Certifications and Your Human Resources Career

Human resources assistant
101dalmatians / Getty Images

People considering a career in the field of human resources frequently ask whether they need a degree or certifications to get employment in the field of HR. The answer is complex, with factors extending beyond the financial return, requiring thoughtful consideration as to how a certification might benefit you personally. Generally, certifications are considered a worthwhile investment.

Why an HR Certification Might Be Needed

Going forward with your career, you will be competing in the job market with people who have earned similar certifications. 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, although they can be a substantial boost to career success.

Obtaining either of the available certifications involves an investment of money for preparation courses and books. There's also the time investment that requires hours and hours of study, often attending in-room class sessions.

Talk to current HR people where you live and want to work to find out answers from informed people about whether you need an HR certification. People reporting actual local conditions may differ from what you hear from industry publications or your school's career office.

Different Types of Certifications

No certification is required to work in the field of human resources. Certifications are optional in most circumstances. 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 Associate Professional of HR (APHR) for college students.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has developed and is offering a competing certification program that has been available since 2014. 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.

Additional certifications are available through professional associations in such areas as compensation and benefits management. The Association for Talent Development (ATD) offers certification as a Certified Professional in Learning & Performance (CPLP).

Compensation Differences

According to research by Payscale.com, certified HR professionals make substantially more money than their uncertified counterparts. 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 an SPHR is $87,900, and is $45,600 with no certification.

HR Promotions for Employees with Certifications

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 of professionals 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, more and more personnel have industry certifications. At the vice president level, 42 percent of people holding these positions are certified. Thirty-nine percent of employees with the title of HR director and 30 percent of HR managers hold a certification.