Professional certifications are often highly recognizable and provide a great deal of credibility to the individual bearing the designation. When job applicants provide information regarding their educational achievements, they are giving employers a signal regarding their domain knowledge.
The world’s largest certification for generalists in Human Resources (HR) is issued by the HR Certification Institute (HRCI). In 1988, HRCI developed two designations: the Professional in Human Resource (PHR), and the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) which remain to this day as the primary certifications in human resources. In 2004, HRCI began offering a Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) certification exam and designation to reflect a growing international business and global HR works.
PHR and SPHR exams have been criticized that they are developed based on U.S. federal laws and regulations and practices which may not apply to the other countries. The HR Certification Institute has launched two new credentials in 2012—The Human Resource Business Professional (HRBP) and Human Resource Management Professional (HRMP)—both of which are geared toward HR professionals principally practicing outside of the United States. The HRMP/HRBP are intended to complement local and national HR certifications, rather than replace them. In 2016, HRCI renamed the HRBP and HRMP to more fully fit the new Professional in Human Resources - International (PHRi) and Senior Professional in Human Resources - International (SPHRi) designations into the gold-standard family of HR credentials as PHR and SPHR. The “i” in PHRi and SPHRi more clearly represents the HR experience outside of the United States. The renamed credentials will also be more searchable and recognizable in the international business community.
For those who are just beginning in the HR field, HRCI is introducing an industry first in 2016 ― the new Associate Professional in Human Resources™ (aPHR™) certification! The aPHR is designed to help students, recent HR graduates and new HR professionals make a smoother, more productive transition into the HR field.
The growth in popularity of HR certification parallels the evolution of HR as a profession and probably reflects a need for those who do this work to separate themselves from negative connotations (e.g., personnel administrator) associated with HR. Most organizations viewed HR personnel primarily as advocates for employees and as clerical staff. Organizations thought anyone could do the HR job. As a result, HR administrators were not always trained in the field, and were typically hired because they had employee relations skills (i.e., “good with people”).
HR certification implies that there are standards in the profession which must be met to practice HR competently. This serves several purposes:
First, certification puts a stamp of approval on individuals in the profession who have obtained it and signify that they are competent and capable of performing HR duties effectively in any organization.
Second, certification sends a signal to other professionals (e.g., accountants) within organizations that HR people are professionals, too.
Third, because of the recertification process, where over the course of 3 years an individual must take professional development or learning achievement, which ensures an HR continues to develop in his or her HR profession.
Fourth, certified HR may indeed perform better than non-certified HR. Many of the questions on the exam are scenario based questions whereas they are straight knowledge questions on the certification exams.
Fifth, an HR professional who has certification may have a higher salary because they will be bringing an additional credential to the table. It also may be that certified HR professionals, through their commitment to recertification will take more professional development opportunities.
Sixth, all things being equal in terms of education and experience, a candidate with the added credential of certification may have a higher probability of being hired.
Seventh, certified HR professionals will be more committed to the HR profession than non-certified HR professionals. Investing the time, effort and expense to become certified and to recertify every three years demonstrates in and of itself a commitment to the HR profession.
Last, a greater proportion of certified HR professionals in the HR function will lead to more favorable perceptions by multiple constituents regarding the value-added contribution of the HR function in the organization and thereby enhance HR department reputation.
As a profession, HR has seen and experienced the proliferation of degrees and certifications on resumes. It is understandable that in addition to advancing themselves individually, HR professionals see the value of additional credentials on resumes. The HR profession needs qualified HR professionals who understand HR and business and who can demonstrate the value of HR to the organization. However, education and credentials may be necessary but not sufficient for success as an HR professional. A professional's skill, abilities, and other personal characteristics that are part of a larger set of HR competencies are also required for success.
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Lengnick-Hall, M.L. & Aguinis, H. (2008). The Benefits of Human Resource Certification: A Critical Analysis and Multi-Level Framework for Research. No 52, Working Papers from College of Business, University of Texas at San Antonio.
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