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Academic Research Suggests PHR/SPHR Not Required For Most HR Positions

Remember when I asked "What Are HR Certifications Worth?".  My conclusion after looking at a variety of factors was that it's valuable, but it would be nice to have some hard data to back it up.  Hello?  HRCI?  How about taking this project on?

What would the hard data be based on?  Compensation?  Career Advancement?Hr_certification_institute_big_2

A recent academic study tried to determine the impact of being certified by examining the Demand for Certified Human Resources Professionals in Internet-Based Job Announcements.  The study, chaired by Herman Aquinis at the University of Colorado at Denver, found weaker than expected demand for the PHR and SPHR in postings from 2005.

Here's the summary of the findings:

"We tested empirically whether potential employer require and/or prefer HR professionals who hold a HR Certification.  We analyzed each of the 1,873 HR job announcements available on Monster,  HotJobs, CareerBuilder and SHRM.  Results showed that only 9 (.48%) job announcements state their was a requirement and only 70 (3.73%) job announcements stated that there was a preference for job applicants with any type of HR certification.  In spite of low overall demand for certified HR professionals, results indicated that the demand is slightly higher for jobs posted on, certain job titles (HR Director, HR Generalist), HR specialty areas (employee relations, general HR), industries (manufacturing), and for jobs requiring more years of HR job experience.  Overall, results suggest that the field of HR needs to do a better job of gathering evidence about validity, utility, and a lack of adverse impact regarding the use of certification in selection and assessment decision making.  Once this evidence is collected, employers may perceive HR certification as a more critical signal of a job applicant's future contributions." 

Here's my take on the findings.  It's valuable to look at the demand for certified professionals in this way.  However, most ads for HR Coordinators and assistants aren't going to list certification as preferred.  The numbers still seem low, but it feels like the demand according to job posting criteria is higher than it was in 2005. 

Dr. Aquinis did the best with what he had access to.  Regardless if certification was listed as required or preferred in postings, here are the three big questions that need to be asked of hiring managers for the 1,873 open positions to determine the true worth of certification:

1. If all other factors (experience, knowledge, skills and abilities) are the same, would you be more likely to hire a HR professional that is certified?

2. Would you be likely to pay more for a candidate with certification than you would a similar candidate (see above factors) without certification? 

3. If yes to question #2, what percentage premium would you pay?

If the answer is yes to #1, the certification is worth the effort.  If the answer is yes to #1 and #2, the drive to certify is worth the effort many times over.

If the answer was "no" to all three, no one should be concerned with becoming certified. 

My take? I think the answer to #1 is a strong yes, with about 50% of the group that would hire a certified pro before an uncertified pro, also feeling like they would pay more (if they had the budget).

What percentage of a premium would that group pay?   

I don't know - how much are you worth?


Frank Giancola

It seldom comes down to two candidates who are equal in all respects, except certification.

Certification typically means you took a pre-course that told you the answers to the certfication test and you were able to remember the answers long enough to pass the test. Two months later, you have retained little of the test knowledge. If you didn't take the pre-course, that would mean the knowledge to pass the test was more permanent and would mean more.

To discerning hiring managers, certification means little.

Certification is pursued by people who did not study HR in college, went to inferior colleges, and work for second rate firms. They are under the delusion that it means something and hold it against people who are not certified.

Michael Haberman, SPHR

Well Frank, since you have not really defined what you mean by inferior colleges or second rate firms, I will hazard to say that your statement encompasses alot of people, probably far more than those that studied HR at superior colleges and work at TOP rate firms. The certification is an attempt by those of us of the "lessor" class to improve our education, learn more about our field, make ourselves more effective and productive for our second rate companies and thus make life better for a very large employee population.

As a consultant, with a degree in HR (albeit from a "second-rate" university), with my certification, I am an instructor that teaches a class to help people prepare for the test. However, in our program, we are careful to not teach to the test. We teach HR and expose people to the broad base of HR that many don't get in their second-rate positions in their second-rate firms.

Does the certification make a difference. Here in Atlanta it does. (Apparently we don't have many discering hiring managers here). Does it get you a job in and of itself? Nope, you still need to have the experience I need and fit in with the organization. Does it show me you are trying to be the kind of professional I want? Yes it does, and thus may tip the scale in your favor, even over some missing experience.

Not all of us have the ability to be at Frank's level, but the rest of us try as best we can.

Frank Giancola

I did receive my SPHR certification and believe that the material on the test was adequately covered in the basic HR management course I taught at local colleges, as did the author of the HR text I used who also was certified.

I did not feel that I was an "elite" HR candidate, so I pursued the certification, which to my knowledge hasn't impressed any of my employers.

Michael Haberman

Indeed Frank, the material in an HR text or course will cover the material in the certification material... it is the body of knowledge of HR. However, it is in more condensed form for those wishing to advance in their field, yet don't have the time to pursue a college degree and all the extras that go eith that. As far as your employers not being impressed.. well there are many, many employers who do not value HR at all in any form any more than they value the file cabinet. But there are companies out there that do value it and not only make the opportunity available to their HR staff, they encourage them to pursue it and reward them for doing so.

Ann Bares

Following your logic, it would seem that few degrees or certifications are of value - since so many of them (when you boil them down) involve learning material and remembering it long enough to pass a test. Or write a convincing paper.

I draw a parallel to the CCP certification that WorldatWork offers its professionals. I am not, personally, a CCP (although I have taken most of the coursework - but that is another long story) - I have attempted to gain the knowledge I need of compensation through other paths. But, and I say this very much in the present as I am looking to expand my own team, I would definitely prefer a certified professional, all other things being equal. The certification prep and test ensures that someone has exposure to the principles and practices of the profession, which is worth something to me. How does it balance out against experience in the field, advanced degrees, voracious business reading, etc. - that is a subjective, candidate-by-candidate call. As are the life circumstances that might allow one individual to be educated at a superior school and another to have to scrape by earning their degree or certification after hours (and on top of a full-time job) at an less-than-superior institution. As someone with blue-collar roots, I have particular appreciation for those whose only choice is the latter.

Michael Haberman

There may be several reasons that ads don't list the desire for credentials:
1. Many HR positions, i.e., assistants, coordinators, etc. don't qualify for credentials to begin with. The same way many junior accountants don't require CPAs.
2. The profession has not done a very good job of making people, even HR people, certainly not business executives aware of what PHR and SPHR mean let alone what it takes to get the certification. Part of the problem is that HR can't decide to stay HR. In some companies it is People Resources, People Service, Personnel, Employee Relations, etc. You don't see the Marketing department calling itself the Dept of Advertising and Sales Resources, or the sales department being the Department of Customer Obfuscation, etc. We need to get our act together and decide what we are called and quit getting cutsie with the names.
3. Certification is associated with SHRM, a "professional" organization. Since many so-called HR people enter the profession through the backdoor so to speak not all know what SHRM is, let alone belong to it. Well if you aren't getting the literature you are going to know.
4. And lastly, as I alluded into in one of the posts to Frank, many companies don't give a rats behind about how good their HR is. Afterall how good do you have to be to hold the position of "keeper of the files'?

The Career Encourager

>>>"Certification is pursued by people who did not study HR in college, went to inferior colleges, and work for second rate firms. They are under the delusion that it means something and hold it against people who are not certified."<<<<

Ouch, Frank! As as hillbilly kid with a degree in Theology from a 2nd (or 5th, or 6th...) rate institution I don't like the idea of adding "delusional" to my list of shortcomings. I'd hate for some entry level person with a similar background as mine to read this string and start to think that without an Ivy League sheepskin she cannot make it at first rate firms and have a great career in HR, so it seems like it's time for some "career encouragement" on this one....

I pursued certification because I had an interest in HR and apparently some talent as well. Thanks to hard work, continuing education and some terrific mentors (read: people who looked past my second rate upbringing and saw my potential) I have had a great ride in HR. I have no delusions that SPHR behind my name takes the place of producing good work for my clients, and I would never hold lack of certification against a smart, competent professional with a great track record... and great interpersonal skills!

Some additional thoughts on the dialogue to date:

1) I really like this posting. Kris asks an interesting question, reviews some evidence from research,and adds value by offering a critique on how the data was collected and summarized. I am in agreement with him that most ads for entry level HR opportunities aren't going list certification as a requirement and that probably skews the results a bit.

2) From a developmental perspective, I would NEVER discourage anyone from pursuing further industry or functional education of any type. Whether you read the info, or put yourself in a class environment to interact with peers, the decision to pursue learning says that you are open to change and growth. Even if your employer doesn't think the certification is necessary, the process of doing it will increase your knowledge and will likely boost your confidence as well. Don't we all need all the confidence we can get in today's crazy workplace?

3) Like Mr. Haberman, I also teach students who are prepping for the certification tests and I completely agree with his comments that we teach much more broadly than just "to the test." We don't get paid very much, so believe me, we teach these classes because we care about helping people become better professionals and have better careers. Ask any student in my class - I demand that they think, not just "check boxes."

4) Frank points out an obvious truth when he says that at the end of the day, certification will not help a mediocre candidate sneak past a "discerning hiring manager" and get the job over a stellar candidate. But I think it's also important to note that PHR or SPHR on a resume may actually be what tips the scale in your favor to land you an interview. From there it's up to you to demonstrate what you can actually do with those fancy initials behind your name.

5) As someone who occasionally recruits for my clients, I like to think of myself as a "discerning" hiring professional. I find that certifications such as SPHR etc. can be great starting points for conversations about why the person bothered to get certified, what they learned about their profession, what they hope to do with it, etc. These can be very revealing conversations.

And at the end of the day, that's all life is - one big collection of conversations. How we have those conversations - with family, friends, co-workers and fellow bloggers - matters.

A Happy, Encouraging Friday to all!
~ Career Encourager

The Career Encourager

Agree with MH's recent post about why certifications may not be mentioned - except that I have little experience with #4 since I've been blessed with the chance to work with cool business leaders who have valued my work and expect a lot more than "keeping files" from me.

Ann Bares' comments make great sense too. She totally rocks - on every level - compensation pro, blogger, business owner, colleague, mentor, and mom!

Michael Haberman

A quick note.. Kris must be sitting back with a bemused smile on his face watching this post get pinged like crazy... LOL

Frank Giancola


I can only relate to the SHRM certification, which I would think more of if it were given without the pretest courses which seem to be directed to passing the mulitiple choice certification test. Your experience and interest in the field should provide the knowledge to pass the test, and they impart knowledge that is with you permanently. You should be certified as someone who really knows the field, rather than someone who passed a test.

If someone passes the test without the pre-course, that carries much more weight in the hiring process. It certifies they have worked in positions that probably required them to operate according to accepted knowledge of the field which they have learned on their own. Working with knowledge is better than remembering it long enough to pass a test.

And I would be more impressed with the certification if the knowledge required were at a more advanced level. I have taught the basic HR management course which covers the material required to pass at least the PHR cetification course. I have taken and passed the SPHR test.

Taking the course and the test do indicate interest, a desire to improve, and exposure to basic knowledge of the field, and if you can find two people who are equal in all other respects, then I would hire the person with the certification. Would I expect or think that someone who graduated from Cornell or University of Minnesota in HR needs it? No.

The CCP certification tests may be more difficult than the SHRM test and mean more if they are skill-based rather than knowledge-based.



OK, I reviewed the comment string, and my thoughts are pretty simple.

Frank, you seem angry at the world. You need a hug, maybe from a freshly minted PHR who is ready to learn more and move forward with a HR Career.

I've been watching your comments on this blog, and the overall theme for me regarding your thoughts is this - your opinion is the only one that matters. You are very quick to discount anyone with another opinion. You'll also hang around to counter anyone who dares to share a different opinion. Kind of a bully as evidenced by the comment below, which was the focus of a lot of the follow up of the people here.

>>>"Certification is pursued by people who did not study HR in college, went to inferior colleges, and work for second rate firms. They are under the delusion that it means something and hold it against people who are not certified."<<<< That's your quote - you're kidding me right? If that's how you feel, that tells me all I need to know. It's not a credible thought.

I don't really have anything to add on the topic that hasn't been covered by Mike, Ann and the Career Encourager - or my previous posts on the topic. Good work to all of you, and Frank, if you want to see what give and take looks like, see their comments - they don't claim to know it all, and don't discount others when they pitch their thoughts - even you.

The name of the site is the HR Capitalist, so I'm torn. I want all to participate, but you can't just hang out in the gallows and berate everyone who drops by to disagree with your opinions. So from now on, here's what I would ask of you. If you choose to comment, limit it to one well-thought out comment, then allow others to respond. Be secure in your thoughts and don't feel the need to post in the comment string 4-5 times as people weigh in.

As for the last comment you made regarding getting some people without blogs to comment, that's typical of your thought process. You missed a great opportunity to point out that HR and human capital people, who care enough to research issues and host forums for the exchange of ideas, are actually the kind of people a lot of companies are going to want to hire moving forward. Of course, that's the kind of relationship building missing from all of your comments which might cause people to listen to your thoughts more.

Oh yeah - and they are the ones offering you to forum to bully/comment repeatedly when anyone disagrees with you - ironic, isn't it?

So comment once per string, get a hug from someone, and try and be a little more tolerant of those who don't agree with your ideas.


HR Wench

What a great read!

I finished my degree in HR online (and yes, the school was accredited by one of the 6 agencies recognized by the US Dept of Ed) AND I took and passed the PHR a year after graduating without a pre-test class. The only reason I didn't take a pre-test class is because I would rather study on my own (bought the SHRM system thingy) than in a classroom. Do you see a pattern here? :)



Whoa now!!! I can't have non-Ivy's gumming up the works here at the HRC... Well, I tell you what, please click on the membership criteria exception form, and I'll put it to vote at the next board meeting....

Seriously, we were so far down in the weeds with the haters that I didn't mention that I, like you, did the self-study route as well. Not sure what that means under the "rules of the certified" laid out above by the guy who needs a hug...

Plus, my undergrad is from a public school. Maybe I should fill out that form... :)


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