Goodbye, HRCI Recent Graduate Exemption

This test looks interesting

This test looks interesting

I took the PHR exam this past January. It was a tough experience, but I also enjoyed knowing that it would solidify my grasp of the basic theoretic principles of HR. I didn’t yet have the requisite two years of exempt level HR experience necessary to take the exam, but I was able to take it under the “Recent Graduate” exemption that HRCI provides. From HRCI:

Students and recent graduates enrolled in a bachelor\’s or graduate degree program may take the PHR and GPHR exams at an initial registration rate of US$120. Passing students and recent graduates must pay the balance of the exam fee once they have graduated and documented two years of exempt-level (professional) HR work experience. They have five years from the date of passing the exam to obtain the two years of exempt-level (professional) HR work experience.
Student/recent graduate candidates are not eligible to take the SPHR certification exam. Student/recent graduate  candidates must take the exam no earlier than 12 months before their graduation date and no later than 12 months after graduation from a bachelor\’s or graduate degree program.

Recently, I learned that HRCI is going to be dropping the Recent Graduate exemption. In fact, the certification requirements are changing in multiple ways by 2011. I still haven’t made up my mind yet about how I feel on the changes, but here is what HRCI says:

PHR Eligibility

SPHR Eligibility

GPHR Eligibility

• 1 year of demonstrated exempt-level HR experience with a Master\’s degree or higher
• 2 years of demonstrated exempt-level HR experience with a Bachelor\’s degree
• 4 years of demonstrated exempt-level HR experience with less than a Bachelor\’s degree
• 4 years of demonstrated exempt-level HR experience with a Master\’s degree or higher
• 5 years of demonstrated exempt-level HR experience with a Bachelor\’s degree
• 7 years of demonstrated exempt-level HR experience with less than a Bachelor\’s degree
• 2 years of demonstrated global exempt-level HR experience with a Master\’s degree or higher
• 3 years of demonstrated exempt-level HR experience (with 2 of the 3 being global HR experience) with a Bachelor\’s degree
• 4 years of demonstrated exempt-level HR experience (with 2 of the 4 being global HR experience) with less than a Bachelor\’s degree


There are several reasons for these changes. The biggest one that I can think of is that they want the exams to be more meaningful. If some “upstart” :-) can take the exam after college and pass without any exempt level HR experience, then that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re as qualified as someone who has years of HR experience before deciding to take  the exam. And if I was one of those experienced pros who decided to get certified, it would probably bother me to know that there’s someone in the next booth with none of my experience taking the same certification exam.


On the flip side, what about that student/recent grad? If they pay the fee, put in the hours of study time, and complete the exam, then why can’t they be rewarded for those efforts? If they choose (as I did) to try to put themselves into a better position in a promotion or hiring situation, why should they be kept from that opportunity?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons of the decision to change the requirements.

Anyway, if you happen to be one of those people with less than two years of experience, then you should seriously consider taking the PHR exam while you still have the opportunity. In fact, if you are in that group and you’d like to shoot me an email, I’ll give you a discount on the Rock the PHR guide to help you get started.

12 thoughts on “Goodbye, HRCI Recent Graduate Exemption

  1. Bonita

    Wow. I did not hear about this change. I think that SHRM needs to make the designation more meaningful. There are too many “certified” HR people who suck. If we want HR to be awesome, things need to change. It’s too bad that students are kind of left behind, but it may be needed to kick the designation up a notch.

  2. Pingback: The Letters Aren’t Automatic Success Factors |

  3. Lori Goldsmith, SPHR

    This is my 10th year volunteering in a certification role. This change was not made lightly. Many focus groups were conducted with business leaders, academicians, students, HR folks, etc. I had the honor of participating in one of those sessions. When a certification exam touts its value on an experiential level, how can you justify its value when a student or someone with little HR exposure without tested professional experience can take the exam? Under the new eligibility requirements, SPHRs will be held to a higher standard, too and rightfully so. GPHRs must be working in international HR under the new requirement. Although I am not currently practicing international HR anymore, I am going to take the exam in December. I encourage anyone not eligible under the new requirements to test now or you will have to wait. I believe these changes will elevate our profession. Feel free to contact me with your certification questions on SHRM connects. The group name is Certification or email me at

  4. adowling

    Weren’t there restrictions on the students that passed the PHR? I like that graduation students are able to test, it allows them to (as you said) solidify their knowledge. It also shows some commitment to the profession on their part. There’s a young fella (I say that like I’m some old fart) in my study group that just graduation from MSU and is sitting for the PHR under the current student rules. He brings interesting insights to the conversations. Where he doesnt have the experience under his belt that the rest of us have, he does have a lot of the book knowledge and is able to help bridge the gap on some of the “this is what I do but the books says do this” questions.
    I do think the certifications needed a boost but I think SHRM needs to look into a student certification that takes into account years of study and internships.

  5. Ben Post author

    @Bonita I agree on both points. The certification needs more weight. I just think students need some way to differentiate themselves, too.

    @Lori Wow! You’re definitely a great resource on the topic. See the above comment to Bonita. I agree that we need the certification to mean more (like an accountant’s CPA), but we need to have something for students who want to prove their worth to a potential employer, too. I’m wondering if that’s what SHRM is working on with their SHRM curriculum, but I can’t say for sure.

    @April I agree completely. Same page. Ditto. :-)

  6. akaBruno

    I have been a SHRM student chapter advisor for over 10 years and have taken and passed both the PHR and SPHR exam. I know a lot of other passionate and dedicated student chapter advisors who were not pleased with the recent changes in eligibility. These changes sparked vigorous discussion on the SHRM Chapter Advisor listserv, and prompted HRCI to host an impromptu conference call with advisors to address the new eligibility requirements. While I believe the changes are set in stone, I do know Nancy Woolever, Director of Academic Initiatives at SHRM (whom Ben has interviewed), and Chuck Salvetti, SHRM Student Programs Manager, are looking into alternatives for students to help students distinguish themselves as they apply for HR positions.

    That being said, here are my thoughts:
    1. I concur that “If some “upstart” can take the exam after college and pass without any exempt level HR experience, then that doesn\’t necessarily mean that they\’re as qualified as someone who has years of HR experience before deciding to take the exam.” However, as @adowling noted, there are already restrictions in place for student who pass the exam. Students who pass the exam are NOT allowed to claim they are certified. They MUST get 2 years of exempt-level experience in five years after passing the certification exam before being allowed to use the PHR designation.

    2. One concern stated by HRCI was that students had a lower passing rate than HR professionals (57.2% to 71%). First, that should be expected. However, that is still a majority able to pass the exam. Further, if, as @Lori noted, “a certification exam touts its value on an experiential level,” and a majority of a group of individuals are able to pass it without the experience, shouldn\’t the focus be on changing the exam than the eligibility requirements? Why aren\’t HRCI and its question writers being held accountable for an exam that doesn\’t reflect that experiential level instead of punishing students who may demonstrate a strong understanding of the HR knowledge base?

    3. Why is exempt experience held as the end-all, be-all of eligibility? One can take the exam without ever having taking an HR course. One can even take the exam without ever taking a single college course! A siginificant number of students walk into the exam with a wealth of HR “experience”: they have taken several HR and management courses, participated significantly in their student SHRM chapter, participated in HR internships or job shadowing or mentoring, conducted HR research, competed in the HR games, and attended SHRM professional chapter meetings and state, regional or national SHRM conferences. Many of these activities count toward recertification, but are not seen as important enough to qualify for certification.

    4. In a similar vein, no effort was made by HRCI/SHRM to examine the “quality” of student passing rates on the PHR exam based on academic program. Do those students who come from a program that follows the SHRM curriculum perform significantly better on the exam? If true, wouldn\’t this have been a tremendous selling point for SHRM on the quality of their academic initiatives?

    5. If experience is seen as critical, many academics have taken and passed the PHR and SPHR exams, and can claim being certified, without having worked a single moment in an exempt HR position. Should a similar constraint be placed on academics?

    6. If the concern is that students who pass the exam are taking jobs away from more “qualified” HR professionals who have the experience, but have not passed the exam, one has to wonder about the true signal of certification and what it represents. If certification is so critical, why do so few HR jobs require it or use it in their advertising. A 2005 study by Aguinis, H., Michaelis, S. E., & Jones, N. M. in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment analyzed each of 1873 HR job announcements available over a 1-week period on,,, and Results showed that only nine (i.e., .48%) job announcements stated that there was a requirement and only 70 (i.e., 3.73%) job announcements stated that there was a preference for job applicants with any type of HR certification.

  7. Ben Post author

    Matthew, this comment is absolutely amazing. I would love to use it in an upcoming post. Look for a message from me soon.

  8. Pete

    I took the PHR as a “recent grad” and have since taken the SHPR and GPHR. In my experience the PHR covers very cut and dry technical info. “how long to keep an I-9” “Basics of the FLSA” etc. I think you can learn these things from a book with little or no experience (I did). When you took the PHR as a recent graduate you still needed to achieve 2 years experience after to actually get the certification so it’s not like they handed it to you with your diploma. I think it was a good program and let young eager HR people get their feet wet and demonstrate their drive.

    I see both sides of the other requirement changes. I can see that by making the time requirement longer and the certifications more exclusive they hold higher value. I can also see the side that says just because you’ve been in an HR role for a number of years it doesn’t necessarily make you any smarter, better, or more knowledgable then someone with less experience. It depends “what” the experience involves not “how long” it was. You can’t do a detailed analysis of each candidate’s job history though in deciding if they should be able to sit for the exam so again I can see the reasons behind the change, even if I don’t think they truly accomplish the overall goal of only certifying top notch HR people.

  9. Brandon

    Having recently completed grad school with zero HR experience, it is not news to my ears. However, I completely understand the importance of the decision as it increases the PHR’s value. After all, the cert. handbook states that, “Because the exams measure mastery of the application of the HR body of knowledge, it is impossible to train or teach to the exam.” I think I may study up and give it a shot anyway…before 2011.

  10. Pingback: Can Students Take the PHR Exam? | upstartHR

  11. Pingback: SPHR Questions | upstartHR

  12. Leigh

    Not all students who have sat for the exam are devoid of HR experience. I have worked in HR for over 15 years but always as an Administrative Assistant in the non-exempt capacity. Only recently did I complete my degree validating my worth to employers as well as sitting for the PHR with the recent graduate exemption. I studied using the SHRM learning system and passed. Thus, as with anything, a blanket statement cannot be made that all recent graduates are lacking experience. In my role as an HR Staff Assistant, I learned quite a lot and when those exempt level colleagues with whom I worked were out of the office, it was my duty and part of my job to step into their shoes and perform those same tasks and functions, merely without the visible recognition that I was performing at a higher level.

    Yes, the certification does have meaning and but I do not believe it is completely correct to give up the student exemption. After all, we can’t use the letters until we have worked and submitted proof of 2 years work experience at the Exempt level. Did I pass? YES – Was it less meaningful because I utilized the student exemption? NO Can I tell people I passed? Most certainly, I just cannot put the letters after my name. What I can say is that I actually do have a handle on the knowledge or at least where to find the answers to perform my job to the best of my ability.

Comments are closed.