Human Resources Certification: Complete Guide

Human Resources Certification: Complete Guide

In today's competitive business landscape, you must possess qualifications that distinguish you from others. Merely meeting minimum requirements is no longer sufficient. An excellent approach to achieving this is obtaining human resources certification. H.R. certifications give hiring managers confidence in candidates' expertise and foundational knowledge. As competition in the H.R. field intensifies, a certification becomes crucial for setting yourself apart.

What is A Human Resources Certification?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, a Human Resources (H.R.) certification validates an individual's knowledge, skills, and expertise in human resources management. It demonstrates that a person has achieved a certain level of competency and proficiency in various H.R. domains.

According to Walden University, a human resources certification requires relevant H.R. work experience and completing a comprehensive test covering various H.R. topics and tasks.

Related: Best Online Certificate in Human Resources

Why Human Resources Certifications Are So Important


Human Resources certifications are gaining increasing significance, as highlighted by a 2018 study conducted by Payscale, revealing that over 34% of H.R. professionals hold at least one H.R. credential. Over time, this number has continued to increase. H.R. certifications offer a competitive edge in H.R. job applications and promotions, particularly as you progress in your H.R. career. The study further reveals that 35.5% of H.R. managers and 51.5% of H.R. vice presidents are certified, underscoring the importance of certification for higher-level roles. While certification may be less crucial for H.R. administrators starting, its value grows as you advance, providing valuable knowledge and credibility.

An article titled "3 Reasons to consider pursuing your H.R. certification online" claims an H.R. certification sets you apart from the competition and demonstrates your commitment to ongoing industry education, making you an attractive long-term hire. The blog post mentions that companies prefer candidates dedicated to professional growth.

According to Balance Careers, human resources professionals with certifications are more likely to be promoted than those without. Their study showed a significant promotion rate of 63% for H.R. associates with certifications, compared to 34% for those without. An H.R. certification validates your skills and knowledge, positioning you for career advancement.

Lastly, as stated by Robin Ryan in her article titled "Salary Negotiation Strategies for H.R. Professionals" an H.R. certification can bolster salary negotiations, whether you're starting a new job or seeking a raise in your current role. Possessing a certification provides leverage and increases the likelihood of securing a higher salary, as it substantiates your capabilities and expertise.

Human Resources Certification

Human Resources Certifications

The following human resources certifications are ideal for those seeking to kick-start their H.R. career. They can be achieved within a few months with minimal prerequisites, granting early advantages in the H.R. field.

1.     SHRM Certification

A human resources certification provided by the world's largest H.R. membership organization, according to HumanResourcesMBA and Cultureamp, is the SHRM certification. It is the only competency-based certification emphasizing the knowledge and behaviors necessary for H.R. professionals to excel.

The SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) is tailored for individuals engaged in HR-related roles or pursuing an H.R. career, with a recommended foundation in H.R. knowledge. In response to the frequently asked question "What is the first H.R. certification I should get?" from the SHRM website: The majority, 77% of individuals, opt for the SHRM-CP initially, while the remaining 23%, with at least three years of strategic-level experience, generally pursue the SHRM-SCP.

In the view of SHRM, earning a SHRM certification position you as an esteemed H.R. expert and leader, yielding notable benefits such as:

  • H.R. professionals with a SHRM certification exhibit significantly higher credibility in their H.R. roles. In fact, according to Small Business Development Centre, managers of SHRM-certified professionals recognize their enhanced efficiency and leadership inclination, with 58% specifically acknowledging these traits.
  • SHRM-certified individuals report earning salaries 14% to 15% higher than non-certified peers. In addition, an article on Small Business Development Centre claims that H.R. professionals who successfully pass the SHRM certification exam typically earn salaries 7%-9% higher than their non-certified peers.
  • H.R. hiring managers prioritize SHRM certification as a preferred qualification, and those who possess the certification credit it as a key factor in their career advancement. As per Small Business Development Centre, among professionals who hold SHRM certification and have been promoted, 63% attribute their credentials as a significant contributing factor to their advancement.
  • SHRM-certified HR professionals experience elevated career success, garner respect from colleagues, and exhibit heightened pride and commitment to the H.R. profession.

The SHRM certification sets you apart from the competition. Recognized and esteemed by employers across industries, the SHRM-CP® and SHRM-SCP® are premier HR certifications.

Related: SHRM Certification: Everything you need to know

2.     PHR and SPHR certifications

The Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) offers the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certifications. Designed by H.R. professionals, these credentials validate the expertise of recipients, showcasing their full proficiency as H.R. practitioners according to industry peers' standards.

Understanding the Difference between the Certifications Offered by HRCI

As per the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI), among the multitude of H.R. certifications provided by them, the PHR and SPHR certifications stand out as two of the most widely recognized and sought-after credentials in their portfolio. As a leading credentialing and learning organization in the H.R. field, the HRCI offers a comprehensive range of certifications to cater to diverse professional needs. These include the Associate Professional in HR (aPHR), Associate Professional in H.R.–International (aPHRi), Professional in H.R.–International (PHRi), Senior Professional in H.R.–International (SPHRi), and Global Professional in H.R. (GPHR). While exploring the various certifications in more detail, let's delve into the specifics of the primary PHR and SPHR certifications.

2.1 PHR (Professional in Human Resources)

As per HRCI, The Professional in Human Resources certification is evidence of possessing comprehensive H.R. management knowledge, encompassing U.S. laws and regulations. It is designed for individuals with experience in professional-level H.R. roles, focusing specifically on H.R. department responsibilities rather than broader company-wide duties. According to an article titled "12 Types of H.R. Certifications: Know the Cost and Eligibility", eligibility for the PHR certification necessitates meeting one of the following conditions:

  • One year of professional-level H.R. experience and a master's degree or higher
  • Two years of experience and a bachelor's degree or higher
  • Four years of experience and a high school diploma or higher

The PHR exam assesses competencies in employee and labor relations, business management, talent planning and acquisition, learning and development, and more.

Related: What is Human Resources Degree

2.2 SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources)

As per HRCI, The Senior Professional in Human Resources certification is tailored for H.R. professionals aspiring to assume leadership roles. It signifies a comprehensive understanding of H.R. strategies and policy-making, making individuals well-suited to plan and oversee H.R. policies rather than solely implementing them.

According to the article titled "12 Types of H.R. Certifications: Know the Cost and Eligibility" to be eligible for the SPHR certification, candidates must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Four years of experience in a professional-level H.R. position and a master's degree or higher.
  • Five years of experience and a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • Seven years of experience and a high school diploma or higher.

While the SPHR exam covers similar topics as the PHR, it significantly emphasizes leadership and strategy.

According to a PDF extract titled "Business Credits: All you need to know" both certifications mandate the completion of 60 recertification credits every three years to maintain active certification. For the SPHR, 15 of these credits must pertain to business management and strategy.

3.     AIHR Organizational Development

AIHR Academy offers a self-paced certificate program in organizational development. This program aims to enhance the skills and expertise of individuals. The flexibility of self-paced learning allows you to access resources at your convenience. No exam is necessary for certification, as successful completion of the video lessons, assignments, and quizzes is sufficient. Prior H.R. experience is not required for enrolment.

According to an article titled "What is Organizational Development? A Complete Guide" by Erik Van Vulpen; Organizational Development is a science-based process that strengthens an organization's capacity to adapt. Although organizational development is a specialized field, as an H.R. professional, you can leverage organization development skills and techniques to build a stronger, more resilient organization.

In this online training course, participants will acquire valuable knowledge in organization development to enhance their H.R. practices and contribute to the growth and resilience of your organization.

Human Resources Certification for Beginners

As an H.R. beginner seeking to stay informed about industry trends, the abundance of H.R. courses can be overwhelming. With numerous options available, including online H.R. certifications, in-person classes, and free online H.R. courses, choosing can be challenging. To clarify, we have curated a list of some of the top H.R. courses for beginners, enabling you to navigate the options more effectively.

1. Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR)

One program stands out on the online human resources certifications for beginners: the first-ever H.R. certification designed specifically for professionals embarking on their H.R. career journey. The H.R. Certification Institute (HRCI) is crafted to accelerate career growth and instill the confidence necessary to excel in the H.R. profession.

The aPHR certification is tailored for individuals starting in H.R. and validates their foundational knowledge in Human Resources. Key topics covered include H.R. operations, employee relations, recruitment and selection, compensation and benefits, human resource development and retention, and health, safety, and security.

Eligibility for the aPHR certification requires a high school diploma or its global equivalent, and no prior H.R. experience is necessary.

The HRCI also offers the Associate Professional in Human Resources – International (aPHRi) certification for budding H.R. professionals seeking a broader understanding of H.R. practices worldwide. Like the aPHR, this program demonstrates knowledge of foundational Human Resources in any geographical context.

Both certifications provide invaluable insights and a strong foundation for aspiring H.R. professionals, propelling them towards success in their H.R. career paths.

2. Certified Professional (SHRM-CP)

In today's H.R. profession, it is about possessing knowledge and information and effectively implementing that knowledge in the workplace daily. The SHRM certification, such as the Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) program, offers a valuable opportunity to showcase what you know and how you can apply that knowledge in practical work scenarios.

Eligibility for the SHRM certification depends on factors such as the type of degree (Bachelor's, Graduate, etc.), whether it is HR-related, and your experience in an H.R. role. By meeting the necessary criteria, you can demonstrate your competence and readiness to excel in H.R.

3. The Academy to Innovate H.R. (AIHR)

The Academy to Innovate H.R. (AIHR) provides H.R. certification in various specialized areas, including H.R. leadership, data analytics, and digital skills. These courses deliver significant value to H.R. professionals at all experience levels, including those starting in the field.

Designed by H.R. practitioners for H.R. practitioners, AIHR courses offer a flexible and easily digestible structure, allowing for learning anytime and anywhere.

The comprehensive list of H.R. certification courses includes:

  • Organizational Development
  • Strategic H.R. Leadership
  • Diversity & Inclusion
  • People Analytics
  • Digital HR
  • HR Business Partner 2.0
  • HR Metrics & Dashboarding
  • Learning & Development
  • Talent Acquisition

Alternatively, you can choose full Academy Access, which grants unlimited access to all current and future courses for 18 months. This option not only provides comprehensive learning opportunities but also results in significant cost savings.

AIHR courses hold global accreditation from esteemed organizations such as SHRM and HRCI. As a student, you gain access to AIHR's global practitioners' community, enabling you to share experiences and discuss best practices with fellow professionals.

4. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

Whether starting your H.R. career or already engaged in a support-level role, the CIPD Level 3 Foundation Certificate in Human Resources Practice offers a strong basis in all aspects of H.R. It equips you with essential skills and confidence to advance your career. This comprehensive course encompasses four core areas: business, culture, and change in context; principles of analytics; core behaviors for people professionals; and essentials of people practice.

The program is well-suited for individuals who:

  • Aspire to enter or progress in H.R. roles
  • Currently work in support-level positions such as H.R. Administrators or H.R. Officers
  • Hold non-HR managerial positions with people management or H.R. responsibilities
  • Reside in the U.K. or overseas

Completing the human resources certification leads to CIPD Associate Membership and is delivered entirely online, offering flexibility and accessibility to learners. It presents an excellent opportunity to enhance your H.R. expertise and propel your professional growth.

Related: HR Analytics Certification

Free Human Resources Certification Online

In today's fast-paced world, acquiring new skills can be daunting, requiring significant time and effort. However, as Josh Kaufman, the bestselling author of The Personal MBA, suggests, it only takes around 20 hours to develop a solid foundation in a specific subject. Becoming an expert, of course, requires even more dedication and practice.


Online courses offer a convenient and efficient way to acquire new career growth or transition skills. Here are the best online websites that offer human resources certifications to help you excel and achieve your professional goals.

Related: 15 Best online courses sites that will boost your skills

1. Alison

Alison is a leading global platform offering free education and skills training. It enables anyone to study any subject, at any level, anywhere and anytime. In the dynamic field of human resources, a blend of skills and personal attributes is crucial. Alison provides comprehensive H.R. training courses taught by subject matter experts. Their courses cover a wide range of H.R. topics, from employment law to interpersonal skills, recruitment, training, and employee retention. Alison courses, including a free Workplace Wellbeing Check-up, help you develop transferable skills for a successful H.R. career. The learning is free, with the option to purchase an accredited certificate upon course completion.

2. Coursera

Coursera is a leading global online learning platform offering access to courses and degrees from top universities and companies. Their human resources certification provides a comprehensive human resource management introduction, covering key principles, policies, and practices. Starting with a foundational course, learners explore different H.R. approaches. Subsequent courses focus on employee motivation and essential managerial skills such as hiring, performance evaluation, and rewards. The human resources certification blends scientific research with practical insights to offer effective workplace strategies. Upon completion, learners gain valuable knowledge and a toolkit of best practices for H.R. management, making the certification beneficial for managers and entrepreneurs seeking a solid understanding of H.R. principles.

Upon enrolling in the human resources certification, you gain full access to all courses within the specialization and receive a certificate upon completion. If you prefer to access the course content without pursuing the certificate, you can audit the course for free. Additionally, if the course fee presents a financial obstacle, you can apply for financial aid to receive assistance.


Human resources certifications are vital in today's competitive business landscape, demonstrating expertise and commitment to professional development. They offer a competitive edge, promote career advancement, and increase earning potential. Options like the SHRM Certification and PHR/SPHR certifications are recognized and esteemed by employers. For beginners, specialized courses provide a solid foundation in H.R. practices. Free online H.R. certifications offer accessible learning opportunities.

Obtaining a human resources certification is a worthwhile investment for H.R. professionals looking to differentiate themselves in the competitive job market. It showcases your expertise, increases your credibility, and opens doors to career advancement. By continuously learning and staying updated in the field, you position yourself as a valuable asset to organizations and contribute to the growth and success of the H.R. profession.

Richard Mapfuise is an Organizational Development Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a business management and human resources consulting firm.


Phone: +263 242 481946-9/481950

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Richard Mapfuise
This article was written by Richard a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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