Crocodile Tears for all the Certified HR Folks Out There


I never thought much about certifying as an HR pro. I get it. You want to be shown as a knowledgeable professional and get some letters after your name. That’s great. It was never a big deal to me, though. For some though, it was a big deal and I can respect that.

Now, it looks like the clarity of what those letters mean is in serious jeopardy. SHRM is creating their own certification and doing nearly everything in their power to disassociate themselves with HRCI — including uninviting them from the annual conference. Ouch.

The delineation between HRCI and SHRM was something that was unclear to me until a few years ago and it probably was to many HR pros until just recently. I have received no less than a half dozen emails from SHRM and HRCI regarding this and it is perfectly clear now that these organizations aren’t in stride and haven’t been for awhile.

I’ve seen HR pros outraged or shocked by the move all over these great internets. I’ve seen some support it. No matter which side you take, the groundwork for this move has been laid for years and was roundly ignored by nearly everyone.

Starting in 2010, there was a group of people called SHRM Members for Transparency that had concerns they made public after a long period of behind the scenes work. My colleague John Hollon covered this group extensively. This was much to the collective disdain of SHRM itself and the yawns of members. SMFT’s concerns included:

  • Board compensation increases
  • Board compensation unchecked by independent committee
  • Unrestricted first class travel for board members
  • Only 38 percent of board members having at least a PHR certification
  • Only 60 percent of board members are HR pros
  • SHRM CEO is a finance pro, not an HR pro
  • SHRM board uses a search firm to find board members, including those uncertified and not members of SHRM
  • SHRM board retains nearly all power, with extremely limited member recourse

There’s a whole section — now outdated — focused on the board’s lack of connection to HRCI certification. That’s a tad bit of foreshadowing for you.

When these stories were gaining steam, I remember asking some of the HR pros in my area about it. Most of them didn’t know and didn’t care when I explained it. Those who has heard about it felt like it was overblown, took SHRM’s assurances as good, and went on with their life. While clearly there were some things that weren’t quite right at SHRM, it didn’t impact them. SHRM wanted to take some money from their massive reserves to pay a little extra to board members? Meh. Once SHRM decided to keep dues the same, any potential widespread discontent was quickly snuffed.

Now, nearly four years later, these same folks suddenly care about it because their credential is at risk?

Sorry PHRs, SPHRs, and GPHRs. I don’t see this one getting walked back very easily. You may get easily credentialed with SHRM or you may choose to stick with HRCI but those letters are going to become a lot more confusing for the people who care about having knowledgeable and competent HR people running their shops.

There are some people I do feel sorry for — like educators who’ve spent years working with SHRM and HRCI on training, or those stuck in limbo of gaining certification in the interim. For those who have been associated with both SHRM and HRCI for decades, and who couldn’t be concerned with a few non-certified board members or a couple grand in compensation a few years ago? You’re a smart, strategic HR pro. You can anticipate changes before they happen. What did you expect and how are you surprised?


  1. I’ve never felt that any of the certifications actually certified anything other than your skill at taking a relatively short, standardized test. When the PHR/SPHR originally started, with good intentions, the plan was to only allow people to “sit” for the exam when they had earned it through a variety of means. At first it was just years of experience, but part of the original plan was to expand those requirements over time. Instead, the opposite happened. The reason – SHRM (and HRCI) made a lot more money when it was easier to certify. First stop – no requirements before taking an exam – just guidelines. The second, when the pass/fail rate became known for the SPHR, make it easier. That’s because the money is in the recertification classes, tests, applications for recertification.

    So why am I still SPHR “certified”? Only because it’s become a checkmark for a lot of hiring organizations. It certainly won’t help you get the job. If you don’t have it, it can be the reason you miss a check in an initial screen. I won’t even be looking at SHRM’s “certifications.” Will I recertify at my next renewal? It depends on if I think I still need the SPHR for future job markets.

  2. Anyone wanting to take the SPHR exam should think twice and do your due diligence with HRCI and their relationship with SHRM before taking this ridiculous exam. What a complete waste of time and money. The actual test material is representative of someone’s opinions and has absolutely nothing to do with the study materials or practice tests available to purchase. The fees are outrageous for the test and the content is completely subjective, ambiguous and poorly written. After spending approximately 60 hours or so prior to the test studying federal employment legislation, case law, union processes, management and leadership theory, strategic management, and copius other concepts provided in the study guide of more than 500 pages, I found that none or extremely few questions were based on any of the information. Who in the world authored this test? Shame on you whoever you are! I don’t care as much about the wasted money spent on a test that has such a low passing rate (go figure) as I do about the trickery involved to make money from professionals who want to obtain credentials for advancement in their careers. People need to be warned. Do your research. I learned a valuable lesson first hand, and I will never take another self-study exam ever again. I’m glad the credential is being scrutinized by professionals today.

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