I felt confident! If I remember correctly there’s a pre-test before you start the learning system content, a post-test and an extra practice test. All are different and you can retake them so it was like practicing the actual exam 3 times. This was very helpful to me to practice before the actual exam multiple times. On my test day, it was very similar! I passed both the PHR and SHRM-CP on the first attempt.

Thanks for tuning into my certification story! I love being an HR Pro and am committed to the profession and to continuing education!

My first time in the certification lounge at the SHRM19 annual conference in Las Vegas! (When I attended SHRM18 in Chicago, it was a goal of mine to be able to visit the certification lounge next year!)

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