The HRCI PHR (Professional in Human Resources) exam, administered by the HR Certification Institute, tests one’s expertise in HR practices. The test specifically tests one’s ability to carry out HR practices in compliance with U.S. laws and regulations.

In order to take the PHR exam, one must have completed at least one year of experience in a professional-level HR position and hold a master’s degree or higher, completed at least two years of experience in a professional-level HR position and hold a bachelor’s degree, or have completed at least four years of experience in a professional HR position and hold a high school diploma or associate’s degree.

The PHR exam tests expertise in six content areas and each area is weighted differently:

• Business Management and Strategy (11%)
• Workforce Planning and Employment (24%)
• Human Resource Development (18%)
• Compensation and Benefits (19%)
• Employee and Labor Relations (20%)
• Risk Management (8%)

Test takers should be prepared to respond to 175 multiple-choice questions but only 150 questions will be graded (the other 25 questions are included as pre-test questions and may be used on future exams). Test takers have three hours to complete this computer-based exam, which must be taken at a participating testing center.

Notably, on each section of the exam, test takers are asked to respond to two types of questions: Under “responsibilities,” questions probe the test taker’s ability to carry out HR tasks. Under “knowledge,” questions probe the test taker’s broader understanding of federal laws and regulations that impact HR practices, as well as HR theories (e.g., theories of risk management or change management). For this reason, test takers require a combination of on-the-job experience and book-based knowledge to do well on the PHR exam.

Below, you’ll find an outline of the content you can expect to encounter on the PHR exam’s six content areas and tips on how best to prepare for this challenging exam that certifies that you are an HR professional who holds mastery in both the technical and operational practices of HR management.

Content Area 1: Business Management and Strategy

Accounting for 11% of the exam, the first content area focuses on business planning, change management and approaches to measuring operational effectiveness. Like all sections of the exam, be prepared to respond to both responsibility and knowledge questions. Among other topics, you can expect to come across questions that probe your knowledge of the following issues:


• How to interpret and apply information related to the organization’s operations from internal sources (i.e., financial or marketing documents) in order to support the organization’s strategic plan
• How to develop, influence, and realize strategies for change management that take employees and other stakeholders’ needs into account
• How to provide data (e.g., on human capital projections)


• Legislative and regulatory processes
• Strategic planning processes
• Management functions, including planning, organizing, directing, and controlling
• Business concepts (e.g., competitive advantage or organizational branding)

Content Area 2: Workforce Planning and Employment

Content area 2, which is the most heavily weighted area on the PHR exam, addresses issues connected to the recruitment, onboarding and retention of employees, as well as related issues, including succession and exit planning. Specific questions include but are not limited to:


• How to identify workforce requirements to achieve the organization’s short- and long-term goals and objectives
• How to identify, review, document, and update essential job functions for positions
• How to influence and establish criteria for hiring
• How to brand and market the organization to attract new talent


• Voluntary and involuntary terminations, downsizing, restructuring, and outplacement strategies and practices
• Internal workforce assessment techniques (e.g., skills testing)
• Employment policies, practices, and procedures (e.g., orientations, onboarding, and retention)

Content Area 3: Human Resource Development

The third content area on the exam focuses on HR development (e.g., evaluating employee training programs and performance appraisal). Specific topics on this part of the PHR exam include but are not restricted to:


• How to ensure that human resources development activities are compliant with all federal laws and regulations
• How to develop, select and implement employee training programs to increase individual and organizational effectiveness.
• How to develop, select, and evaluate performance appraisal processes to increase individual and organizational effectiveness.


• Applicable federal laws and regulations related to human resources development activities (e.g., Title VII and ADA)
• Career development and leadership development theories and applications (e.g., succession planning)
• Organizational development theories and applications

Content Area 4: Compensation and Benefits

The fourth content area focuses on the increasingly complex area of compensation and benefits and more specifically, on how to implement compensation and benefits programs that meet organizational financial goals and broader values (e.g., diversity commitments). Specific questions include:


• How to manage payroll-related information (e.g., new hires, adjustments, terminations).
• How to manage outsourced compensation and benefits components (e.g., COBRA administration)
• How to develop, select, implement, administer, update and evaluate benefit programs (e.g., health, wellness, or retirement programs)


• Applicable federal laws and regulations related to compensation, benefits, and tax
• Budgeting and accounting practices related to compensation and benefits
• Job pricing and pay structures

Content Area 5: Employee and Labor Relations

The fifth and second most heavily weighted content area on the PHR exam focuses on employee and labor relations. On this part of the exam be prepared to respond to questions that probe your knowledge of labor relations. Among other topics, you’ll need to be well aware of federal labor laws and methods for responding to both employee violations and complaints. Specific questions may focus on any of the following topics:


• How to assess the organizational climate by obtaining employee input (e.g., staff meetings)
• How to develop and implement employee relations programs (e.g., recognition or diversity programs)
• How to evaluate the effectiveness of employee relations programs through the use of metrics (e.g., exit interviews, employee surveys, turnover rates).
• How to establish, update, and communicate workplace policies and procedures


• Applicable federal laws affecting employment in unionized and nonunionized environments
• Individual employment rights issues and practices
• Workplace behavior issues and practices (e.g., absenteeism)
• The collective bargaining process, strategies, and concepts (e.g., contract negotiation)
• Legal termination procedures

Content Area 6: Risk Management

The final and least heavily weighted section of the PHR exam focuses on risk management. While only worth 8% of the exam, risk management is an increasingly important part of HR work. Among other topics, be prepared to respond to questions on the following topics:


• How to ensure that workplace health, safety, security and privacy activities are compliant with applicable federal laws and regulations
• How to conduct a needs analysis of organizational safety requirements
• How to develop an emergency response plan
• How to communicate and train the workforce on security plans and policies
• How to train the workforce on disaster recovery plans.


• Workplace safety, health and security enforcement agencies
• Workplace security risks (e.g., theft, corporate espionage, sabotage)
• Violent behavior and workplace violence conditions
• Employer/employee rights related to substance abuse
• Data integrity techniques and technology (e.g., data sharing)
• Financial management practices (e.g., procurement policies, credit card policies and guidelines, and expense account policies)

Try out Pocket Prep’s HRCI PHR exam prep app and study in conjunction with the referenced textbook!

PHR / SPHR Professional in Human Resources Certification Deluxe Study Guide