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How do I Earn a Professional in Human Resources Certification?

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  • Written By: Dale Marshall
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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The Professional In Human Resources certification is earned by candidates who combine a mastery of the body of knowledge necessary for functional competence in the field with actual professional experience in human resources. Mastery of the body of knowledge is evidenced by passing a rigorous examination conducted by the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI), which is a subsidiary of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM); candidates' experience is validated by their employers. This certification is one of four granted by HRCI to human resources professionals in the United States or who work in the US operations of global employers.

At some point early in their human resources careers, professionals generally realize that earning the professional in human resources certification enhances their credibility and identifies them as a potential leader both for their employers and in the profession. Earning the certification isn't easy, though.

The experience requirement of earning the professional in human resources certification is straightforward: the candidate must have at least two years of professional experience in human resources management or administration. In that function, the candidate should be exclusively occupied with human resources issues, although not necessarily with the broad strategic planning components of HR that are generally addressed by a company's executive leadership.

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A candidate for professional in human resources certification must also demonstrate a mastery of the body of knowledge in the areas of human resource development, strategic management, and risk management. Other areas of required mastery include workforce planning and employment, employee and labor relations, and total rewards. The HRCI develops a rigorous four-hour examination of 225 questions formulated by experts and administers it periodically at convenient locations nationwide. Proof of the exam's difficulty can be seen in the fact that from 35% to 40% of those who sit for it, fail.

HRCI sells preparation materials and offers some free resources for candidates for professional in human resources certification, but offers no face-to-face training or instruction, generating a cottage industry in test-preparation companies and courses. Many candidates enroll in these courses, even though many certified professionals say the combination of daily work in the field and a review of the study materials available from HRCI are all that's necessary to achieve a passing score.

Upon successfully passing the exam, a candidate receives the Professional in Human Resources certification (PHR&reg:), but must then maintain it. As time goes by, legislation, regulations and best practices evolve, and to maintain their competence in the field, professionals must keep their mastery of the field current. To verify that continuing mastery, HRCI requires triennial re-certification. To avoid sitting for the exam a second time, most PHR®-certified individuals will participate in approved events — usually credit-bearing courses and seminars — to accumulate the required re-certification credits.

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