Human Resources Certifications: What They Are and Why Need Them

by Carl

Most people go to college and earn a degree in hopes that they will land a good job, have a fulfilling career and earn enough money to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. And while a degree – either undergraduate, graduate or both – can certainly set you on a path toward career success, in some fields, education and experience is simply not enough to reach the upper levels of the career ladder.

One of those fields is human resources. While those who work in other fields may think of human resources as the department that processes paperwork, and manages employees benefits and the hiring and firing of employees, those in the know realize that human resources entails much, much more.

It’s because of the complexity of the field, and the ever changing standards, regulations, laws and practices that many organizations now recommend – or require – human resources practitioners to hold a certification in the field. Even those who hold a human resources degree and have years of experience in the workplace can benefit from certification, and there are several certification options to choose from.

Certification Basics

Certification programs focus on your knowledge in a particular focus area, such as benefits or labor relations, or in general human resources principles. The most common certifications are those offered by the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI). These include Professional in Human Resources, Senior Professional in Human Resources and the Global Professional in Human Resources; those who work in California can earn an additional state certification after they earn the PHR or SPHR designation. These certifications are designed for professionals at different levels of their careers and who perform different roles.

For example, the PHR certification is for those who have limited work experience and focus primarily on implementing HR programs and policies, while the SPHR certification is for more experienced professionals who are responsible for designing human resources policies. Those who perform HR functions across international borders can seek the GPHR designation, showing that they know the fundamentals of international HR design and implementation.

In addition to these general certifications, HR professionals can seek continuing education and certification in specialty areas. For example, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans offers a certification program for those who manage benefits such as retirement plans and insurance. While these specialized credentials are certainly valuable, most employers prefer that employees hold the HRCI certifications and treat the specialized certificates as a bonus.

When you take the time to earn one of these certifications, it helps build your credibility within your organization and with potential future employers. To earn the credentials, you must demonstrate knowledge and competence, and holding the certification can help you earn more money and qualify for higher level positions.

Getting Certified

As with most certification programs, getting certified in human resources is a challenging, but rewarding process. You must qualify to take the test through your education and work experience; depending on the level of certification, you need a combination of work experience and education. The higher your degree level, the less work experience you need. If you plan to get certified in human resources, it’s in your best interest to enroll in a competitive program, such as the one offered at the online Scranton University, that will equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to prepare for the certification exam.

The HRCI certification exam is a 165 to 175-question exam that covers multiple knowledge areas, such as compensation and benefits, risk management, workforce development, management and business strategy. Other certifications may include essay or interview components in addition to the practical exam.  In general, exams are only offered at certain times of the year, at testing centers around the country.

Exam Preparation

To prepare for the certification exam, organizations such as the Society for Human Resources Management offer preparation materials and courses designed around the exam content. Even if you have work experience and a degree in HR, these materials can be very helpful in ensuring that you successfully pass the exam.

Earning a certification in HR is a challenging process and you may think that it’s unnecessary after you’ve spent time earning an advanced degree in the field. Putting forth the effort to study for and pass the test demonstrates your commitment to the field, and shows your employer that you know and understand the principles of HR – and that you’re a valuable addition to their team.

About the Author:
Emma Souza will complete her master’s degree in human resources this spring and plans to take the exam for the PHR next year.

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