SHRM-SCP vs SPHR: Which Senior HR Certification Makes More Sense?

Are you a senior HR pro thinking about getting a certification, and you’re selecting between the SHRM-SCP and the SPHR? Have you wondered if the SHRM senior professional certification or the HRCI senior professional in human resources certification is right for you? Or maybe you’re one of those thinking about getting both of these credentials? Then this post is for you!

One of the most popular posts I’ve written in the last few years continues to be a piece on HR certifications SHRM-CP and PHR. It is a very common question, and before SHRM and HRCI broke up, it wasn’t an issue. However, I’m now seeing more people who are moving up in their careers that want to explore the senior HR certifications like the SHRM-SCP and the SPHR. As someone who holds both certifications, I am an advocate of them for a few reasons:

  • They quantify, to some degree, the person’s understanding of HR and how it ties into the business.
  • They have more situational questions than the basic PHR/CP exams that are much harder to study for, requiring you to really know and have hands-on experience. That adds credibility when you do pass.

You will run across people who do not believe in them or care about certification. You will find Chief Human Resources Officers, VPs, and Directors that have no certification. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue one? Absolutely not. If it’s on your mind and you are seriously considering it, then don’t let someone else’s career choices derail you from getting the certification you think you want. There’s also the financial aspects of earning more money with an HR certification.

SHRM-SCP SPHR HR CertificationsTo be transparent, I didn’t have to take the SHRM-SCP exam. SHRM was very smart during the split away from HRCI and allowed any practitioner to answer a few questions and in five minutes transfer our SPHR over to the SHRM-SCP certification. Many of the people you find with both have had both since the split, though there are some that have taken the additional time and expense to get them the “old fashioned” way by studying and taking two separate tests. I have great respect for those people and highly recommend that you reach out to a few friends or colleagues in the industry that you respect to ask them how they got the certification and for any advice they might offer for you.

I will offer my normal disclaimer here before I go any further:

I have been a SHRM volunteer leader since 2009. I’ve been a long-time supporter of SHRM. I also have been a supporter of HRCI since 2009 when I became certified. I’ve watched the battle rage between these two organizations over the past few years and my focus in the conversation is always about the professional doing the work (you!) This is my opinion and doesn’t mean I have stopped supporting either of these valuable organizations. My goal is to make HR better, and I think that each of these groups is trying to do the same in their own respective ways.

The Nuts and Bolts of the SHRM-SCP

SHRM-SCP Eligibility Requirements 

Less than a Bachelor’s Degree* HR-Related
Program

6 years in HR role
Non-HR
Program

7 years in HR role
Bachelor’s Degree HR-Related Degree
4 years in HR role
Non-HR Degree
5 years in HR role
Graduate Degree HR-Related Degree
3 years in HR role
Non-HR Degree
4 years in HR role

Exam Content

BEHAVIORAL COMPETENCY CLUSTERS

ITEM TYPE

  Leadership (13%) Situational Judgment (40%)
Foundational Knowledge (10%)
  Business (18.5%)
  Interpersonal (18.5%)

HR KNOWLEDGE DOMAINS

ITEM TYPE

  People (17%) HR-Specific Knowledge (50%)
  Organization (17%)
  Workplace (16%)

The Nuts and Bolts of the SPHR

SPHR Eligibility Requirements

  • A minimum of 4 years of experience in a professional-level HR position with a Master’s degree or higher, OR
  • A minimum of 5 years of experience in a professional-level HR position with a Bachelor’s degree, OR
  • A minimum of 7 years of experience in a professional-level HR position with less than a Bachelor’s degree

Exam Content

  • 40% Leadership and Strategy
  • 20% Employee Relations and Engagement
  • 16% Talent Planning and Acquisition
  • 12% Learning and Development
  • 12% Total Rewards

HRCI-SPHR_Infographic-2-content

This SPHR content actually changed pretty significantly in 2018 without warning and we had to scramble to update our courses to align with the content. It has been pretty static since then.

Which Certification is Better?

I am sticking with my stance on the PHR and SHRM-CP of “it depends.” If you are in a small or midsize firm and you are required to keep the company compliant with applicable laws while managing relationships and delivering value across the HR spectrum, then HRCI’s SPHR is what I would recommend. The SHRM exam has no compliance-oriented content and does not adequately prepare you for that type of leadership role. While the SPHR doesn’t only focus on compliance, it helps you have that foundation so you can perform at your best without worrying if you are going to trip up over some sort of labor violation.

If you are in a larger organization and/or you have a more specialized role (talent acquisition manager, benefits manager, etc.), then the SHRM exam might be more fitting for you. It focuses more heavily on how to navigate stakeholder relations, build business acumen, and more. It is more applicable for larger firms. For instance, Boeing has a partnership with SHRM that allows all of its hundreds of HR professionals to work through certification preparation as a career perk or benefit. This works to the benefit of larger firms in general. These were my exact words on the other set of exams, which were very similar to what you see above:

  • If you want to prove your knowledge and mastery of HR-related business law, an understanding of the general concepts and theories underlying HR, and you work in HR at an organization with under 250 people, the PHR is going to be very helpful to you. This is because we are counted on in these roles (especially at smaller companies) to know the legal aspects and the SHRM exam does not cover them fully.
  • If you want to use the SHRM career resources, learn some intangible aspects of HR like leadership, consulting behaviors, and navigating your career, and you work at a larger or mature organization, then the SHRM-CP may be a better bet. That’s because the larger the company, the larger the HR team, and you might not need to be a specialist on HR laws and compliance to excel and move forward.

One other piece of the puzzle: if you have significant experience with managing compliance and keeping the organization out of legal trouble, the SHRM certification might be more fitting for you overall since the appeal of covering your legal bases is lessened. That’s a major reason for me recommending the SPHR for someone in a smaller firm, but if you have enough experience handling that kind of thing, then it holds less sway over your decision.

Other Considerations

One other consideration is recertification credits. The ongoing battle between SHRM and HRCI means that you, as the practitioner, are stuck in the middle. SHRM influences its chapters to make them do SHRM recert credits on events, and unfortunately HRCI doesn’t have that same connection and pull with the chapters, which provide many of the credits that professionals need for their continuing education. I won’t go too deeply into this conversation here, because there are strong feelings on either side of the aisle. Just know this will be something you will need to keep in mind going forward.

As a parting gift, be sure to check out the article below for additional insights based on over 10+ years of helping people like you study for and pass the exams. It highlights the number one reason people fail the HR certification exams.

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