I've written on certification before, so for what it's worth, I answered the above question as part of an "Ask Workforce" series over at www.workforce.com. I couldn't find the published article, so here's the answer I gave for the question:
I aspire to be a Vice President of Human Resources one day and I was wondering if I need a certification (such as that offered by SHRM)? How important is it in pursuing my career goal? Please advise, thank you...
To reach your goal of becoming a VP of HR, you'll need to be among the best at what you do as a HR professional who rises through the HR Rep, HR Manager and HR Director levels in an organization. The HR discipline is filled with great VP examples on both sides of this question - those who have certification and those who don't. You've got to be progressive, business-savvy and results-oriented, and you can do that without certification as many have.
So here's the bottom line from my perspective: Certification is valuable to everyone, but common sense dictates that the economic and career path value is greater for those who are early in their careers. If you are at the HR manager level or below, and can make the time to pursue
certification, do it now. You'll differentiate yourself from the herd, whether you plan on staying forever in your Fortune 500 HR shop, or intend to switch jobs and companies in the next couple of years. Certification can and is used as a "resume sorter" by many companies when it comes time to hire their next HR Manager, HR Director, or VP of HR.
Certification isn't required to get where you want to be. That said, if a significant portion of companies use it to evaluate candidate criteria, it makes sense to have it. The quicker you gain the necessary experience at the rep, manager and director level, the quicker you'll get to your goal of being a VP of HR. Expand your pool of opportunity if you have the time and resources to pursue certification.
Let me know your thoughts/perspective in the comments. Many paths lead to the same place...