How HR Certifications Can Help You Grow In Your Career

HR certifications career growth

There are so many credentials and certifications available to HR professionals today. On one hand, they’re a great way to ensure consistency and experience in our industry, get continuing education in our field, and add to our job titles so our current and future employers see those letters that mean we’re serious about career growth. But how do we determine which certifications we want or need, and for those of us with certifications, which should we get recertified for? The answer is a little more complicated than “choose A or B.” 


How HR Certifications Can Help You Grow In Your Career


According to Payscale’s 2018 report, “HR Certifications: How They Impact Pay and Career Trajectory,” there are definitive benefits for both career development and salaries for HR professionals, but it’s important to understand which certification is best for your industry, role, and where you’d like your career to go. 

What we really want to take a look at is human resources positions by industry, their job descriptions and the required certifications, geographic location, and the prevalence of these requirements in job postings. For example, a quick search on LinkedIn for all job postings in the U.S. (September 14, 2019) returned the following results for these certifications:


PHR 6,270 results
SHRM-CP 2,134 results
SHRM-SCP 1,511 results
CPLP 216 results


Depending on where you are in your career right now versus where you want to be in five or 10 years, you can narrow the search down to job titles that include “director” or “CHRO” plus the certification in your geographic area. If you have your eye on a management or VP position, it’s interesting to see how many companies require certifications (and which certifications they require). 

Overall, Payscale found that higher level HR professionals are more likely to have an HR certificate. While only 13.2 percent of HR administrators have at least one credential, 35.5 percent of HR managers are certified and 51.1 percent of Vice Presidents of HR are certified.

Where you are right now in you career also impacts the importance of certifications to your career trajectory. The Payscale report found that HR certification positively influences an HR professional’s chances of being promoted at every job level, however, they matter the most the earlier we are in our careers. At the HR assistant level: of certified professionals in this entry-level role, 82 percent report they have been promoted in the last five years, versus just 68 percent of those who aren’t certified. HR credentials also increase the chances that an HR director would receive a promotion (we saw a 25 percent increase in odds of promotion at this job title level).

Your industry also matters. The Payscale report shows that Healthcare, Retail & Customer Service and Accommodation & Food Services value certification holders the most (certification holders saw the highest percentage boosts in pay). Technology, Nonprofits, Engineering & Science value credentials the least. And the report breaks down certification benefits by SHRM and HRCI credentials by industry:

SHRM-CP holders see the largest boosts in pay in Healthcare (27.7 percent), Retail & Customer Service (26.9 percent) and Accommodation & Food Services (23.8 percent). These certification holders see smallest boosts in pay in Finance & Insurance (13.9 percent), Engineering & Science (13.8 percent), Agencies & Consultancies (13.8 percent) and Technology (10.8 percent).

SHRM-SCP certification holders see the largest boosts in pay in Healthcare (90.6 percent), Real Estate & Rental and Arts (90.0 percent) and Entertainment & Recreation (85.0 percent). These certified professionals see the smallest boosts in pay in Energy & Utilities (55.4 percent), Construction (56.4 percent) and Nonprofits (61.5 percent).

For HRCI certifications, HR pros that hold the PHR see the largest boosts in pay in Healthcare (27.7 percent), Retail & Customer Service (25.0 percent) and Accommodation & Food Services (22.1 percent). These certificate holders see the smallest boosts in pay in Technology (11.5 percent), Finance & Insurance (14.8 percent) and Engineering & Science (15.3 percent).

SPHR certificate holders see the largest boosts in pay in Real Estate & Rental (83.8%), Arts, Entertainment & Recreation (79.4 percent) and Retail and Customer Service (73.1 percent). These certification holders see the smallest boosts in pay in Nonprofits (55.6 percent), Agencies & Consultancies (50.2 percent) and Energy and Utilities (56.1 percent).

What about multiple certifications? It’s common for HR pros to have at least two certificates. Some choose to get the more senior-level certificate that follows the initial one. Others have gotten credentials from both SHRM and HRCI. Payscale’s survey also shows that certain pairs of HR credentials are fairly common:

– 50% of SHRM Certified Professionals (SHRM-CP) also have a Professional in Human Resource (PHR) certification offered by HRCI.

– 62.5% of SHRM Senior Certified Professionals (SHRM-SCP) also have a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification from HRCI.

– 41.8% of Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) certification holders also have a SPHR certification (both offered by HRCI).

– 50% of Certified Professional Coach (CPC) certification holders also have a SPHR (offered by HRCI).

– 14.1% of PHR (offered by HRCI) certification holders also have a SHRM-CP

Finally, your current experience level (and future commitment) matters. If you’re currently in the HR field and in a master’s program, you’ll qualify for higher level certification than someone just starting out with a bachelor’s degree. If you’ve made a plan that includes continuing education (seminars, conference sessions, webinars) as part of your role in HR, maintaining certification is going to be easier for you than someone who is not currently working in HR, but wants to get certified to enter the field.

For example, HR Certificate Institute (HRCI) certifications have specific requirements for each level, Professional in Human Resources (PHR) being the most popular, although its aPHR (Associate Professional in Human Resources), designed for entry-level HR employees with no experience, is growing in popularity. The PHR requires: one year of experience in an HR position and a master’s degree, OR two years of experience and a bachelor’s degree, OR four years of experience and a high school diploma. HRCI certifications are valid for three years and require recertification. For SHRM, you can get SHRM-CP (certified professional) and SHRM-SCP (senior certified professional); each has specific requirements and are also valid for three years before recertification is required. Then there’s the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP), offered by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), formerly the American Society for Training & Development. The CPLP requires four to five years of work experience, depending on education level. 


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.


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