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Navigating HR Certification Options (PHR/SPHR/aPHR/SHRM)

Updated: Jan 2

Are you thinking about earning your HR certification? As a professional instructor who teaches a SHRM-CP/SCP certification exam prep course for a SHRM chapter as well as online exam prep courses for several of HRCI’s certification programs (PHR/SPHR and aPHR), I get a lot of questions about the differences between the various HR certification options. Discover key differences between SHRM and HRCI certifications below, then review our HR training solutions or register for our next HR certification exam prep class.


Built upon the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) PHR (Professional in Human Resources) and SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) Exam Content Outlines, these certifications emphasize best practices for technical, operational, and strategic human resource management, as practiced in the U.S. There is a significant emphasis on HR compliance through mastery and application of U.S. employment laws and regulations.

  • PHR: Designed for HR professionals in roles that focus on the HR department rather than the whole organization; emphasizes technical and operational aspects of HR

  • SPHR: Designed for big-picture thinkers responsible for planning rather than implementing HR policy; emphasizes strategic and policy-making aspects of HR

Specific education/experience eligibility requirements apply for the SPHR, varying based on level of educational attainment and certification level sought.


A program of HRCI, aPHR is the first-ever HR certification designed for professionals who are beginning or in the early stages of their HR careers. This certification is ideal for professionals who are relatively new in or are transitioning to an HR role, recent graduates, and people who are in roles that involve HR-related duties (such as managers, administrators, business owners, etc.).

It is also a good option for people who are thinking about transitioning to HR, as well as those who have a good bit of experience but want to earn a knowledge-based HR certification before pursuing a more advanced credential. Learn more about the aPHR.

  • The aPHR is a knowledge-based credential

  • No HR experience is required


Built upon the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge™ (SHRM BoCK™), the SHRM certifications are very focused on linking HR to business strategy and serving the needs of the organization. The SHRM-CP (Certified Professional) and SHRM-SCP (Certified Professional) credentials are global in scope, which means they are applicable across geographic borders. Because they are not intended to be specific to any particular part of the world, they do not emphasize U.S. employment law/regulatory compliance.

  • SHRM-CP: Designed for HR practitioners in roles that are primarily operational

  • SHRM-SCP: Designed for senior-level HR professionals in a primarily strategic role

Specific education/experience eligibility requirements apply for the SHRM-SCP credential. There is not a specific requirement to sit for the SHRM-CP exam.

Making Your HR Exam Prep Decision

People often ask me which certification is “better,” which really is a question that no one else can answer for you. The key is to choose the certification – or more than one! – option that best matches your goals, interests, and expertise.

Continuing Education Requirements

These certifications all have continuing education requirements. For the SHRM certifications and PHR/SPHR, 60 hours of recertification credit are required every three years. For aPHR, the requirement is 45 hours every three years. If you decide to get both SHRM and HRCI credentials, you will be pleased to find that the continuing education requirements are similar enough that the same courses and other activities will typically apply to both.

Ask Our HR Certification Instructor

Do you have questions about HR certification exam prep courses? I'll be happy to help. I have been teaching HRCI exam prep courses since 2007. I have taught SHRM certification prep classes for the Mobile SHRM chapter since the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP credentials were introduced in 2015. Contact me (Mary White) at

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