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Making Sense of HR Certification Options (PHR/SPHR/aPHR/SHRM Exam Prep)

Updated: 2 days ago

earn your PHR SPHR certification

Are you ready to boost your HR credibility by becoming certified? Wondering which program is right for you? As a professional instructor who teaches exam prep courses for several of HRCI’s certification programs (PHR/SPHR and aPHR), as well as a SHRM-CP/SCP exam prep course for a SHRM chapter, I'm happy to help clarify key differences between the various HR certification options. Discover key differences between HRCI and SHRM certifications below, then explore our HR training solutions or register for our next HR certification exam prep class.


PHR SPHR Exam Prep

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 PHR and SPHR, varying based on level of educational attainment and certification level sought.


aPHR Exam Prep

A program of HRCI, aPHR is the first-ever HR certification designed for professionals who are in the early stages of their HR careers. It's 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.).


The aPHR 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.

  • The aPHR is a knowledge-based credential

  • No HR experience is required


SHRM-CP/SCP Exam Prep

Built upon the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge™ (SHRM BoCK™), the SHRM certifications emphasize 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 U.S.-specific, U.S. employment law is not emphasized.


  • 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 option that best matches your goals, interests, and expertise. Many people earn multiple credentials, which can be a great way to demonstrate career progression and broad expertise in the field of HR.


Exam Prep Courses

Whichever program you choose, I highly recommend a structured certification prep class delivered over a series of multiple weeks. Some providers offer very short term or boot-camp type classes. In my opinion, these may be beneficial for people who have already mastered the very extensive body of knowledge covered on these exams and are looking for test-taking strategies only. However, with so much to learn, a full exam course seems to be the best option, unless you have the ability to be very disciplined with self-study.



Want to be notified when our next HR exam certification prep class becomes available? Click here to join our waiting list, so we can notify you as classes are added to our schedule.


Additional Study Guide Options

If you're not ready for a full class and you simply want to start the process of studying, there are some great options to consider. I am an ambassador for Study.com and also write practice questions for them. They have some great resources to help you get started, including:



Additionally, Mometrix offers really good "Exam Secrets Study Guides" for the PHR/SPHR, aPHR, and SHRM-CP exams (affiliate links).


Continuing Education Requirements

These certifications all have continuing education requirements. For the SHRM and PHR/SPHR certifications, 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


Mary Gormandy White, HR Expert

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 training@InsideInsights.info.

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