Are Certifications Required for an HR Career?

How Can Certifications Benefit Your Career in HR?

Are credentials necessary for a career in HR? Increasingly, yes.
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Question: What Certifications Are Required for an HR Career?


No kind of certification is required to work in the field of Human Resources. Increasingly, however, Human Resources professionals are seeking certification as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) or Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) through the HR Certification Institute (HRCI). Recently, the HRCI added APHR: Associate Professional of HR for college students.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has developed and is offering a competing certification program. SHRM has established two competency-based certifications, the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) for early- and mid-career professionals and the SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) for senior-level practitioners.

There are additional certifications available through professional associations in such areas as Compensation and Benefits Management.

Why Might a Certification Become Needed?

Keep in mind, going forward, that you will be competing in the job market with people who have earned these certifications. They will be valued in the job market depending upon the company’s requirements and depending upon the job.

Especially in larger cities and in larger organizations, the certifications are regularly appearing on job postings as requirements for applicants. Small - mid-sized organizations are more slowly coming onboard, making the certification nice to have but not required.

In my experience, many companies recognize these certifications as measuring transactional and administrative-type functions. Companies that are looking for more strategic, financial, and organization development skills in their HR staff don't advertise these credentials as essential for applicants.

In fact, many post these certifications as optional or decide not to require them at all.

Do HR Employees with Certifications Make More Money?

According to research by, certified HR professionals make substantially more than their uncertified counterparts. For professionals who are starting out in their HR careers, the difference might not be as noticeable but as HR professionals move on in their careers, it is distinctly positive.

Employees with the SPHR certification make 93 percent more money overall than those who have no certification. Those with the SPHR also make 49 percent more than those who stop with the PHR. For all HR employees, the median pay with a PHR is $59,100, with SPHR is $87,900, and is $45,600 with no certification.

In larger cities nationally, the differential is just as striking. If you want to work somewhere like Dallas, New York, Boston, and Miami, for example, you will make substantially more money with either certification.

Do HR Employees with Certifications Get More Promotions?

HR professionals who have earned SPHR or PHR certifications also receive more promotions and achieve career success more quickly than their uncertified counterparts.

For example, the percentage of HR employees receiving a promotion increased substantially with certification.

For professionals at the HR associate level, 63 percent with certification were promoted to HR administrator while only 34 percent of uncertified employees were promoted.

Promotions from HR administrator to HR generalist came in at 57 percent for certified employees and 27 percent for uncertified employees.

As people progress in their HR careers, the instance of certification is increasingly found. At the HR VP level, 42 percent of people holding the position are certified. 39 percent of employees with the title, HR director and 30 percent of HR managers hold certification. As employees are promoted up through the management ranks, the SPHR is increasingly the desired certification with managers, directors, and VPs.

Decide by Considering Your Own Career Plans and Location

Obtaining either certification is an investment of money for preparation courses and books.

It is also a time investment that requires hours and hours of study, attending class in person or online and studying as if you are back in college.

Depending on where you live and want to work, the investment may be worth it.

Consider your plans for your HR career. If you want to work in a large company or in a big city, HR certifications are more necessary. If you plan to become an HR consultant, speak regularly at SHRM and other conferences, and impress clients, make certification a priority.

In smaller cities and in most small-to-mid-sized businesses, the HR certification is not currently necessary. Your boss, your managers, or your company owner may not even know it exists.

If you have this question or are worried about certifications, talk to current HR people where you live and want to work to have a definitive answer about whether you need HR certifications.

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