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HRCI vs. SHRM: Which certification should you pursue? 


This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
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This article was reviewed by Kathryn Uhles, MIS, MSP, Dean, College of Business and IT.

This article was updated on January 8, 2024.

At a glance

  • Both the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) are prominent certification organizations for human resource professionals.
  • The HRCI issues certifications for HR professionals in many areas, including recruiting and staffing, employee benefits, and employee training and development.
  • The SHRM is a professional association that offers certifications to people who have successfully completed certain courses and exams.
  • Looking to learn more about human resource management? University of Phoenix offers an online Bachelor of Science in Business with a Human Resource Management Certificate!

What is an HRCI certification?

The HRCI issues certifications for human resource professionals in all areas, including:

  • Recruiting and staffing
  • Employee benefits
  • Employee training and development
  • Compensation and performance management
  • Talent acquisition and retention
  • Employee relations
  • Organizational development
  • Change management

To receive an HRCI certification, candidates must take a course from an HRCI-approved education provider. Returning candidates must have 45 to 60 general recertification credits. Initial candidate requirements vary by certification level.

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What are the types of HRCI certifications?

The HRCI offers several certifications, each with educational and experience requirements. Here are the different ones:

  • aPHR®Associate Professional in Human Resources
  • PHR®: Professional in Human Resources
  • SPHR®: Senior Professional in Human Resources
  • GPHR®: Global Professional in Human Resources

People transitioning into HR or looking to move into management roles should consider pursuing HRCI certification because it will show they’ve mastered all aspects of HR management.

The aPHR is a certification offered by the HRCI. It does not require relevant work experience, but you need the knowledge to pass the exam. Designed to fast-track your career growth, the aPHR helps HR professionals just beginning their careers and non-HR professionals.

A PHR certification demonstrates technical and operational knowledge of HR management, including U.S. laws and regulations. It also showcases experience in implementing tactical/logistical orientation programs.

An SPHR is for leaders responsible for planning HR policy, managing HR department goals and executing business strategies and technology while understanding the overall organizational HR needs.

What is an SHRM certification?

The SHRM is a professional association that offers certifications to people who have completed certain courses and passed particular tests. The two most popular SHRM certifications are the SHRM-CP® and the SHRM-SCP®.

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What is human resource management?

What are the types of  SHRM certifications?

The first type, SHRM-CP, stands for Certified Professional. To receive this certification, you must pass an exam that covers the following areas:

  • Labor laws
  • Employment law
  • Employee relations
  • Benefits administration
  • Compensation
  • Recruitment and selection policies

One important note about the SHRM-CP: You do not need experience as a human resource professional.

The SHRM’s second type of certification is SHRM-SCP, which stands for Senior Certified Professional. This certification requires applicants to have three years of strategic-level experience in human resources.

SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP)

The SHRM-CP is considered a foundational certification, which means it focuses on general HR topics and does not require HR experience. Perhaps you are in a leadership position with a business degree and wish to pursue a holistic approach to organizational management through HR certification.

To become SHRM-CP certified, candidates must pass the SHRM-CP exam. This exam consists of 134 questions, with nine behavioral competencies and 14 functional areas. It covers employee relations, organizational behavior, employee development and compensation management. Candidates must score at least 200 on this exam.

Candidates for the SHRM-CP certification do not need an HR title, degree or HR experience to apply. The SHRM-CP exam assesses the competency of HR work at the operational level. Duties for this level include implementing HR policies, supporting day-to-day HR functions or serving as an HR point of contact for staff and stakeholders.

SHRM Senior Certified Professional

SHRM-SCP is for general HR/HR-related duties or those pursuing a career in human resource management.

Many consider SHRM’s Senior Certified Professional an advanced credential for individuals (including SHRM-CPs) with at least three years of experience in strategic-level HR or HR-related duties. Candidates do not need an HR title or a degree to apply.

The SHRM-SCP exam assesses the competency of professionals developing HR policies, overseeing the execution of integrated HR operations, directing HR enterprises and leading the alignment of HR strategies to organizational goals. Applicants must demonstrate a minimum of 1,000 hours per calendar year devoted to strategic-level HR or HR-related work. 

Deciding between the HRCI and SHRM certifications

When looking at the HRCI vs. SHRM, keep some things in mind. First, consider your budget and how much time you can devote to studying for the exam. If you’re working full time and have a family, this may impact which certification is best for you.

A survey showed that study time for SHRM certification was reported to be between 41 and 120 hours on average for first-time test-takers, according to the SHRM website. While sources vary, one study said that studying for HRCI certification averages more than 60 hours. Of course, these estimates depend on your unique needs and learning habits.

Second, think about the career path you want to take. For example, pursuing a human resource management (HRM) certificate program might make sense if you want to be an HR manager. For SHRM and HRCI, lower-level certifications do not require HR experience.

Although the SHRM has operated longer, organizations also value an HRCI certification. This is because the HRCI implements different requirements for its certifications. These can indicate a certain level of skill and discipline within the field. Opting for an HRCI SPHR, for example, requires more strategic experience compared to the SHRM’s senior-level certification.

Human resource programs at University of Phoenix

HR certifications and undergraduate degrees in human resources can play a crucial role in the careers of HR professionals by helping them gain necessary skills and experience. The University of Phoenix offers the following:

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A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and its Writing Seminars program and winner of the Stephen A. Dixon Literary Prize, Michael Feder brings an eye for detail and a passion for research to every article he writes. His academic and professional background includes experience in marketing, content development, script writing and SEO. Today, he works as a multimedia specialist at University of Phoenix where he covers a variety of topics ranging from healthcare to IT.


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