SHRM-CP vs PHR vs SPHR: Comparing Human Resources Certifications

HR Certifications

Most industries are made up of professionals, and those professionals often form organizations to help advance their fields. Those organizations often develop tests or examinations they can use, to judge the skills, knowledge, and abilities of people in their industry.  With a properly rigorous examination, a certification can become a valuable asset, and people who hold those certifications become more sought-after than their counterparts who have not passed the exam.

In many ways, Human Resources isn’t very different. There are three primary certifications in the industry: SHRM-CP, PHR, and SPHR. If you’re looking to make yourself a valuable HR asset, you could probably benefit from acquiring certification, but which one should you focus on?

Let’s examine these certifications and determine their quality. Who issues them? How rigorous are their standards? Are there any loopholes, flaws, or issues with the systems?

Let’s find out!

What Is SHRM-CP/SCP?

SHRM-CP is a certification offered by SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management. SHRM is a recognized authority in the human resources space, and their content is frequently cited on this blog and many others. They know what they’re talking about, and are one of the largest human resources organizations in the world.

SHRM-CP

SHRM offers two certifications, of which -CP is the first. The other is SHRM-SCP, which we’ll discuss lightly as well. SHRM promotes their certifications as:

  • Competency-based. Rather than testing your ability to memories facts and strategies, they test how well you’re able to implement them.
  • The exams are updated routinely to include information about how these modern workplaces work, rather than an outdated view of how they should work.
  • The SHRM certifications are applicable in any industry and any country, rather than within certain boundaries.
  • Thousands of employers seek human resources employees with certifications, and SHRM-CP is often the certification being cited as “in-demand”.

The exam is also accredited.

SHRM Accreditation

According to SHRM:

“The SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams are accredited by the Buros Center for Testing, asserting that the HR credentials meet the highest standards in testing.”

You can learn more about what this means here.

What Are the Requirements of SHRM-CP?

Before you can take an SHRM examination, you must meet certain requirements. These requirements depend on the exam you want to take and your education level.

SHRM-CP Elligibility

SHRM-CP (Certified Professional) requires:

  • If your education is less than a Bachelor’s Degree and you are in an HR role: Three years of HR experience.
  • If your education is less than a Bachelor’s Degree and you are not in an HR role: Four years of HR experience.
  • If you have an HR-related Bachelor’s Degree: One year of HR experience.
  • If you have a non-HR-related Bachelor’s Degree: Two years of HR experience.
  • If you have a non-HR-related Master’s Degree: One year of HR experience.
  • If you have an HR-related Master’s Degree: Current employment of any duration.

The price of the exam varies as well; $300 for early bird members, $400 for early bird non-members, $375 for non-early members, and $475 for non-early non-members.

SHRM SCP

SHRM-SCP (Senior Certified Professional) is similar, but all of the numbers are increased. You can read their chart here.

The SHRM-CP examination is broken into segments covering core competencies, such as leadership techniques, ethical practice, relationship management, cultural effectiveness, business acumen, and critical evaluation.

What Is PHR/SPHR and What Are Its Requirements?

aPHR, PHR, and SPHR are three certifications offered by HRCI, the Human Resources Certification Institute. HRCI is not quite as large or as old as SHRM, though they are in the modern-day relatively comparable organizations, and they are both headquartered in the same city.

PHR and SHPR

In actuality, they offer many more than three certifications:

  • aPHR: Associate Professional in Human Resources, aimed at newcomers to the HR industry starting their careers.
  • aPHRi: Associate Professional in Human Resources (International), the same certification, aimed at international roles.
  • PHR: Professional in Human Resources, aimed at established HR employees who want to progress in their careers.
  • PHRca: Professional in Human Resources (California), a CA-specific variant for the test for local employees.
  • PHRi: Professional in Human Resources (International), the upgraded version of aPHRi.
  • SPHR: Senior Professional in Human Resources, aimed at established professionals looking to move into the upper ranks of HR executives.
  • SPHRi: Senior Professional in Human Resources (International), the same thing for international roles.
  • GPHR: Global Professional of Human Resources, a certification for top-level executives who primarily work with multinational corporations and who have globalized concerns.

All of these different certifications have different requirements for education and experience levels. They all have a $100 application fee, as well as a fee to take the exam, ranging from $300 to $500 depending on the exam. You can view each certification here, and check each of their requirements individually.

List of Certifications

The breakdown of what each PHR certification covers varies from exam to exam. For example, the general PHR exam, comparable to SHRM-CP, has this breakdown:

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  • 39% Employee and Labor Relations
  • 20% Business Management
  • 16% Talent Planning and Acquisition
  • 15% Total Rewards
  • 10% Learning and Development

HRCI is unique in that they offer the introductory certification aPHR, all the way up to high-end executive certifications in GPHR, with many options in between. SHRM does not offer quite as much variation. This is good, in that it gives a granular impression of the skills and abilities of the person with the certification. On the other hand, it means a professional in HR will need to progress through many more certifications and spend much more money doing so throughout their career.

How Do These Certifications Compare?

Each certification has its niche. They are all valuable, but which one is more valuable often depends on your goals as a human resources professional.

Comparing Certifications

SHRM certifications are broadly recognized. The organization SHRM is one of the largest in the field and has global membership. Their certifications test a lot of soft skills, and they are often well-rounded certifications that prepare you for a long career in human resources.

SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP are good certifications if you intend to work in a large organization with large HR teams, or dedicated teams for other related aspects of HR, such as legal and compliance.  Since the SHRM exams do not cover legalities, compliance policies, and specifics quite as much, they are better suited to generalists and administrators.

The PHR certifications offered by HRCI are more granular, which means they are a better indication of the skill level of the prospective employee. When you have aPHR but not PHR, an employer knows you have basic skills and experience but haven’t reached a level of professional attainment they might want in an experienced hire. If you have PHR but not SPHR, likewise they know you’re experienced but not senior-level.

PHR vs SHRM

PHR certifications are better than SHRM certifications in two ways.

  • They cover more in the way of legality, compliance, and technical details. SHRM tends to test more soft skills and the application of management techniques, where PHR are generally more concerned with specific knowledge and compliance.
  • They are better for international or global companies. PHRi or the GPHR certifications are designed for companies that operate in non-US countries or across borders, and thus have special concerns that domestic companies might not.

PHR certifications also seem to be better regarded, though this varies from company to company and industry to industry. From UpstartHR:

“My immediate supervisor is PHR credentialed. When I announced that I had earned my SHRM-CP credential, the response was underwhelming and I was left with the impression that they are not convinced that it is on par with the PHR credential.”

Additionally, it seems that the industry broadly recognizes HRCI more than SHRM, at least in terms of certifications. Again, according to UpstartHR:

“In terms of purely being recognized by the hiring community as a show of your professional skills, HRCI certifications are requested about four times as often as SHRM certifications.”

It’s also worth mentioning that SHRM is a membership society, while HRCI is not. This means that members of SHRM can gain many benefits from the organization, without necessarily needing to take and pass their exams.

It’s also worth noting that these certifications (while overlapping) are not mutually exclusive. You can take and pass both if you have the time and funds for it. The truth is, however, that a lot depends on the organization whether or not this will be valuable. Companies often tend to prefer one or the other, but the preference of which usually comes down to which one the head of the HR department themselves happens to have.

Which Certification Should You Pursue?

Several factors will influence what certification you should pursue. Consider the following questions to help you decide which of these certifications make the most sense for you and your profession.

Which Certification Illustration

Are you new to HR and want a certification to kick-start your career? If so, go with the aPHR certification. The SHRM-CP certification is aimed at mid-level professionals. Unless you have an HR-focused Master’s Degree, you need several years’ worth of experience in HR to even qualify to take the test. Thus, the only real certification available to you as a newcomer to the profession is aPHR.

How large is the organization you want to work for? Small companies often tend to prefer PHR certifications. This is because they tend to be broader and more applicable to various facets of HR, including legal issues. SHRM certifications don’t cover all of this. If your company is small and needs a “jack of all trades” HR professional, the PHR certifications are a better option.

Conversely, if your company is large enough to have a dedicated legal/compliance team, you may not need that specialization that PHR provides. The SHRM certifications are generally better for putting your skills and knowledge into practice and can arm you with powerful techniques for managing a dedicated HR team.

How global is your organization? As mentioned, PHR is often best for smaller companies, while SHRM is good for mid-to-large organizations. However, the largest organizations, the multinationals, and the global corporations tend to swing back in PHR’s favor. The international and global PHR certifications are extremely useful in these contexts and teach a lot of international, regional, and cultural facets of HR that SHRM might not.

That said, not all major corporations care about certifications at that upper level. By the time you’re reaching executive and C-level human resources roles, certifications are less important than your experience and your track record. Companies will often care more about what other organizations you’ve worked for and what tangible results you’ve brought to them over any pieces of paper you’ve earned from a certifying body.

Which certification does your organization prefer? This is not an objective factor. If your company prefers PHR certifications, earning a PHR certification is better than earning an SHRM certification. Conversely, if your organization prefers SHRM, a PHR certification may be less valuable.

If you’re looking to leave your current organization in favor of a different company, it can be worthwhile to investigate the leaders of HR for that company. Look at their LinkedIn bios and their professional portfolios, and see which certifications they have earned. This can inform you which one will be better for applying to that organization.

Some factors are not a real concern. For example, both organizations have similar continuing education requirements, and the pricing for exams is comparable enough to make no difference. The education and experience requirements for SHRM certifications are mirrored by their equivalent PHR certifications. PHR is more granular but offers more room for mobility.

The long and the short of it is that neither certification is truly better than the other. They are comparable in many ways, and they are better than not having a certification at all. However, if you’re interested in specific areas of human resources, like international or legal HR, you may be more inclined to earn PHR certifications over SHRM. Conversely, if you’re in an organization that is a member of the SHRM and prefers its atmosphere, the SHRM certifications may be more valuable.

28 Comments

  1. Angela Booker

    on May 8, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    Which certification would you suggest for a federal government agency?

    • Andrew Greenberg

      on May 14, 2021 at 5:00 pm

      Hi Angela!

      You could look into the FHRI certificate program:
      https://cldcentral.usalearning.gov/course/index.php?categoryid=464

      Any of these certifications is likely to help you, but this one was developed specifically for federal HR practitioners.

      Hope this helps!

      • MDDake

        on September 26, 2021 at 5:30 pm

        The Federal HR Institute offers a one-time certificate in Federal HR practices. It is not a certification program, which includes continuing education to maintain the credential over time.

        HRCI is examing how to approach a credential for Federal practitioners. It may end up being similar to their PHR-CA credential, since the difference in both cases is the laws governing practice.

      • N LAND

        on January 20, 2022 at 2:55 am

        I am an HR manager and have 7 years of Experience in payroll, onboarding, workers comp. To name a few. I am interested in compliance and the laws associated with HR. Which test is suited for my level of experience and career?

    • Salma

      on December 6, 2021 at 2:15 pm

      Hello Andrew,

      If a foreigner with a bachelor degree in psychology wants to apply for an HR-related job in the USA what certification should she take?

      Thanks

      • Robert Monroi

        on December 6, 2021 at 11:01 pm

        Dear Salma, thank you for your inquiry.

        There are two globally recognized HR certification programs today. In 2014, SHRM and HRCI, were both the governing bodies over the SPHR (Senior Profesional in Human Resources) and PHR (Professionals in Human Resources) certification programs. They’ve since split, and while HRCI retained the SPHR, GPHR and PHR programs, SHRM created their own: SHRM-CP (Certified Practitioner) and SHRM-SCP (Senior Certified Practitioner.

        There’s no going wrong with choosing SHRM or HRCI, both are excellent accreditations and equally recognized. However, there are some cost differences, as well as recertification requirements that differ between them. Do your research on both to determine what makes the most sense for you.

        Thank you

  2. AVS

    on June 10, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    Will the completion of a HRM program prepare oneself to apply for both PHR and SHRM certifications?

    • Andrew Greenberg

      on June 11, 2021 at 5:12 pm

      Thank you for your comment!

      These are both rigorous tests – the best way to prepare is by taking their practice tests and carefully reading their study guides.

      A degree or certification in HRM will certainly help, but it’s still a good idea to utilize their study guides before taking the test.

  3. Ritz

    on June 14, 2021 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you Andrew, I loved your article. After reading your background in HR, I realized I have the same background. I have roots in recruiting and have experience in Manufacturing, Information Technology and Construction industry experience. In a small/mid size company, I am experiencing other aspects of core HR. As I am moving up, I would like to know which certification would be better for me?
    Thank you.

    • Andrew Greenberg

      on June 18, 2021 at 10:34 pm

      Hi Ritz,

      Thanks for your comment!

      I think more is better when it comes to certification.
      SHRM is the gold standard and is broadly recognized. I would look into the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams to start.

      They have a page on their website for this if you’re interested in further reading, along with a contact email:
      https://www.shrm.org/certification/apply/eligibility-criteria/Pages/which-exam-to-take.aspx

      I hope this helps!

      • MD Dake

        on September 26, 2021 at 5:18 pm

        Andrew,

        SHRM is decidedly NOT the gold standard in HR certification. As you pointed out in your article, SHRM has gotten its EXAM accredited. Not it’s certification program. The Buros Center for Testing has certified that SHRM’s exam accurately measures the knowledge that it claims to.

        You did not comment on HRCI’s accreditation, which is significantly more rigorous. HRCI has obtained accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and International Accreditation Service (IAS) for the contents of the exams and their overall certification programs for seven of their eight credentials. That means that HRCI has proven that their overall management of their programs is validated, including the career-long recertification process. SHRM has that only for the form of its exams.

        You also contrasted the relative size and age of the organizations as a factor. SHRM is older and larger, that is true. It is bigger because SHRM is a trade association. It lobbies for and advocates for its field. HRCI is exactly what it’s name stages: a certification institute. It was formed by SHRM’s predecessor organization and others for the purpose of developing and independent, accredited certification program. It is not membership based, so it will, of course, be smaller. For about 40 years, SHRM and HRCI existed in harmony, each contributing to its area of responsibility in the HR field. The SHRM Learning System was the best source of training for HRCI’s exams. SHRM membership was worth recertification credits for HRCI credentials. SHRM actively promoted HRCI certification. That was how it was designed to work. They shared office space and board members, with SHRM as landlord and HRCI as tenant.

        Then SHRM decided it wanted the income stream for certification. It started saying that HRCI credentials were not valid. It claimed that HRCI failed to engage on the question of updating exam content. It created a sufficiently hostile environment that HRCI moved out and the board-member exchanges ceased. It created its two exams and credentials and took them to market.

        But it also offered all then-current HRCI certificants the opportunity, for a limited time only!, to obtain a SHRM credential by signing a pledge and paying a fee. No exam needed. HRCI holders did not have to prove any new knowledge beyond what SHRM was describing as inadequate HRCI levels.

        How does that work? “Your credential is no longer valid, but we will accept it as the basis for issuing our new, better one. And some cash.” That does not make sense. I believe SHRM was motivated by money, not concern for the field of HR.

        I believe that a more-complete review of the two programs would show conclusively that the HRCI program is far superior to SHRM’s program. I wish that the field could go back to the stays quo ante, but I acknowledge that is not going to happen anytime soon.

        • Andrew Greenberg

          on October 4, 2021 at 8:47 pm

          Hi Michael, thank you for sharing this!

          I can tell you put careful consideration into your words and I hope that this helps some of our readers.

    • MDDake

      on September 26, 2021 at 5:34 pm

      Ritz,

      HRCI’s programs are designed to demonstrate your progress through your career. It is likely that you would be a good candidate for PHR today and SPHR in a few years, since the difference between them is that the SPHR credential includes a commitment to the integration of HR processes into the business of the organization.

  4. Greg

    on June 30, 2021 at 2:31 pm

    I am a senior R&D leader (~30 years R&D experience) in a global organization looking to move into HRD (Training & Development, OD, Change Management, Career Development, etc.) and change companies. Which certification would be best for a seasoned technical professional moving into HRD and not HRM who is working on a Masters degree in HRD?

  5. Ruban

    on July 3, 2021 at 6:21 pm

    Which certification would be best for hotel HR Manager , ideally an international brand..

    • MDDake

      on September 26, 2021 at 5:20 pm

      GPHR, offered by HRCI. This is the credential designed for US-based international practice.

  6. Terry

    on August 17, 2021 at 7:27 pm

    Hello,

    I am an Executive Director, Master Degree in Education, with many of the day to day HR responsibilities, with an HR Director to confer with and aid when needed. I am thinking of a career change and going more into HR directly. Would I qualify for the PHR or SPHR? or would the SHRM be a better place to start my next career?

    • MDDake

      on September 26, 2021 at 5:26 pm

      The PHR and SPHR both require documentation of multiple years of exempt-level HR work (exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act, of course).

      If your management duties had sufficient nexus with exempt-level HR work, you would be qualified.

      If not, the aPHR credential is designed for you.

  7. Priti

    on August 24, 2021 at 11:14 am

    Hello,

    I wish to know which certifications would help me to progress in my career in Germany? I have already 5 years of relevant work experience and also a Masters degree in HRM

    • MDDake

      on September 26, 2021 at 5:22 pm

      I recommend you check out HRCI’s international credentials, which are designed to promote and recognize excellence in non-US based HR practice.

  8. Shailesh Banaeet

    on October 5, 2021 at 11:06 am

    Excellent and informative article. Appreciate the efforts to cover all the aspects while comparing these certifications.

    I would like to know which certification is better for the global role perspective – SPHRi or GPHR?

    • Andrew Greenberg

      on October 8, 2021 at 9:39 pm

      Hi Shailesh!

      There is strong value in both.
      The SHRM exam relies more on industry experience, whereas HCRI’s exam is based more on technical knowledge, laws, facts, and so on.

      I hope this helps you make a decision!

  9. Gisela Gonzalez

    on November 17, 2021 at 11:33 pm

    I have been in HR since 2018 and touch on all facets of HR. I work for a 710 employee hospital. I do not have any type of degree. What certification would benefit me the most, especially if I plan on growing in the HR field?

    • Andrew Greenberg

      on November 19, 2021 at 4:17 am

      Hi Gisela!

      Most of these certifications require at least 3 years of HR experience, and you’ll have to provide proof of that work.
      Since you started your position in 2018, you may consider starting with aPHR for now, and then sometime next year look into SHRM-CP and PHR/SPHR.

      I hope this helps!

  10. Vickie

    on January 23, 2022 at 3:50 am

    I have a question, I have over 20 years of being a Supervisor with transferrable skills as it relates to Human Resources. I have a MBA with a emphasis in Human Resources. Based on what I was reading since I don’t have direct HR experiences it looks like I shouldn’t pursue the SHRM, I should focus on a PHR, correct?

  11. Denese

    on May 2, 2022 at 2:21 pm

    Hello – I am the Communications Specialist for our Benefits team (25K employees) and was considering getting a SHRM certification as a part of my development. I worked in HR as a coordinator for 5 years prior. What would be the best certificate for me to acquire or do I not have enough qualifications to pursue the certification at this time?

  12. Maria

    on June 1, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    Hello, I am with a company of about 500 employees. I run the HR department, it is new for this company. I love compliance and everything that comes with it, but I do everything.
    I was wondering which certification is best for me? I don’t want to get one that will not help me grow in my career, I want one that will help me. Also I want to make sure that I will not be paying out the nose for every fee.
    I need your help please

    • Andrew Greenberg

      on June 3, 2022 at 2:29 am

      Hi Maria!

      I would look at the elligibility criteria for each and see which fits your situation the best.

      For example, here is the criteria page on SHRM.org:
      https://www.shrm.org/certification/apply/eligibility-criteria/Pages/default.aspx

      Good luck and I hope this helps!

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