Do you recommend getting a PHR/SPHR certification?
July 20, 2013 3:39 PM   Subscribe

Where I work, no one has a PHR/SPHR. I don't know enough HR professionals (or, more importantly, non-HR types who hire HR professionals) to determine whether it makes sense to pay this kind of money to get the PHR/SPHR certification, in general. Advice is welcome from anyone who has either data or anecdotes.

In the last five years, exactly one job announcement at my employer even mentioned the PHR/SPHR, and it was posted by a very recent external management hire with DOD experience (the DOD is really enthusiastic about certifications.)

Obviously, the folks at SHRM and HRCI are very pro-certification as well. I'd like some real-world input, from other government agencies as well as the private and non-profit sectors.

My current level of experience, BTW, definitely qualifies me for the PHR, and I'm just there on the SPHR (I have the BA and 5.3 years.) I'm trying to get into an area of HR strategic management (HR as a business partner, not just an office in charge of avoiding being sued;) I'm really good at compliance/benefits/HRIS stuff, am getting better at training/development, and am trying to expand my recruitment/hiring opportunities in my current position. Which is to say: no, I'm not planning to be a technician type for life. I have a slight interest in being a consultant. My only major weakness for the exam content is occupational health/safety stuff.

I did ask my manager - her position is "it couldn't hurt." She confirmed for me that no one else in our agency (10k employees) has asked for a PHR in job postings.

The fees wouldn't be an "oh crap I have to eat ramen for two months" kind of burden for me, I'm just... really wondering why it costs twice as much as, for instance, the already suspiciously-high fees to take the GMAT, and three times the cost as the LSAT - and it's a 100% multiple-choice test. I know some people think it's a bit of a scam, hence the search for more input.
posted by SMPA to Work & Money (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Check your memail.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:55 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great question. I have an SPHR.

Just to give some context, I sorta fell into my work, never had the goal of doing the type of work I do, it just happened. For 15+ years I've held HR and Finance positions for small businesses and non-profits. Working in small businesses, beginning with a startup, I moved up pretty fast from entry level to more strategic/director level work.

Getting an SPHR was definitely not originally on my radar, (nor was being an HR professional, so you're much more directed than I was) but my second job doing HR, I took a Director of HR position where they encouraged and paid for it, so I figured "sure!" So one question I have for you is whether your current employer (which sounds pretty large) has any professional development funding that could help pay for work-related training.

In my experience, the main things I gained from SPHR were:
+ The studying/training gave me a greater context of understanding the HR field, so I knew the breadth and depth beyond just what I had learned on the job.
+ Because of the training for it, I had a sense of where to look if I needed more info -- I knew what I didn't know, so to speak. If I'd memorized info about X for the test and promptly forgot it, at least I had it in my brain that there was an issue related to X, so if it came up in the future, I could go online and find the details later if I needed it.
+ Confidence and authority when applying to jobs and in the workplace. Like you, I've found few jobs *require* PHR/SPHR (why that's the case is another question) but having SPHR at the top of my resume gives a signal to others that I'm serious about the field. Within the workplace, the fact that I have a certification provides me with a stamp of approval and confirms that I'm a legitimate authority in this area.
+ The CEUs require I continue to learn. It's a little annoying having to do the CEUs every 3 years (and to the extent that $$ is an issue, you should consider the recertification requirements as an ongoing use of your time and money), but it does mean I stay on top of the latest developments.
+ A national perspective. This may be less relevant for you, depending on where your work has focused, but for me, coming from California, I had a lot of California-specific info, so after the studying and exam I had a better sense of the full picture, and just how different CA was from the national picture. (They now have a CA-specific PHR, but they didn't at the time I took the test.)

I use SPHR after my name in my signature line, and lots of people, including my boss, have asked "what is that?" but it gives an indication that I take my work and the HR field seriously.

You didn't ask this specifically, but it's related to your question about cost. If you're going to bother taking the test, I suggest you consider some type of training software/books/courses geared directly towards the exam. They'll give you a sense of what you need to know so you can spit it back on the exam. I found it was really a "study these things and then regurgitate them" kind of test...though I took it 10+ years ago, so someone with more recent studying experience might have a different perspective.

If you're interested in going into that strategic partner role, my advice would be to not bother with the PHR, just wait until you meet the SPHR requirements and take the SPHR test. That way you have the "Senior" and strategic component on your resume for the rest of your career.

And, as to why the LSAT or GMAT, those don't seem like helpful comparisons. Those are not professional certifications, so I think that's comparing apples and oranges. They don't provide you with verification that you've learned anything, which the SPHR does -- it tells your employer/co-workers/recruiter/client that you've mastered a body of knowledge. Plus, LSAT and GMAT are much more widely used, so issues associated with economies of scale play a role with respect to pricing.

Good luck!
posted by quinoa at 10:43 PM on July 20, 2013

I am currently in study mode for SPHR, so far I haven't had a job that it was required for but it is becoming popular in the industry. More and more job postings say "PHR/SPHR preferred" and even though I don't actually need it to do the job I'd like to have the leg up by meeting that qualification. 10 years ago NO ONE knew what PHR/SPHR meant, now they do.

Just like quinoa I feel like the studying has given me a much larger breadth of knowledge about my chosen career path and I've already used things I've learned from studying in my job.

I also find that many people still don't really think of HR as a real thing that is separate from other admin style jobs. It very much has the stigma of thinking that anyone can do it so anyone with any administrative experience applies for HR jobs. By completing a nationally recognized certification program and putting the letters after my name I say, "I'm serious about this, I know what is involved and I can do this job well."

And yes, go straight to SPHR if you can, don't bother with PHR.
posted by magnetsphere at 8:02 AM on July 24, 2013

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