Topic 2: Getting Your Certification Paid For

Susan is an HR expert and consultant who worked with us on a three-part interview series. In this segment, we talk about the information you need to convince your employer to pay for your important HR certification.

Listen to the full audio recording or read our edited transcript below. 

Pocket Prep · Getting Your HR Certification Paid For with Susan Snipes

Key points we cover:

  • Can you really measure the ROI of a certification?
  • 5 things you need to validate your HR certification to an employer

Full Transcript:

Alyson: [00:00] So, no matter what kind of certification you’re getting, planning out how to pay for one is usually the first thing people do. Certifications are expensive and they require a lot of preparation and effort. Depending on your industry, you might even be able to get your company to pay for a certification.

Today, I’m joined by Susan Snipes, and we’re going to discuss how to get your HR certification paid for. So, the first thing any boss is gonna ask when someone comes in and says, “Hey, pay for X, Y, and Z,” is they’ll want to know about the ROI for said certification. But is that something that we can even answer for an HR certification? Obviously, for any certification, it’s complicated, but specifically for HR, how can you answer that?

Susan: [00:44] That is a fair question, Alyson. As you would expect, the answer’s a bit tricky. Yes, you can measure the ROI of obtaining an HR certification, but you don’t need to, and you probably shouldn’t.

Alyson: [01:00] Okay.

Susan: [01:01] Stay with me here.

Alyson: [01:02] Okay.

Susan: [01:03] I say this because the main measurable outcome of obtaining an HR certification is qualifying for a specific job that requires the certification. Since that benefits you, the HR professional, and not the employer, it’s best not to focus on the certification itself when you’re explaining the ROI.

Alyson: [01:25] Okay.

Susan: [01:26] Instead, create a plan to apply the knowledge you obtain from studying for the certification to solve a specific problem for your employer. The ROI Institute published a paper that I enjoyed reading that covered the five elements of a successful HR ROI demonstration, and I think it was published a while ago, but I found it really fascinating that it was out there and that the concept seemed really relevant even today. So, I wanted to share these with you. To show the ROI of your HR project, you need an evaluation framework. What are the criteria for success? What data will be gathered and analyzed, and how will it be collected? We need to be able to explain this.

Susan: [02:22] That gives validity to what you’re doing because they can say, “Oh yeah, okay, that’s a good source of information.” Two, you need a process model. You should be able to show your boss step-by-step how you plan to calculate the ROI. How will you be able to isolate the effects of your HR project from other factors that could impact the results? This one-off isolated HR project, does it pay off monetarily, like decreased hiring costs, for example, or non-monetarily, like improved average performance review scores. Be able to show proof of concept, right? That’s what that is. The process model, proof of concept, and a set of operating standards. Show that you have strict criteria for what data is used and how it is gathered and analyzed, and that will lend credibility to your HR project.

Alyson: [03:19] Okay.

Susan: [03:21] Number four, project implementation resources that address roles, rules and responsibilities. If this sounds a little intimidating, like project management stuff, okay, but it’s not that complicated. It’s just, you know, alright, so for this, I’ve got the generalist handling this part of the project. I’ve got Jerry and IT handling this part of the project. It’s showing what they are doing, what are they responsible for? You’ll include that in your summary.

And five, an example of a successful case study. So you show your proof of concept on a much smaller scale, which we alluded to in one of the previous steps. So say with just one piece of a certification, like the study knowledge that you’ve already obtained, like just the knowledge you’ve obtained from studying. So within, shameless plug here, but with Pocket Prep, for example, you’re studying for the test, and you’re learning as you study.

Susan: [04:27] So even though you haven’t sat for the exam yet, you can access affordable information out there that will prepare you with enough knowledge to say, “Hey, this is the kind of thing that this test will teach me. And I learned it just from studying. Imagine how much more I will know from really having to meet the criteria to pass this test.” And so, you use that for your proof of concept and say, “Hey, I could not have reduced hiring costs if it weren’t for this one thing I learned from just starting to study for this.” So we can show that we will reduce hiring costs over a period of three months by 5%, 10%, and you can clearly tie it to that and show causality, meaning that A caused B.

Alyson: [05:18] Right, right. No, that makes a lot of sense. And I think something that you said earlier, maybe thinking about instead of walking up to your employer and saying, “Hey, pay for this certification,” starting with, “I’m seeing this as an issue, or an area of improvement for our company, I think I could tackle that. I think the tools I need to do that are probably getting the certification.” So theoretically, once you can “prove” or at least provide, you know, as you were saying, those use cases for why it’s important, what is the type of information or what additional information should you present to your employer when you’re just trying to get that certification paid for? Because again they’re expensive.

Susan: [06:00] Well, I’m gonna lean back into ROI and also just like, I don’t know, money in, money out, plain business, common sense of, “Hey, if the certification you’re obtaining, if the cost of that is less than the expected ROI, hey, it’s a pretty easy sell.”

Alyson: [06:21] Absolutely.

Susan: [06:23] We got more money coming in than we do going out like it’s a net gain. It’s what I say about having my children. It’s a net gain.


Susan: [06:33] The main hurdles at that point are getting in front of the decision maker and delivering your pitch in their preferred format.

Alyson: [06:42] Oh yep. Yep.

Susan: [06:43] So that’s the sort of main hurdle that you have to get over. I know not everybody who’s an HR loves writing. Not everybody is super great with PowerPoint or making a video. And more than that, the area in which you’re great and feel comfortable presenting, whether it’s verbally or visually, might not align with your audience’s preferred method. So yeah, you could have a VP of finance who needs to see the bottom line monetary benefit on page one, followed by an extremely detailed project plan and supporting research because they question everything and followed by your small case study results versus, say, a CEO who is like, “Oh, come on, fast, fast. Get in, get out. Be quick, be smart, be gone, be quick, be smart, be gone.”

Alyson: [07:35] Yep.

Susan: [07:40] And they may need to see lovely high-level charts and pictures of happy people, I don’t know, but they may need to see more of a presentation so that they get that good fuzzy gut feel feeling about what a great investment it is. So either way, you’re going to be stretching those sales muscles.

Alyson: [08:04] Yeah. But I definitely get what you’re saying. All of us face that in companies where you have a piece of information to present, but you have to tailor it sometimes really intensely depending on your audience. And I think knowing what that person wants to receive in their information gathering is a big part of that prep work. Another question that I think a lot of employers are interested in, and this might sound a little gross, is whether certain certifications are going to earn you more money. And I guess that’s not as much of a concern for the employer but more for you as a person. We talked about this in an earlier conversation when we were comparing two certifications, and that’s certainly something that people factor in–Well, this certification may take longer, but later on in life, I’m gonna probably have a higher-paying job. What does that look like for the PHR versus the SPHR or SHRM? Are there major differences, or are there not major differences?

Susan: [09:02] The ultimate main things that obviously result in us being paid more because if you’re in human resources or just a heads up if you’re planning on going into human resources, the salary range for the exact same job responsibilities at different companies even in the same industry is just mind-boggling.


Susan: [09:34] Like how much… It really boils down to how much a company values your function.

Alyson: [09:42] Okay, yeah.

Susan: [09:44] Yeah. Yes, some of it is industry-specific. There are factors like if you’re in an industry like manufacturing or if HR is just crucial, right? It’s crucial because you’re helping with safety and workers comp, and you are helping employees navigate, oftentimes and English may be a second language, and you are helping employees who are maybe not the most tech-savvy depending on the type of manufacturing industry. You’re helping them just get through onboarding paperwork, and hiring is just constant. And you’re having to liaise with these staffing companies. HR is absolutely crucial, and you may find that you get a higher pay rate for an HR generalist role in the manufacturing industry than perhaps at a white-collar advertising firm.

Susan: [10:46] And that may surprise some people, but it just depends. And it depends on the job level too. Are you entry, are you senior, are you executive level? And so, those things are really gonna have more of an impact on how much you’re paid than the certification itself, except that there are so many people in HR; I would say there are more HR professionals right now than there are jobs to fill them. And that’s anecdotal just based on just seeing the sheer volume of HR candidates out there and HR calls.

Alyson: [11:22] Why do you think this is? I mean, why has it been such a giant boom, I mean, to be fair I do know several people who have left other, very recently like, “Oh, I stopped teaching and I want to go into HR,” but I’m curious what your thoughts are on that.

Susan: [11:35] Well, a lot of the gain in popularity, from my perspective, it has been through the hard work of organizations like SHRM and HR RCI that have really worked over the decades to show the value of the profession. We started off, gosh, back, you know, this does pre-date me a bit, a lot, but in the beginning, HR was like, you just fell into it. It was like you drew the short straw and you were in HR and they didn’t even call it HR. It was just like you were doing admin; you were doing office management admin, whatever they would call it. Now, a lot of times, there are different aspects of HR where you hear people ops, or…

Alyson: [12:26] Yeah. I hear that a lot. Like the Director of People.

Susan: [12:29] Yeah, it’s been glorified. It’s been brought up from its humble beginnings where it was just like, well, somebody’s gotta do it, and people didn’t value it, and it was very manual and task-driven, and it’s gotten to the point where it’s very much strategy driven. It’s exciting. A lot of the things we get to do, we make people’s lives better. I mean, I think more and more people are seeing the value of it, and if you look at colleges, more and more colleges have a variety of relevant HR degree programs. And so, combining that with, you know, you have these great certification options, it’s an exciting thing for people.

Susan: [13:11] And more and more people want to get into it; talk to someone who’s been working in it for quite a long time, but more and more people want to get into it. And I will also say that there is a little bit of turnover in HR.

Alyson: [13:23] Sure.

Susan: [13:23] You get in there, and you think you’re gonna change the world, and the world is like, “Nah, we’re good the way we are,” and you might get frustrated.

Alyson: [13:30] Yeah, yeah.

Susan: [13:31] And especially if you’re… Yeah. And so, you might move on to the next company. So you may see HR professionals with relatively short stints because they come in, they do absolutely everything they can do, they just knock it out of the park, and then they’re bored. They’re like, “Okay, well, what now?” So there’s some turnover there, and then sometimes you encounter the occasional bad actor. Maybe you work for a company, and there’s some unethical weird stuff going on that you want no part of, and you’re like, “I’m out.”

Alyson: [14:03] Yep. We’ve all seen that. [laughter]

Susan: [14:06] We have, okay, let’s be real. We’ve seen it. You have to decide for yourself. But I think those things, the turnover from whether it’s bad employers or just having already done everything you can do to someplace and wanting to make an impact at someplace else, or the fact that SHRM does such a great job of advertising and the profession has just come such a long way. So there are so many people going into it, and there are so many people already in it that I’m just seeing a lot of unemployed HR or aspiring HR people. And so, I promise there is a point, and my point is that getting these certifications sets you apart because when you’re trying to hire, and you know this if you’ve done any recruiting, you know if you’ve ever hired for a position and you have a high volume of people applying, you have to have some objective way of narrowing the field.

Susan: [15:05] It’s hard, and you know in your heart that maybe the best person for the job is highly teachable, and you could pay for them to get their certification, and you could get them there, but there’s already people that have that certification who are applying, and you’ve got to use something to whittle it down, so the degree, the certification. Yeah.

Alyson: [15:23] Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I wonder if it’s a situation where there are people in the industry because the industry has become in some ways better, more respected, more prestigious, and more opportunities, and it’s that elastic band thing of like the industry moved, the people moved, the people have moved too much, and the industry maybe hasn’t caught up quite enough yet. And maybe that’s something that we’ll see in the future of, sort of the shift in, okay, you drew the short straw, and you have to deal with the people. And now it’s like, oh, people wanna do this because it’s exciting and it’s interesting.

Susan: [15:54] Oh yeah, yeah. There’s gonna be more, there’s gonna be way more, you can see all these cool different job titles emerging. There’s gonna be so many more HR positions. HR is not even one of those areas that’s going to be taken over. If you look at what companies are planning on replacing with artificial intelligence solutions, the people-focused stuff that’s not it.

Alyson: [16:17]Yeah. That’s true.

Susan: [16:18] So you are insulating yourself right from losing your job to AI by being in HR. So, so many good reasons to get certified and get in there and be in this industry. But yeah, it’s hard. You got to set yourself apart.

Alyson: [16:31]Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I guess to kind of wrap up this conversation, I know we’ve gone a couple of places, all valuable, I think. For someone, again, thinking about those certifications, maybe it’s not financially possible to get them paid for, and they’re looking for employer assistance. Are there any final tips that you would give someone, like, here’s your cornerstone argument, or here’s the final piece of the puzzle of how you could potentially get your employer to pay for the certification?

Susan: [17:00] Oh, yes. We are problem solvers. I can tell you. We are problem solvers. And since, listeners, you’re in HR, why not recommend and implement an education assistance program as outlined by the IRS that pays non-taxable reimbursements for job-related certifications?

Alyson: [17:23] Ah-ha.

Susan: [17:24] Such a program can reduce your employer’s payroll tax liability and benefit all employees, including you.

Alyson: [17:33] Would it be fair to draw a similarity between that and when I know sometimes companies will reimburse for gym memberships or stuff like that to maybe lower some of their insurance costs? Is that a similar thing, or is that not similar at all?

Susan: [17:47] I mean, the only way I would say it’s similar is that it’s a big selling point that’s worth advertising and shouting from the rooftops when you’re recruiting people…

Alyson: [17:55] That’s a good one. Yeah.

Susan: [17:55] To say, “Hey, we will invest in you. You have a path with us. You’re not just coming here to work in this one position until you die. We’re going to invest in you and grow you, and we’re going to reimburse you for your education.” And because you are part of the organization, it applies to you too. You really need to be fair and consistent and apply it to everybody. So our HR is part of everybody, so go for it.

Alyson: [18:25] That makes a ton of sense. That makes a lot of sense. Well, thank you again. Thank you so much for your thoughts on this today. I really appreciate your insight. And next time we talk, I believe we are gonna be talking about how to take the information you learn on your test and apply it to your actual job. Because I know for most certifications, that’s definitely something that people ask us about a lot. And certainly, for people in various industries, you get a certification and sometimes it doesn’t always apply perfectly to your career and your job. So I’m looking forward to speaking with you about that next time.

Susan: [18:55] Likewise. Thank you, Alyson.

Alyson: [18:58] Thank you.