Topic 1: Difference Between SHRM-CP and PHR Exams

Susan is an HR expert and consultant who worked with us on a three-part interview series. In Part 1, we talk about the differences between the PHR and SHRM-CP exams.

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

Pocket Prep · SHRM-CP vs PHR with Susan Snipes

Key points we cover:

  • What’s the difference between the SHRM CP and the PHR and their respective governing bodies?
  • Which certification is best for someone just starting out?
  • Is one of the certifications more focused or suited to analytics than the other?
  • Is there one key deciding factor when picking one of these certifications?
Scale weighing the difference between PHR and SHRM.

Full Transcript:

Alyson: [00:00:01] So there are a lot of HR certifications that are available to people, but how do you know which one to get? Like most things, HR is not a one size fits all approach. I’m joined today by Susan Snipes, who’s an experienced, certified HR and compliance professional and has provided HR and compliance strategies to companies across a wide variety of industries.

She’s a published writer who’s written multiple HR and business publications. She holds her master’s of science in HR Management and is both GPHR and SPHR certified. And if you want to learn more about Susan, you can do that on her website, which is employHR Today, Susan and I are going to be talking about the difference between the PHR and the SHRM-CP, which I believe is referred to as the ‘sherm’ CP. Is that right?

Susan: [00:00:45] That’s correct. Yeah. That is correct.

Alyson: [00:00:48] So first I would ask,  tell me about the difference between the two governing bodies for these certifications, the PHR and the SHRM CP.

Susan: [00:00:57] So one of the biggest differences is that the HR Certification Institute, which offers the PHR certification, has been around offering HR certifications much longer than the Society for Human Resources Management, which offers the SHRM- CP. Believe it or not, HRCI has been credentialing human resources professionals for over 45 years.

Alyson: [00:01:22] Okay.

Susan: [00:01:22] SHRM did not start credentialing HR professionals until 2014, and in 2014 SHRM grandfathered in SHRM members who had an existing PHR or SPHR certificate and automatically awarded them SHRM certificates. I remember this because I had my PHR certification, and I think my SPHR certification as well at that point.

And I remember that I was effectively gifted like, hey, we helped prepare you for HRCI tests for, you know, decades. And we’ve offered our test prep alternatives to HRCI, we’ve partnered with them. If you have your PHR or your SPHR, then you definitely qualify for any of these SHRM certifications that correspond to either the SPHR or the PHR. So that was pretty cool. As you’ll notice, I don’t have the SHRM certification after my name because I let it lapse because there are two separate buckets that you have to constantly remember to maintain.

And honestly, I didn’t think it was necessary to have both, but we’ll go more into that a bit later on, I believe, if that’s correct. Alyson, one other major difference that I will point out is that SHRM has spent so much more on advertising than HRCI, apparently. Like, this is my observation. Right? Because when you’re driving to work in the morning or you’re trying to listen to the news on your, you know, your home streaming device and oh, here comes SHRM. Like, I’ve never heard an HRCI advertisement ever. I don’t even think that it pops up in my email, website, like social media, anything like that. But SHRM is all over the place. Their advertising team is like on point. They’re everywhere.

So even professionals, even people who don’t know anything about HR may have heard of SHRM. And so maybe you think of SHRM as just completely synonymous with human resources as a profession. And they’ve also been, you know, providing a ton of resources to HR professionals for a long, long time. Their website, if you look at the certifications, they are showing that even though they haven’t been around very long, SHRM certifications, according to SHRM, now account for 85% of all HR certifications globally.

Alyson: [00:04:10] That’s a lot. Power of advertising.

Susan: [00:04:12] Yes. They have some kind of sound strategy going on there. So I know I kind of went off there for a minute, but getting to my point, HRCI is more well established and potentially, you know, better respected by experienced HR professionals who sat through and passed their very challenging PHR SPHR exams, while SHRM is more popularized. So employers and HR professionals, they’re more likely to have heard of the certifications. It’s more likely to speak for itself because they do such a good job of advertising themselves.

Alyson: [00:04:55] Yeah, that makes sense.

Susan: [00:04:57] And I will say that the HRCI and SHRM, that both bodies, they charge about the same for their certifications. So from that perspective, yeah, from that perspective, it’s not like, you know, you’re going to spend a ton more with one or the other. Now I’m not assigning a value to this, but SHRM does have a much lower bar for entry, possibly, this is just speculatory here, but I think it would be a really sound business choice to increase sales revenue by making the exam more accessible to more people. And so they have a very low bar for entry. The SHRM-CP, for example, requires no prior experience or education.

This means that. Yeah so unlike the, you know, the PHR, SPHR,  the HR Certification Institute they have criteria that’s in place prior so that when you’re taking that test and you pass it, not only do you know that, hey, you passed this test, you have this knowledge base, but you can’t even get this unless you have X, Y, Z beforehand. And so it comes with a little more weight in terms of what you’re bringing to the table versus SHRM, which the good thing about SHRM is that they are helping people who are aspiring HR professionals who want to get into the industry. They’re giving them a way in. You know, they’re giving them that opportunity to show, Hey, I know a lot. I haven’t done a lot, but I do know a lot and I want to do a lot.

Susan: [00:06:34] So for example, someone with a SHRM-CP certificate, they may not have the practical hands-on skills or firsthand knowledge. You can’t assume that by saying that they have that certification. On the other hand, with the PHR, you do have to have at least one year of experience in professional-level HR. And you do need a master’s degree or higher or at least two years of experience in a professional-level HR position and a bachelor’s degree or at least four years of experience in a professional position.

So they give you a few different ways to be eligible to sit for it, but they all require some kind of practical, hands on experience.  A PHR definitely holds more weight in that sense. But again, it’s really nice that the SPH like, that the SHRM-CP executives, you know, they don’t know that you may be a little more credible with an HRCI certification, not unless they are like a Chief Human Resources officer, right? Most CEOs, they’re not going to know that. They’re going to know, hey, I’ve seen commercials for SHRM.

Alyson: Yeah. So back to advertising.

Susan: Yeah, so it just depends on who’s doing the hiring. And again, it’s really nice that SHRM gives aspiring HR professionals a foot in the door. A way in. Right. So to two solid benefits there. Yeah.

Alyson: [00:08:00] So well you’ve basically answered my next question and that was kind of about we’ve. No, no that’s good. We’ve talked about, like the differences between the two certifications, which there are many and certainly the difference in like one’s been around for so long one hasn’t. So between the two you’ve kind of already said which one being more suited for someone who’s starting out. It sounds like, it would be the SHRM-CP is sort of better for someone who is less experienced in the field. Is that fair to say?

Susan: [00:08:27] I think it’s perfect if you don’t have experience or maybe you work in another country, maybe you’re not familiar with the US, but you have HR experience, you know, elsewhere and you’re wanting to grow your knowledge of US-specific HR. That’s another great thing. So yeah, I would say if you’re just starting out, that SHRM is a great way to get your foot in the door of human resources as a profession.

Alyson: [00:08:52] That makes sense. So one thing that I know probably across all businesses people are looking at are performance analytics. So between the SHRM CP and the PHR. Is one of them more focused on analytics? Are they the same when it comes to HR performance analytics? How does that kind of break down?

Susan: [00:09:08] I hate to bring this up again, but it’s true from a marketing perspective. SHRM does a better job of positioning its exam as being focused on analytics because they call out analytics as one of their focus areas. They clearly list out all of the different analytics topics that are covered in one place under their business behavioral competencies

HRCI covers the exact same topics and tests the same knowledge, but their analytics information is covered in each separate HR functional area. So at first glance you might think that the SHRM-CP is better for analytics. However, that likely is not the case. I’m going to ask you a question, Alyson. I would ask you if you were to say, imagine that you were in human resources, what do you think you would use? Do you feel like you would use analytics in recruiting?

Alyson: [00:10:08] That’s a hard question.

Susan: [00:10:12] Recruiting, onboarding, performance.

Alyson: [00:10:15] How do you apply numbers to people? We know that’s always difficult, but especially in the air space of like, are you just looking at performance? Are you looking at company health? Is it a thing where people I know I worked at places where we were asked to fill out a survey at the end of each week of like, how are you doing? And they use that as data to kind of determine…

Susan: Yeah that’s analytics

Alyson: It’s absolutely analytics. And so they, they, you know, they’re trying to use that to determine how is everybody doing, how are we doing overall? But that’s really hard to do.

Susan: [00:10:44] Do you think, well, based on what you just said, do you think that we in HR, probably it’s probably safe to say we use analytics in absolutely every single functional area?

Alyson: [00:10:56] Oh for sure. Absolutely. Yeah. I think they’re just, I mean, especially as someone who is in a non HR role and I’ve never worked in HR analytics in my mind are very, I think about the word and the term analytics very differently I think, than someone who is in the HR profession would think about that. Our company, we’re looking at app usage and pass rates and how are people doing on their exams when they study and all of that jazz, which is…

Susan: [00:11:22] Customer feedback analytics, but it’s the same principles applied to human resources. It’s the same principles. In some cases, it’s the same tools someone in marketing or sales might use Survey Monkey or customer support. We might use it to, you know, it’s the same, the math is the same. So it’s really just, I promise there’s a point. I promise. HRCI, it’s incorporating the analytics in every functional area, which, I mean, that’s how I use it. I use analytics in everything and I use, you know, just like in imagine the HR technology that we use and how all the modules are interconnected. So again, they both cover the same stuff. So you will gain the knowledge whichever test you take. But I do feel like it’s a little more practical to learn the analytics as it relates to each functional area. Personally.

Alyson: [00:12:24] Yea. So if someone, if someone is coming to you for advice in HR, you know, depending on where they are, is there one key deciding factor between these two certifications? Are there multiple? And again, we started this by talking about it’s not a one size fit all. So certainly that factors in here too. It really depends on who someone is, what they’re looking for, where they’re going, but what are sort of those things that you would tell someone to look for? Hey, this is what you should consider when you’re looking at these certifications.

Susan: [00:12:50] Absolutely. 100% agree with you. It is definitely not a one size fit all. And I would say to my fellow HRians out there, aspiring HRians, commensurate professionals, think about where you are in your career and whether or not you meet the minimum qualifications to sit for the PHR.

If you are new to HR or entry-level, I really highly recommend the SHRM-CP. I think that makes a lot of sense. And you should also consider who’s most likely to be hiring for your next role. If it’s someone who’s never heard of HRCI but has seen all of those super successful, dynamic SHRM commercials, perhaps the global popularity of SHRM certifications is actually more valuable because we know in HR especially, perception is reality. We know this, we have this drilled into us. Perception is reality. It doesn’t matter how great a job you’re doing if nobody perceives it that way. We need to make sure that our customers at the company, they feel it. They feel the love, they know what we’re doing. So it’s the same for this. If we have means and motivation, if you really are one to just go above and beyond, I say go ahead and get both. I’m honestly contemplating sitting  for the SHRM certification, for the advanced level, just because I want the SEO  juice, honestly.

Alyson: [00:14:27] That’s fair.

Susan: [00:14:28] I want to be searchable for SHRM, for the SHRM certification because they do such a gosh darn good job of advertising. So if you get both certifications, you will not only impress the HR smarty pants out there, but you will also impress people who are just so familiar with SHRM. I think both certifications are great and I think it shows that you not only have the experience education and you also have the extreme drive and you are a sick, sick overachiever who will not stop learning, and you’re relentless in your pursuit for knowledge if you get both. So if you can, go for it! If not, get the one that makes the most sense for your specific career goals.

Alyson: [00:15:17] Yep. I liked your term of HRians and there are many of them out there, so hopefully this is helpful. So thank you so much. Thank you so much for providing this insight. I think this is a great way to talk about these two different certifications. And next time we’re talking about something that is very, very related to this is how to get your company to pay for an HR certification. So thank you so much for your time and I look forward to our next conversation.

Susan: [00:15:41] Thank you, Alyson.