Should I get an MBA or an SPHR (or PHR)?

One of the big questions I see people asking these days is about graduate studies. People want to know if it’s worth it to get an MBA and if it will help them in their field. I’ve talked before about advanced HR degrees (and the follies of chasing one before you have experience in the field), but the twist is adding certification into the mix. Is it worth it to get your MBA, or would it be acceptable to get your SPHR certification? I know I’m a big proponent of getting certified, but then again it might be better to run the college gauntlet again for the benefits it can provide…

Want a $20 discount on PHR/SPHR study materials? Get it here.

Is there a right answer?

I talk about how both of them could be viable options in the video below. Check it out and let me know your thoughts.

(Subscribers may have to click through to view the embedded video.)

Are you looking for an edge in your HR career? Is either of these options (certification or college) a good choice for you?

13 thoughts on “Should I get an MBA or an SPHR (or PHR)?

  1. Ben Post author

    I agree, amigo, but people like me don’t have the time or financial resources to go for the MBA, so… :-)

  2. Frank Roche

    Ben, you’re right about PHR and SPHR. I like the idea of certifications…and I think in HR it makes sense. MBAs are super expensive…they do teach about business. IF I had a rewind button, I might think about a law degree or a master’s degree in design.

  3. Asaad Faquir

    Take it from me man, unless you are planning on being a lifer in HR get an MBA… however just know that getting and MBA will pretty much exclude you from HR, because you will no longer be “one of us” you will be “one of them” and by them I mean someone who understands business. The biggest myth going right now in the field of HR is that they are actively looking for talented people to bridge the HR-Business gap. They are not! I have an MBA and a MBS (Masters in HRM) but because I haven’t “WORKED” in HR and I don’t have a PHR or SPHR its like my education doesn’t exist. Yet my MBA in Finance qualifies me for all sorts of FINANCE and Business jobs no questions asked… A little odd, but maybe that’s just me!

  4. Kimberly Roden

    I agree with Chris at this point in your career; however, if you feel strongly about earning another notch on your belt, then go for the MBA without question. You have no idea where you’ll be 15 years from now and you can’t go wrong with the business knowledge and the versatility. Take it at night so you can spread out both the time & the cost. I have my own opinion regarding the HR certification and HRCI in general… wouldn’t put a penny into it.

  5. Victorio

    MBA or HR certification? That’s a tough question, Ben. The nature of business is changing so fast that I don’t think either will truly prepare people for today’s workforce. There’s plenty of articles that (fairly or no) highlight how these programs aren’t training people to be the business leaders of tomorrow.

    Personally, I’ve seen doors open for me based on my SPHR certification. I also know that there are plenty of companies that won’t hire me because I don’t have a degree. Job seekers are going to have to take a more tailored approach to obtaining the tools they need to succeed. And it’s going to have to be ongoing. I don’t think employees can sit back and relax once certain certain milestones have been achieved, not unless they want to remain stuck in a certain role or salary level.

    1. Ben Post author

      Victorio, that was what I was aiming at with this. One of the only advantages of a certification over a degree is that it signifies the beginning, not the end, of the journey. Great comment!

      Kimberly, I think I know what you mean and I’d have to agree that I’m skeptical of the whole HRCI thing at times, but it’s encouraged a lot of people to get education that they otherwise never would have.

      Chris, I’d go for experience as well, but to get that experience you sometimes need a little differentiator. Not that I think the value of certification or a degree is what most people think it is, but that’s something I’d rant about for hours if given the chance. ;-)

      Asaad, see Chris’ comment about experience. It’s more valuable than a degree or a certification, but like you’ve pointed out, it’s sometimes tough to get that experience in the first place!

  6. Chris Ponder - XtremeHR

    The inevitable question….degree, certification, or experience?

    Experience is always great, but it is very hard to get in the HR spectrum. I was once in the boat about six years ago trying to get my foot in the door and I got lucky to have someone give me a job in recruiting. Bad thing about recruiting is that is all anyone ever calls you about….if you want to get into the generalist side, most people won’t take you seriously because they want generalist experience. You might say I got that experience too while I was a recruiter….they won’t tell you, but then they want your previous title to say HR generalist. Experience is great to have because no degree can give you what you learn on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, you have to set your goals and work to achieve. It takes a lot of hard work, overtime not compensated for, and great partnerships that will help you get moved up in HR. The bigger the impact you can make on your day-to-day interactions and deliverables, the more marketable you are!

    However as organizations continue to grow, they need partners that can think outside the box of just HR or think strategically. Now, I have met people without a degree that are some strategic people and can think outside of the box. However, they are far and few between. One thing I can say about education is it requires you to think beyond the now. It pushes you to think outside of the box and strategically. Ultimately this is the reason why more and more organizations want not only experience, but also a Master\’s degree. If you have noticed over the past couple of years with degree requirements, it is no longer the HS diploma as the minimum and the Bachelor\’s gets you more money and more so the requirement. It is the now in a sense, the Bachelor\’s is the new HS diploma (it is the minimum) and the Master\’s is becoming more so the requirement, but it can get you more money. Now, how do you afford the schooling, put in the time, work a full-time job, and raise a family? If you want it, you can get it. Sacrifices unfortunately have to be made to get it and that usually comes with less sleep, more debt, but more focused spending on only necessities, and less family time. It is hard, but it is possible.

    In my case, I want to go back and get my PhD so I can teach college… I have to look at giving up a job, live broke for four to five years, and then see the payoff. But, it is all of what you want out of your life and your career.

    The certification is also another option. I have my PHR and plan on working towards my SPHR over the next year or so. This is a tough one because I have seen some companies take the certification in lieu of experience and then some companies don\’t really care about it, but want to put it into the job description to say it is preferred. Again, this is another one of those things where you have to look at how it will benefit you.

    At the end of the day, some things are good to have because they will pay off for you. However, how quickly do you want it to pay off for you? Nothing is instant and it takes time. Therefore, you really have to analyze what you want out of your career and what you want to do. From there, lay a road map on conquering a degree, a new role, a certification….whatever, but make sure it is what you want to do. Don\’t do it just to get ahead because if you are not happy with what you are doing, you didn\’t do yourself any good and now you also have looming debt for a degree that got you more money, but you hate your job.

    Sorry for the long post, but I can definitely say I passionate about these topics!

  7. Robert

    Why not both? A PHR or SPHR is only studying for an exam. No big deal. If money is an issue, MBA’s can be had for as little as a few thousand dollars. They won’t be from top schools, but are from legitimate accredited real universities – and do give you more flexibility in career choices.

    1. Ben Post author

      Both is an option if you have the time and money. Most of us have limited resources so we can’t spend willy nilly. :-)

  8. Chris Ferdinandi

    Another very valid question: Does the money you spend on an MBA pay itself back in income over time? Is that ROI the same with an MBA from a less-notable school?

    I don’t have the answers, but I’m not convinced the value is necessarily there, either.

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