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Issue: Several types of valuable HR certifications exist, and new ones emerge all the time, especially in compensation and benefits.

Benefit: HR credentials can help enhance your career by increasing your knowledge and credibility.

Action: Use the advice below to determine the best certification track for your overall career path.

It's getting more difficult to rise to the top in HR without certification because employers increasingly expect it.

"Certification signals to employers that you are serious about taking the time and effort for professional development," says Charlie Tharp, a HR professor at Rutgers University.

While HR professionals know that certification is valuable, most haven't taken the plunge. Two-thirds of the HR professionals polled said credentials are necessary for career advancement, but only 41 percent secure some type of designation, according to a Society for Human Resource Manage-ment (SHRM) survey.

Several HR certifications are available and more will be coming, especially in compensation and benefits. While it's best to choose a certification that's recognizable, your choice should suit your career goals. The following certifications will help you the most:

HR generalists. If you want overall knowledge to help you become HR director or vice president, then the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) designations are your best bet. They're available from the SHRM-affiliated Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI). For details visit www.hrci.org.

"General SHRM certification in itself is not necessarily a ticket to a management career, but it does help your overall knowledge base, which should help your career," says Tharp.

HRCI recently added the Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) designation for professionals who develop worldwide HR strategies from the United States or manage U.S. operations in other countries.

Benefits and compensation. The primary certification organizations are the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) and WorldatWork, which recently added a new Compensation Management Specialist credential. The most valuable designations in benefits and compensation are the IFEBP's Certified Employee Benefit Specialist and WorldatWork's Certified Compensation Professional. For details, visit www.ifebp. org and www.worldatwork.org.

Pensions. For professionals who seek certification in pension administration, the American Society of Pension Actuaries offers three designations: Certified Pension Consultant, Qualified Pension Administra-tor and Qualified 401(k) Administrator. For details, visit www.aspa.org/edu.

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