money hr certification exam

money hr certification examHow much does an HR certification impact your salary? While it matters differently at every organization and for each person, let’s answer that question with some data.

Using data from Payscale.com we (hat tip to my youngest brother Barrett for his Excel wizardry) hacked together a calculator that shows you the median pay for job titles in HR as well as the adjusted rates based on whether the person has a PHR or SPHR certification (at the time of this data gathering there was no data on SHRM certifications, but assume similar levels of competency for PHR and SHRM-CP and SPHR and SHRM-SCP).

Additionally, we threw in a 10-year impact to show you the potential for what a certification could mean to your earnings over time. Again, this is a linear projection and does not take into account all the variables that could happen in your career, but it’s a good starting point when considering whether you’re going to prepare for the HR certification exams.

A few notes and caveats:  Continue reading

hr certification audio

hr certification audioEarlier this year I launched a “beta” version of the HR Certification audio product. That has continued to mature and develop and now has 50+ tracks and several hours of content that ranges from technical to practical. For example, it covers highly technical analyses of specific HR elements, such as:

  • Executive compensation
  • Validity vs reliability in pre-employment selection testing
  • Performance evaluation methods

However, unlike virtually every HR certification prep tool on the market, it goes a step further to more broad explorations of HR’s impact on the business, such as:

  • Recruiting and hiring trends
  • The impact of talent technology on employees
  • How to improve training outcomes

Additionally, since the beginning I have been looking for quality external sources of audio content to throw in as bonus items just to round out the content and give a broader perspective. I’ve referenced a few of the episodes from great HR podcasts like HCI and Xenium, and I’m also adding some of my shows from We’re Only Human to the mix. Why? Because the number one reason people fail the exams is because they don’t understand how to see the big picture–they only study academic terms, take practice tests, and then assume they will understand the strategic impact when it comes test time.

Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way, especially for the senior level exams (SHRM-SCP and SPHR). For these types of exams, learners must critically examine the full scope of decisions in a specific area and how it impacts the larger business. That’s where these additional resources come into play and help.

Because of the increase in content and increased demand for the audio content, the price is going up effective December 1st. If you’re interested in getting it, this post has the links to the course as a standalone or packaged at a discount with the SPHR self study prep course.

For those of you that have already signed up, thank you for supporting the work we do here at upstartHR! I appreciate it.

If you’ve read this blog for more than a few days, you know I’m no stranger to the discussion around HR certification. But today I’m going to share some thoughts from a recent conversation with a friend and colleague on why HR certification matters and how to leverage it for career success. It was a fun discussion with Kristina Minyard, who recently completed her own SHRM-SCP exam, about the value of both the HRCI and SHRM certification options. Click here to check out the episode and listen in.

Notes from the podcast

  • Link to the episode
  • Ben celebrates his 10th wedding anniversary and his one year anniversary running Lighthouse Research.
  • Kristina also participated in episode two, Recruiting as a Service.
  • Ben and Kristina talk about why certification matters to them as volunteer leaders, speakers, professionals, and more.
  • Kristina points out why certification is different from education and why it is arguably more important.
  • Ben and Kristina discuss the HRCI vs SHRM options for certification exams.
  • Kristina talks about group vs solo prep and which works best
  • Ben reminds everyone about some of the certification tools available on upstartHR
  • Kristina talks about her recent experience taking and passing the SHRM-SCP exam and her lessons learned

If you enjoyed this show, be sure to check out all the show archives!

At my last check, the pass rates for the HRCI exams were somewhere around 50%, meaning that half of the people that show up to take the test fail the exam. I’ve been working with people preparing for their PHR and SPHR exams for nearly eight years, and I’ve been giving similar advice to SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP preppers in the last 12-18 months. For what it’s worth, I have both SPHR and SHRM-SCP credentials. In that time I’ve come to realize that there is one clear reason why people fail the exams, and I’ve seen it proven over and over again. But first, let me use a learning model to help show you where the breakdown is. Below you’ll see Bloom’s Taxonomy, a model that explains the successive levels of learning as someone progresses from “newbie” to expert.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Knowledge

blooms taxonomy learning

This explains the biggest challenge that most of the test prep tools in the marketplace have (even my friends at HRCP). Most of them are designed to move someone up the scale, but the farthest they get is knowledge or even comprehension. In some cases, that may be enough to help someone complete the PHR exam, because it’s heavily based on recall and summarizing existing information.

However, it’s not going to get someone through the SHRM exams or the SPHR, either. In order to be successful there, learners have to move up the ladder toward synthesis of knowledge. At that level, learners must be able to:

  • infer ideas from information
  • imagine outcomes
  • predict decisions and best practices
  • combine separate ideas to create new strategies

If it seems like a lot, it is. And the truth is, that doesn’t happen by reading a book. Theory is great, and understanding the theory and history behind HR is a good thing. However, decisions at work are not based on just on theory–they require more.

And while people are upset when they don’t pass the exam, often claiming “the questions were nothing like what I studied,” the truth is that is probably a good thing for businesses needing HR support that can think for itself, not just recite study preparation materials. On the other hand, I get it–you want to prepare for the exam and not feel like you’re rolling the dice when you sit down in the testing center. So I’m going to teach you the principle that I’ve used to create the PHR/SPHR audio course, the PHR study course, and the SPHR study course, helping hundreds of testers to prepare for their certification exams over the years.

Getting from Theory to Application

When I taught a live study course a few years back, one of the things that I did every night, without fail, was to mention some recent piece of news or information that tied in with course materials. Studying about ethics? Let’s talk about Enron and its ethical failures. Discussing executive compensation? Let’s look at the new Supreme Court Justice nominee’s beliefs on compensation limits for executive leadership. In each opportunity, I would find relevant information to help take the theories and ideas from the materials and make them real for my students.

This is why I have created tools like the audio course, the prep courses, etc. I want to give practical information and stories so people can “get it,” versus just memorizing more text. I learned this the hard way when I got out into the “real world” of HR from college, and that translates here as well. After four years of studying and learning all of these basic principles, I had to go out into the real world and apply them.

I quickly realized that upon leaving college, I was about 10% prepared for what I needed to be successful. The rest would come from hands-on experience and practice, despite spending money, time, and effort on a degree specialized to human resources.

The lesson for you, if you’re preparing for an exam of any kind, is to look for ways to tie the learning back to your real world experience. Or to current news stories. Or to anything that is practical. You need that mental anchor not only to remember the ideas and concepts, but to understand how they are applied. When people ask me about my study resources, that’s the primary thing I explain as a difference between anything else on the market. Every week I talk about real experiences, real stories, and how to apply the concepts in real life. And my students are more successful than the average test taker, so there’s that.

What are your thoughts? Have you taken an exam and failed–what do you think of this advice? For those of you that have passed, what’s your take?

Update 3/1/17: the presale is over, but the course is now available for the public here. The bundle with the SPHR course is here. Audio continues to be added to the course to flesh it out and increase the value. 

One of the most common questions I get from people interested in certification is where to find something they can listen to in the car, on a walk, or even at work. I’ve mentioned before that as busy as I am with kids and work, I really like to listen to podcasts and other audio programs while I’m washing dishes or chaperoning people around town. Today, I’m excited to announce the presale for the new HR certification audio series.

Until now there has only been a minimal selection in the market for audio prep tools, and they are all fairly pricey. I wanted to develop something that would help to improve the HR certification prep experience while still meeting that need for auditory learners. We are launching this in time for people to use it for 2017 exam preparation.

The Details

This program is in presale and officially opens up later this spring. I have been developing it since late 2016 and expect the first version to be available by the end of February. Presale supporters will be the first to gain access to the audio course when it opens. The course will have lessons spanning all areas of HR to help students better understand best practices and have the most up-to-date knowledge of how to leverage those practices for business success. In addition, these courses can be used for recertification credits! If you’re currently certified and want to use the content in these courses for recertification purposes, you can manually add them to your profile to get credit.

Is this just for the PHR or SPHR?

No. I’ve had dozens of students use our other courses to study for the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams. I’ve also had some even use it for the aPHR exam with excellent results. The principles explored in this audio study course will be applicable across the spectrum of HR. If you like the kind of work I do here at upstartHR (including the podcast) or if you’re interesting in improving your HR game, this will help you.

What is included? 

The course will initially include audio lessons totaling more than 3 hours of content. This will grow to 5+ hours by June and could eventually reach 10+ hours of training by 2018, depending on the level of interest in the course. It’s my goal for learners to be able to use these audio lessons for reinforcing concepts, examining practical applications, and exploring case studies of HR in action.

What is the format?

The presale will include mp3 audio files so learners can learn anywhere. Users can stream the files directly from the web or can download the audio pack to their computer or mobile device via Dropbox. The mp3 files will include lifetime access in the event you need to put off your studies, come back later to refresh, or just want to use them for recertification credits after you pass your exam.

What is the price? 

The presale price has been discounted to allow as many people as possible to access the course. I regularly get questions from people needing tools that don’t cost an arm and a leg to purchase, and these definitely make that cut.

  • Digital mp3 audio course presale price: $47

As a reminder, this price is temporary and will increase after the presale period closes.

Pricing update: the price as of 11/1/17 is $67 standalone, $147 bundled with the SPHR self study course.

If you have questions, please contact me at ben@upstarthr.com and I’ll be glad to answer them. I’m excited about the next evolution of certification preparation support here at upstartHR, where we’ve been helping hundreds of HR professionals like you with certification for more than seven years. If you want to go ahead and get on the list for the limited time presale, click here. If you want the bundle with the SPHR email course, be sure to click here.

The winter testing window is coming up with HRCI (the Human Resources Certification Institute, for you newbies), and you might be wondering what the difference is between the PHR and SPHR exams. With both of the exam pass rates hovering around 50% (54% PHR, 53%  SPHR), it’s critical to make sure you understand the requirements of each and develop a proper plan for preparing. Today I want to explore some of the variations I have seen as well as from some of the feedback from previous students I helped with the certification exams.

phr sphr exams differencesExam Content

The most obvious difference is the one that HRCI tells you about. The exam content for each has a slightly different focus. This is because for lower level HR roles, it’s more important to have a grasp of the laws and other legal requirements. For SPHR test takers, they are typically in higher level roles that require more planning and strategy, hence the big bump in the Business Management and Strategy content area. Here’s the breakdown:

PHR Exam Content Outline

  • Business Management and Strategy (11%)
  • Workforce Planning and Employment (24%)
  • Human Resource Development (18%)
  • Compensation and Benefits (19%)
  • Employee and Labor Relations (20%)
  • Risk Management (8%)

SPHR Exam Content Outline

  • Business Management and Strategy (30%)
  • Workforce Planning and Employment (17%)
  • Human Resource Development (19%)
  • Compensation and Benefits (13%)
  • Employee and Labor Relations (14%)
  • Risk Management (7%)

Specialized Knowledge Requirements

The content for the exams can run across a variety of topic areas. The guide supplied by HRCI is just a starting point, but it helps us to see some of the key differences in PHR and SPHR exam topics. Below is a sampling of the SPHR-only topics that PHR test taker should not have to worry about. That’s not to say they aren’t important, but when you’re prioritizing PHR study time and might not have enough to focus on every topic, skip these. If you’re going for the SPHR, prioritize these.

  • Participate as a contributing partner in the organization’s strategic planning process (for example: provide and lead workforce planning discussion with management, develop and present long-term forecast of human capital needs at the organizational level).
  • Develop and utilize business metrics to measure achievement of the organization’s strategic goals and objectives (for example: key performance indicators, balanced scorecard).
  • Perform cost/benefit analyses on proposed projects.
  • Develop policies and procedures to support corporate governance initiatives (for example: whistle-blower protection, code of ethics).
  • Identify and evaluate alternatives and recommend strategies for vendor selection and/or outsourcing.
  • Oversee or lead the transition and/or implementation of new systems, service centers, and outsourcing.
  • Determine the strategic application of integrated technical tools and systems (for example: new enterprise software, performance management tools, self-service technologies).
  • Develop, implement and evaluate the succession planning process.
  • Evaluate effectiveness of employee training programs through the use of metrics (for example: participant surveys, pre- and post-testing).

Again, this is just a selection of the SPHR-specific content that shows up on the exam, but it is critical to make sure you understand these not only in theory, but in application as well. Just looking at this list, it’s easy to see how “Knowledge of FMLA requirements” is a little different than “evaluate effectiveness of training programs with metrics.” One of them requires a broader knowledge base, skill set, and point of view. That’s not to say the PHR is easy or simple, but there’s a reason there are two separate exams.

Application vs Synthesis Thinking

I alluded to this, but it’s one of the most critical pieces that I always try to explain when people come to me for advice. The way you approach the exam preparation, and the way you develop your mindset/framework for evaluating test questions and answers, is going to depend on the exam. I’ve tried to lay it out below in terms that reflect my own experience as well as the dozens of students I have supported over the years.

The PHR is more about learning terms, concepts, and ideas and then remembering them for the exam. Simple memorization might not work, because you still need to know the “best answer” in some cases, and that requires some critical thinking. However, getting a good set of testing materials and studying well will go a long way towards success on the PHR.

sphr study courseThe SPHR is more about blending knowledge from a variety of areas into a cohesive strategy. In fact, “strategy” is the number one way I explain to students that the SPHR is different when they are preparing for the exam. Not only is the first module around strategy and business the largest piece of the exam content–it is also woven throughout the entire question set, forcing test takers to evaluate multiple courses and select the best one. As I wrote in my previous piece on how to pass the SPHR exam:

Seriously, though, there is a strategy to answering questions on the exam. This is critical if you are trying to figure out how to pass the SPHR exam. Here are five keys I used:

This is strategic in nature, meaning that it’s about how HR ties in, and drives, business activities and measures. Write that on your scratch paper when you sit down and every time you read a question glance at that little phrase.

Know how HR activities tie into the business objectives, and look for opportunities to highlight that in an answer everywhere possible

“Strategy,” “company objectives,” and “business needs” are usually the answers when they are options.

It is important to measure, assess, analyze, etc. before actually taking action.

Imagine that you’re not in HR, but that you’re the CEO, especially when the question is focusing on marketing, operations, or another aspect of the business. Answering from that mindset will help to ensure that you’re giving the broad, strategic perspective the test warrants.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, the exams vary in multiple ways. The most important thing to do is pick the one that is a right fit for you and then develop a study plan that prepares you adequately for the test. Your preparation isn’t meant to come simply from a book–your experiences and interactions with other HR professionals both help to drive your certification preparation.

For those of you that have taken both, what differences have you noticed with the PHR and SPHR exams? If you’ve taken just one, did what I shared above line up with your experience? 

One of the most popular posts I’ve written all year was dedicated to the HR certification decision facing today’s HR pros. I decided to take it a step further and reach out to some people to discuss the behind-the-scenes pieces of the HR certification world. Today’s interview is with Amy Dufrane, CEO of the Human Resources Certification Institute. I hope you enjoy!

Ben: First of all, I want to thank you for “walking the talk,” because I see that you have your SPHR certification. That’s a great example for the HR professionals out there to see and follow. Tell me a bit about your background and what led you to your current role as the CEO of HRCI. 

Amy Dufrane: I joined HR Certification Institute in 2011 as Chief Operating Officer and was named CEO in December 2012. Before joining HRCI, I spent more than two decades in human resources leadership roles at  organizations such as the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, where I served as Chief Human Resources and Administrative Officer; The Optical Society, where I headed up major talent retention and employee satisfaction initiatives and served as an advisor to the CEO and senior team; and Marymount University, where managed day to day HR office operations; and on the corporate side in HR at Bloomingdales. Continue reading