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SHRM vs. HRCI: Which Certification Is Best for You?

February 4, 2020
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Looking to boost your HR job cred? Over a third of HR professionals have a certification to their name. Director level and above, half do. But unlike other fields, HR doesn’t just have one generally accepted track.

Today, there are two major players in HR certification: The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and the HR Certification Institute (HRCI). For decades, the two organizations were one. When SHRM decided to start its own series of certifications in 2014, they split.

The breakup put aspiring HR leaders in a bind. Both SHRM and HRCI offer junior and senior-level certifications, each with their own requirements and fees. If you’re weighing your options, here’s what you need to know.

HRCI Certifications

HRCI manages the HR profession’s longest-standing certification program. The Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification has existed since 1976 and for decades was the industry’s only option.

Since parting ways with SHRM, HRCI has added a variety of other certifications, tailored by skillset and geography. The organization even offers a certification for those with experience in California, arguably the state with the most complex compliance requirements. Here’s the full list of offerings:

  • Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR)
  • Professional in Human Resources (PHR)
  • Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)
  • Professional in Human Resources - California (PHRca)
  • Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR)
  • Professional in Human Resources - International (PHRi)
  • Senior Professional in Human Resources - International (SPHRi)

Each of these certifications come with their own requirements, so we’ll cover the two big ones: the PHR and SPHR. After paying the $100 application fee and a separate exam fee, you’ll need to pass a three-hour exam. The exam fee for the PHR and SPHR is $395 and $495, respectively. While both exams cover topics like employee relations, talent acquisition, and compliance, the SPHR focuses heavily on leadership and strategy. The pass rates for both are just under 60%.

In addition to passing an exam, you need a certain amount of HR experience to qualify for the PHR and SPHR. These minimums vary depending on your education and the specific certification you’re applying for.

PHR Required Experience

  • No bachelor’s degree: 4 years
  • Bachelor’s degree: 2 years
  • Graduate degree: 1 year

SPHR Required Experience

  • No bachelor’s degree: 7 years
  • Bachelor’s degree: 5 years
  • Graduate degree: 4 years

HRCI certifications need to be renewed every three years. Before that time elapses, you’ll need to either retake the exam or earn 60 recertification credits. These can be earned by attending events, webinars, and other HRCI-sanctioned programs. The rule of thumb is that an hour-long webinar equates to one recertification credit.

Here’s one caveat: If you’re renewing your SPHR certification, at least 15 of those credits have to come from content relating to business management or strategy. That same rule applies to HRCI’s more specialized certifications. To renew your PHRca, for example, you’ll need to register for talks, panels, and webinars that relate to California. 

SHRM Certifications

SHRM is an international HR powerhouse. Founded in 1948, the organization boasts over 300,000 members across 165 countries. In addition to administering its certification program, SHRM regularly holds blockbuster conferences and lobbies on HR’s behalf on Capitol Hill. Although headquartered in Virginia, the organization has hundreds of local chapters around the world.

Choosing a SHRM certification is a bit easier since there are just two: the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP. The two abbreviations stand for “certified professional” and “senior certified professional,” respectively. Both certifications require you to pass a four-hour exam and pay a fee ranging from $300 to $475, depending on when you register and if you’re a paying SHRM member. Last year’s pass rates were 70% for the SHRM-CP and 53% for the SHRM-SCP.

To qualify for either exam, you’ll need a certain amount of experience. This minimum varies depending on your education. If your degree or equivalent isn’t related to HR, tack on an additional year. The experience requirements are below: 

SHRM-CP Required Experience

  • No bachelor’s degree: 3-4 years
  • Bachelor’s degree: 1-2 years
  • Graduate degree: 0-1 year

SHRM-SCP Required Experience

  • No bachelor’s degree: 6-7 years
  • Bachelor’s degree: 4-5 years
  • Graduate degree: 3-4 years

SHRM certifications are valid for three years. To renew your status, you’ll need to either retake the exam or earn 60 “professional development credits” (PDCs). These credits can be earned by attending SHRM-certified conferences, events, and webinars. Generally, an hour-long session is worth one credit. If you’re falling behind, SHRM’s annual expo is a great place to catch up — last year’s event was worth a whopping 27 PDCs.


So which should you choose? Survey data shows that there’s no clear favorite among HR professionals — 16% and 15% are PHR and SHRM-CP certified, respectively. That level of parity is surprising given that SHRM only started offering its certifications in 2014. Choosing between certifications is purely a matter of preference.

Whether you’re on team SHRM or HRCI, you’ll need to keep your certification up to date. Lattice regularly hosts certified webinars, panels, and in-person workshops to help you do just that. Register for our upcoming Resources for Humans Virtual Conference and earn up to six SHRM credits.