Is HR Certification Right for You?

Arguably, achieving professional certification in your area of expertise shows commitment to your profession and to continuous learning. With so many certification options out there, it can be hard to choose the right one for you. Which one will advance your career? Which one has the best visibility? Which one is worth the effort to get it? The HR profession is no exception when it comes to having volumes of certification opportunities. But which one is more valuable – PHR, CCP, CPLP, CEBS, ABCXYZ? HR certifications can drown you in a sea of letters. Finding the right certification(s) for you is an important first step on your professional development path.

I often get asked,  “Which certifications are right for me?” And my answer comes in typical HR fashion – “it depends.” There are so many to choose from with new certifications coming out from time to time. It can be a tough decision, but once you have identified your needs and career path, selecting the right HR certification(s) can be easy. Here are some questions to research when deciding on a certification. Like any investment, a certification requires digging in deep so you know all there is to know about it before you invest your time and money.

Is the certification relevant in the workplace? One of the best indicators of how relevant a certification is in the workplace is how many professionals hold it. Some organizations, like the Human Resources Certification Institute (, have over 130,000 professionals holding their certifications. It usually takes 3 to 5 years for a certification to be “tested” in the marketplace and for it to become relevant. The “testing” period includes early adopters becoming certified and employers finding the KSAOs (knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics) learned by the certification holders to be relevant and valuable in the workplace.

Is the certification specialized or general enough? There are both generalist (PHR and SPHR) and specialist (CPLP, CCP, CEBS, CIR) HR certifications. I have found value in holding both. If your goal is work in a specialist role, it can be valuable to pursue a specialist certification. But be warned, some specialist certifications take months of studying and taking several tests before they are achieved, which requires stamina (and money!). The generalist certifications are good if you are seeking a well-rounded knowledge base. The specialist certifications require more focused KSAOs.

What are the requirements to attain and retain the certification? Some certifications require relevant work experience or education, or both, or neither. Some certifications require specific or general continuing education (CEUs). Before working toward a certification, it is important to really know the intricacies of what is needed to attain and retain the certification. Having sat for several certifications tests, I can honestly say that I will do pretty much whatever I need to do in order to maintain those that I have. CEUs can come from many sources, including online education, on the job functions, conference attendance and serving in professional leadership roles. Take the time to understand what you need to attain and retain the certification(s) you choose.

How will the certification advance my career? If you work in HR, is it valuable to take the time to become a Certified Financial Planner (CFP)? The answer is – “it depends”. Everyone’s personal career goals may be different. You should know what certification will help you meet those goals. Take the time to research certifications and look at those who hold them, both online and within your professional networking groups. I spent a lot of time researching on LinkedIn and Twitter before I decided to pursue mine.

Should I get formal education or pursue certification? I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked this. The short answer is “both.” I decided that my education would be general (BA in Business, MBA and pursuing an MA in HR Management) with specialist certifications (SPHR, GPHR and CCP). This plan is working for me. Nothing replaces formal education, especially when it comes to meeting job requirements. Certifications show a commitment to continuous learning by their CEU requirements. Consider both education and certifications, although some professionals do one or the other. What works best for you?

Certifications should enhance and grow your KSAOs. I have learned (and continue to learn!) so much about HR and myself through the attainment and retention of my certifications. While certification is not for everyone, it can be the differentiator when the final candidate is selected for a position.

Here is a short list of some good HR certifications with their organization websites. There are other valuable HR certifications. The Society for Human Resource Management ( is launching a new competency-based certification in 2015. As I learn more about it, I will share with you.

American Institute for Recruiting and Sourcing (formerly) (

Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR)

American Society of Healthcare Human Resources Administration (

Certified in Healthcare Human Resources (CHHR)

American Society for Training and Development (formerly) (

Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP)

Human Resources Certification Institute (

Professional in Human Resources (PHR)     Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)

International Coach Federation (

Professional Certified Coach (PCC)

International Federation of Employee Benefit Plans (

Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS)

World at Work (

Certified Compensation Professional (CCP)


What HR certifications do you suggest? What are your certification stories?

Don’t forget to CELEBRATE!




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