phr shrm-cp hr certification

Which HR Certification is Better? An Analysis of the SHRM-CP and PHR

Last week I received an interesting question that echoed what I’ve seen from dozens of people around the new year:

I came across this discussion while trying to formulate an argument supporting the value and credibility of the SHRM-CP credential.

I have years years of HR experience and about five years ago, I started looking at HRCI and the PHR certification. Eventually, I hit the experience AND degree requirements to take the PHR, but decided to go with the certification offered by SHRM, thinking that a credential offered directly by the society would hold equal if not more weight.

My immediate supervisor is PHR credentialed. When I announced that I had earned my SHRM-CP credential, the response was underwhelming and I was left with the impression that they are not convinced that it is on par with the PHR credential.

We are in the process of updating a Professional Development policy for our company and I’d really like to be able to present an argument for recognizing the SHRM-CP as equivalent to the PHR. I’ve done a bit of looking online, but have yet to see anything that clearly compares the two credentials.

Over the last few years, the piece I wrote about the PHR vs the SHRM-CP certifications has been seen hundreds of thousands of times. I’ve had dozens of comments and questions from people, and over time my thoughts have changed a bit and have become more clear. Plus, some of the actions of the certifying bodies themselves are changing how I view the world. First, let’s address the question at hand. 

phr shrm-cp hr certificationWhat Do the SHRM-CP and PHR Certifications Cover?

The PHR exam is offered by HRCI and covers some key areas of practice for today’s HR leaders:

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

It’s important to look at the weight of each content area, because that’s what HRCI judges are the most applicable areas for early career HR pros. Workforce planning and employment focuses heavily on recruiting and managing workers and the legal aspects surrounding those decisions. The second heaviest area is on employee and labor relations. Despite unions only being present in 10% of U.S. workplaces, this has a heavy weight because it’s something that HR must run point on in the event that collective bargaining is required.

It’s very easy to see in each area what kinds of content you would expect. In HR Development, you’ll find content on training and employee growth. In Risk Management, you’ll find information on safety and security. It’s really straightforward.

Alternatively, the SHRM-CP exam is broken into different types of competencies.

  • Leadership: Leadership and navigation, ethical practice
  • Interpersonal: Relationship management, communication, and global/cultural effectiveness
  • Business: Business acumen, consultation, critical evaluation

Within each of these areas we could touch on a variety of HR facets. Instead of being broken out by functional area, as HR roles often are at larger companies, SHRM looks at the HR profession through the lens of a handful of key qualities that each person should have in order to advance and succeed in the profession.

It’s not as clear at first glance how the competencies actually shake out, though. Let’s take the navigation competency for a moment. The SHRM-CP would test someone’s ability to understand formal and informal work roles leader goals, and relationships between employees. The SHRM-SCP, on the other hand, would look at these same relationships through the lens of an executive, understanding that higher-level insight and interaction. This is just one competency, but it shows how they can vary from the CP to the Senior CP exams.

Which HR Certification is Better?

When SHRM created the certifications, they didn’t necessarily “map” them to the two options already on the table intentionally, but when they created their Pathway tool to help currently certified individuals transfer their certification to SHRM for free, SHRM very much made it clear that they saw the PHR as equivalent to SHRM-CP and the SPHR equivalent to SHRM-SCP in the nature and quality of the certification. 

That said, after talking with students taking both exams, talking with instructors for both exams, and looking at the test prep tools we provide and the students using them to take ALL FOUR exam types (if we don’t include the aPHR, which people often use our courses for), I have started to create a sort of divide in my mind.

  • 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.

This is obviously my opinion, but when I look at the content each exam covers and how I have used it in my career (plus the dozens of interviews with HR leaders since the HRCI/SHRM split a few years back), this is the best way I can define the difference in the two exams.

That said, the recertification process also ties in to this discussion somewhat. It’s an area I will touch on very soon because just yesterday I heard more than a dozen angry HR leaders talking about how upset they were about one of the provider’s methods of awarding credits. There’s a hidden battle going on over your recertification credits and you might not even know it’s happening!

These are mine, but what are your thoughts? Is either certification more valuable than the other? What has been your experience? 

6 thoughts on “Which HR Certification is Better? An Analysis of the SHRM-CP and PHR

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  3. Brett Hardebeck

    Does anyone have any thoughts? I am trying to figure out if I should take the SHRM CP or the PHR Test. I have 9 years of HR exp. currently working as a HRBP. Thanks

    1. Ben Post author

      Hey, Brett! Depending on your company size and your career goals, one of them might fit better. In terms of purely being recognized by the hiring community as a show of your professional skills, HRCI certifications are requested about four times as often as SHRM certifications.

  4. Brett Hardebeck

    Thanks has anyone used Benchprep to prepare for the PHR? How long do focus recommend that that one studies before taking the PHR?


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