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HRCI vs. SHRM: Which certification should you pursue? 

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By University of Phoenix

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!

The Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) are two of the most prominent HR certification organizations in the country.

While both provide a strong foundation for employers and job applicants, each organization is distinct. To make an informed decision about which is the right fit for you,  you need to understand their roles and the ins and outs of their certifications, including how to earn them, their benefits and what skills you would gain.

HR certifications and undergraduate degrees can play a crucial role in the careers of HR professionals by helping them gain necessary skills and experience. An HR certification also shows potential employers that an individual has developed important skills such as communication, coaching and leadership and is poised to succeed professionally.

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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.

What are the types of HRCI certifications?

The HRCI offers several certifications, each with its own 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 the most basic certification offered by the HRCI, requiring no relevant work experience — you need the knowledge to pass the exam. Designed to fast-track your career growth, the aPHR helps HR professionals just beginning their careers as well as non-HR professionals.

A PHR certification demonstrates technical and operational knowledge of HR management, including U.S. laws and regulations, and 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 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®.

The first type, SHRM-CP, stands for Certified Professional. To receive this certification, you must pass an exam covering labor laws, employment law, employee relations, benefits administration, compensation, and recruitment and selection policies. 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.

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What is human resource management?

SHRM Certified Professional 

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, which consists of 134 questions, with nine behavioral competencies and 14 functional areas. The exam 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 are not required to hold an HR title and do not need a degree or HR experience to apply. The SHRM-CP exam is designed to assess 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.

The SHRM’s Senior Certified Professional is considered an advanced credential for individuals (including SHRM-CPs) with at least three years of experience in strategic-level HR or HR-related duties. Candidates are not required to hold an HR title and do not need 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 deciding on an HR certification, 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 on average for first-time test-takers, according to the SHRM website. While sources vary, it’s been reported in one finding that studying for HRCI certification averages more than 60 hours. Of course, these estimates depend on your unique needs and studying habits.

Second, you should think about the career path you want to take. For example, pursuing a certificate program in human resource management (HRM) might make sense if you want to be an HR manager. For SHRM and HRCI, lower-level certifications do not require HR experience. The credentials may take less time to complete and may offer more immediate salary or promotional benefits.

Although the SHRM has operated longer, organizations value an HRCI certification as well. This is because the HRCI implements a different set of requirements for its certifications, which 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

If you’re interested in becoming a human resource manager, University of Phoenix offers an online certificate and program that teaches skills necessary for helping businesses find and retain the right workforce. Learn more here:


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