The Value of HR Certification: PHR or SHRM-CP?

Human Resources is a career path that requires ongoing professional development.

Employers prefer hiring HR professionals who can demonstrate a high level of knowledge in order to stay abreast of employee laws and practices. If you are seeking a job in human resources, you will encounter job advertisements that specifically require not only a degree in HR, but also certification from a respected industry association. This certification proves that an HR candidate has taken the time to invest in his or her career.

The PHR and SHRM are two different certifications available to human resources professionals who want to set themselves apart in the industry

The most requested certifications are the SHRM-CP and the PHR. Each is issued by a different organization, is earned through a combination of industry experience and a rigorous timed exam, and carries their own weight with employers. They both require a significant amount of time and money to earn therefore it’s critical that you understand which certification is best for your career goals.

Here’s a basic comparison of the SHRM-CP and the PHR certifications.

Comparison of SHRM-CP to PHR

SHRM and HRCI certifications
SHRM and HRCI certifications

Sources: SHRM Certification

HRCI Certification

Test Content PHR and SHRM-CP

While you will note many similarities between the PHR and SHRM-CP certification tests, this is where things get interesting. The exam topics focus on different areas of human resources.

SHRM-CP – Covers six (6) foundational and behavioral aspects of human resources knowledge, using situational and knowledge questions, including: 

  • Leadership
  • Business
  • Interpersonal 
  • People
  • Organization
  • Workplace

PHR – Tests knowledge of HR related responsibilities in five (5) functional areas, using everyday scenarios and heavy on labor unions, in these areas:

  • Business Management
  • Talent Planning and Recruitment
  • Learning and Development
  • Total Rewards
  • Employee and Labor Relations 

It can be said that any human resource professional would benefit from earning both certifications to increase the chances of being hired. However, if an HR professional is aiming for a job as an HR Manager or specialist in a certain area of HR, he or she would benefit the most from taking the PHR. For someone interested in a more generalist role, a SHRM-CP would be a good option.

Weighing the Value of PHR vs. SHRM-CP

Earlier in this article, we posed the question as to what is perceived to have the most value to employers. Is it one of the HR certifications over another? Do employers understand the actual requirements of the certifications…or do they simply list one of them because they know it means a candidate has invested more into their career?

In an article at Glassdoor,  Laura Handrick, Senior Workplace and Careers Analyst for Fit Small Business said, “If I’m hunting for an HR professional, I’ll want to be sure they have certification from SHRM.”

A quick search of the Glassdoor jobs directory turned up 2,801 jobs that listed a PHR as a requirement or preference by employers, along with HR work experience. A search for SHRM-CP resulted in 6,591 jobs in their directory that mentioned this as a requirement. That’s more than double the number of employers requesting SHRM-CP certification over PHR.

Certifications certainly can make a difference, but not all certifications are created equal

A search of Indeed resulted in 1,032 jobs mentioning a PHR vs. 525 jobs asking for a SHRM-CP. Many of the employers simply posted “HR Certification preferred (PHR or SHRM-CP)” so they did not indicate a preference.

Over on LinkedIn’s job boards, we found 221 jobs that requested PHR certification and 1,216 requesting SHRM-CP certification from candidates. There were also many employers posting both certifications, “Professional in Human Resources (PHR), or SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP): Preferred” so again their preference was not clear.

Some excellent insight was shared by Ben Eubanks, founder of upstartHR, author, and podcaster, about certification choices. Having been certified by both entities himself (SPHR and SHRM-SCP), he says it comes down to a decision based on your career goals.

He recommends:

😤 Take the PHR certification

If you desire, “knowledge and mastery of HR-related business law, an understanding of the general concepts and theories underlying HR, and you work in HR at an organization with under 250 people.”

😤 Take the SHRM-CP certification

If you, “want to use the SHRM career resources, learn some intangible aspects of HR like leadership, consulting behaviors, and navigating your career, and you work at a larger or mature organization.” 

There’s a hidden battle going on over your recertification credits and you might not even know it’s happening!

One way to determine if an employer is leaning towards one certification over another is to find out what the current HR team members have earned. You can often find this data on LinkedIn under company pages and look at the credentials of the employees who work there. However, in most cases, an employer is going to prefer that a candidate has at least earned a certification from one of the recognised organizations rather than weed someone out just because it’s not from their first choice.

The general consensus among HR professionals is that the PHR exams are based more on traditional HR topics, broader in scope and a good introduction to this field of work. The SHRM-CP has quickly earned respect and is geared towards the future of HR careers. Candidates may choose to pursue both in order to gain a more well-rounded view of HR. 


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Written By

Tess Taylor

The Founder of HR Knows, a corporate content, consulting, and career coaching firm in New York and the Founder and Managing Editor of The HR Writer, a popular blog in the Human Resources and Recruitment scene. Contributor to CakeHR.