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

how to pass the sphr examAKA how to pass the SPHR exam and keep your sanity

If the title doesn’t give it away, I don’t know what will. Recently I took, and passed, the SPHR exam. Today I’m going to talk about the actual testing process and offer some guidance for those taking the exam in the next few weeks. Soon, I plan to write about the actual study process and offer some resources to support those of you who might be interested in pursuing the SPHR at some point. Update: Here’s the link: how to study for the SPHR exam

How hard is the SPHR exam?

Pretty darn hard. :-) More on that below.

How hard is it to pass the SPHR?

Several people I coached for this winter test window had taken it one or more times unsuccessfully in the past. It has a 56% pass rate (based on mid-2014 figures). If you want to visualize that, imagine that you and nine other people walk into the room to test at the same time. At the end of the test period, four or five of the people in that group will walk out with a “fail” printout. That said, most of you already realize how hard the SPHR exam is.

The critical thing for me, Captain Short Attention Span, is focusing on the questions and what they are actually asking. I’m a fast reader, so I am really bad about reading the question, finding an answer, and moving on without reading the others. I had to make myself slow down and read each answer, strike out one or two, and then make a decision. I also marked about 30 questions for review to go back and double check at the end. I ended up changing about 25% of those answers after having a fresh look.

That’s one thing that I definitely recommend. Marking for review just means you plug in a guess and come back later to re-read the question. I’m amazed how many times I have a brain “log jam” when I’m reading it the first time, but puzzling through another question afterward actually shakes loose the concept or idea I’m need to answer the previous question.

Another useful feature: strikeout. Striking out obviously wrong answers helps to narrow your focus and get your attention on the real possibilities. There are often two, but sometimes as many as three, good/possible answers. It’s all about picking the best one.

How to answer SPHR questions

sphr exam test prepI have to inject some humor here. My friend and I met last weekend to do some last minute studying, and we kept seeing a pattern in the practice questions. Virtually every time you were presented with an action or an opportunity to survey, analyze, or plan, the answer was always to NOT act. So I put this little graphic on The Four A’s of SPHR Exam Prep together to remind you of that. :-)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Know how HR activities tie into the business objectives, and look for opportunities to highlight that in an answer everywhere possible
  3. “Strategy,” “company objectives,” and “business needs” are usually the answers when they are options.
  4. Despite my joking about the graphic, it is important to measure, assess, analyze, etc. before actually taking action.
  5. 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.

How to pass the SPHR exam the first time

passing the sphr examAs I said, I wrote a full-blown article follow up just about how to study, because there are so many tools, methods, tips, and other ideas that I just can’t capture here. However, just to give you an idea:

  • I used a 2014 HRCP study guide, read every book cover to cover, read every flashcard, and took the comprehensive practice questions
  • I used a 2007 SHRM Learning System just for the practice questions, never cracked a book
  • I used my 2007 Anne Bogardus book to do practice questions and did a simple chapter summary review in the last week
  • I used various other online resources (all free) to practice my questions and do research on concepts I didn’t know (I’ll discuss my process for this in the second post in this series)
  • I studied over 115 hours from September to January
  • I took over 2,000 practice questions to get ready–this is always my number one tip for how to pass the SPHR exam, especially in the final days of studying

One concept that I have relied on for quite some time is specificity. I use it to train for races that I run, and it applies pretty much everywhere else in life as well in terms of preparation. The goal is to make training as much like the actual event as possible.

In running, that means I should run the pace, distance, course, etc. just like I would on race day.

In testing, I need to take practice exams that force my mind and body into the same mode I’ll need when taking the actual test: quiet environment, long periods of focus, no Googling answers, no cell phone, etc.

sphr study course detailsRemember, this is just the first half of the series on how to pass the SPHR exam. Here is part two on how to study for the SPHR. It’s going to be pretty awesome. Also, I’m almost finished developing a specific SPHR study module based on everything I have learned (and taught) over these past few months.

Anyone else taking the SPHR this window? What are your thoughts? Any questions? 

I often hear from people asking “What’s the best PHR study guide?” or “What PHR study guide is the best for preparing for the exams?” Today I’m going to help answer that question for those of you who might be interested in taking the exam (or maybe you know someone who is preparing who could use this info!).

If you’re not planning to take the exam any time soon, feel free to skip this post. Thanks! :-)

I’ve been using and recommending study tools for over five years now. The industry has made some improvements over the past few years, but there are also opportunities for improving the existing tools out there to better serve the needs of the consumer.

The exams

When we talk about interviewing people, we discuss the importance of making the interview questions and experience as similar to the job as possible; that similarity helps us to determine if the person will be a good fit for the position. The exams are no different.

I tell people they need to simulate the exam experience as much as possible at various times throughout their studies in order to improve their chances of success when actually sitting for the exam. In order to do that, let’s look at how the exams actually work:

Test environment, number of questions, topics, how questions formulated, etc.

The official PHR study guide

It surprises me, because so many people don’t realize it; however, there is no official tool recommended by the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) for test takers to use. Think about it. If I created the “Best HR Pro” test to certify people and then started selling study materials of my own design, that would be suspicious and diminish the objectivity of the certification.

In order to be objective and not open themselves up the possibility of “teaching to the test,” HRCI can not and should not recommend any specific test prep tool. That makes sense, correct? They wouldn’t want to raise any red flags by suggesting one provider over another.

The SHRM Learning System has the largest section of the test prep market, but I think that’s more due to the fact that they have a captive audience than that them having the best offering. There are other providers out there, SHRM Learning System alternatives, and their tools cover the same body of knowledge as the SHRM products. With the eyes-bulging-out-of-my-head price that SHRM charges for test prep, that’s why I have pointed my readers to other test prep tools on the market.

Why HRCP is the best PHR study guide

They don’t have anything to go on but their good name and customer success. Nobody is promoting them to the potential student as a pseudo-official option for passing the test. Check out the video review below where I open a box of the HRCP tools and share some thoughts about them. (subscribers click through to view)

With HRCP, it’s about price, features, and responsiveness. If you’re interested in using the HRCP materials, you can get a discount. More info on that here.

With the back and forth in the HR certification world in the past few weeks, it’s been quite a strain on the certified HR professionals trying to determine what will happen to their hard-earned certifications in the coming months and years. Bottom line: we’re worried about what is going to happen to the credentials that we have built over the course of our HR careers.

Last night I attended the HRCI Connect event where the leadership of the HR Certification Institute stood up and shared their side of the story and their vision for the future. They also had an “open mic” portion to allow participants to ask questions about the path ahead. Below are some of my comments from the event.

What was the theme of the night?

What is HRCI’s angle on this whole SHRM/HRCI battle?

The biggest question on everyone’s lips

Are HRCI exams competency based?

What’s going to happen to my PHR/SPHR?

Will HRCI give credits for SHRM events?

I’ll be in touch with the HRCI folks going forward, so if there are any other questions I can help to answer, please let me know! I’m in this with you guys as well, so I definitely want to know the answers!

So if you’re a SHRM member and/or volunteer leader, you probably saw the news yesterday that SHRM is no longer supporting the PHR and SPHR exams after 2014. Read on for how this impacts you, and for those considering a SHRM Learning System alternative, I have a recommendation for that as well at the end. Here’s the note that many of us received earlier this week:

Dear Volunteer Leaders,

As an important and valued member of the SHRM community, I am pleased to share some exciting news with you.  The Board of Directors of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has approved a plan to create a competency-based certification program for human resource professionals.

The new HR certification is based on the SHRM HR Competency Model, which consists of nine primary competency domains defined with behavioral proficiency standards across four professional levels — entry, middle, senior and executive.  The new certification will be the first of its kind focused on teaching and the testing of this practical, real-life information that HR professionals need to excel in their careers.

“The differentiator for HR professionals will not be what you know, but what you can do with what you know,” said SHRM Board Chair Bette Francis.  “SHRM has a responsibility to lead the profession towards a certification process that proves competencies.  That will benefit the individual, the profession and employers by aligning HR with the changing demands of business.”

Over the last three years, SHRM had conducted and validated research on behavioral competencies and has developed its own competency model to serve as a foundational resource for all HR professionals.  SHRM is currently working on a certification program that will create a testing regime and governance model to provide integrity to the exam process.

SHRM plans to offer the first exam for the new competency-based certification in mid-2015.  However, to ensure that no applicants are disadvantaged by this transition, SHRM will continue to support the PHR and SPHR certifications programs through the December 2014 – January 2015 test window.  Other exams will be supported through their last test window in 2014.

“We have been working towards this for several years and are taking steps to ensure a smooth transition for SHRM members and HR professionals,” said SHRM CEO and President Henry G. (Hank) Jackson.  “We are creating a clear pathway for HR professionals who are already certified under knowledge-based credentials so they can move to the new SHRM competency-based certification.  This certification will be relevant to all career levels, across all industries, and organizations around the world.”

I know you are as excited as I am about SHRM’s focus on competency-based certification and SHRM will be sharing updates with you about the new program in the coming weeks and at the Annual Conference.

Warmest regards,

Elissa C. O’Brien, SPHR
Vice President, Membership
SHRM

Continue reading

Okay, HRCI (Human Resources Certification Institute), it’s time for a social media makeover! I alluded to this post when I was talking about everything else going on in my world recently. I am doing my best not to be mean-spirited or rude, because that doesn’t help anyone do anything better. Everything I say today should be taken with a smile. :-) (<–Like that!)

HRCI on Twitter

Near the end of last year, I realized that HRCI was on Twitter. Being a lover of HR certification, I was thrilled to see them there. I had a few back-and-forth chats with Alexis, and we shared a few tips and ideas back and forth. Fun was had by all. Although they were using their URL in every. single. tweet. I was still inclined to give ’em a break.

Flash forward to the past few weeks. They’ve been doing work on their website. How did I know that? Well, they’ve tweeted over a dozen times in a three day period about what you can do on their website. Okay, so they’re sharing. That’s something, I suppose. Continue reading