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The HR certification wars: SHRM vs HRCI

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For nearly four decades, the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) served happily as the semi-independent certification arm of HR’s big-dog association, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

That marriage ended last year when SHRM announced it was launching its own certification exam and credentials—the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP).

In mid-2014, HRCI packed up its belongings and moved out of SHRM’s Virginia headquarters. The controversy played out in public that summer when SHRM blocked HRCI from exhibiting at the big SHRM annual conference. HRCI was back in 2015 with a small booth at the show.

Soon after the breakup, HRCI quickly began a marketing effort to promote it as “the gold standard” of HR certifications. Among HRCI's efforts: discounted exam preparation fees and a new $100 “second chance insurance” option for people who fail the test the first time.

As of last year, more than 140,000 HR professionals held certifications through HRCI, including the popular Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). HRCI admits that the number of people recertifying through HRCI has dropped in 2015 due to the new competition, but it hasn’t released specific numbers.

Meanwhile, SHRM says nearly 60,000 HR professionals achieved SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certifications by completing its Online Tutorial Pathway over the past year.This allowed HR professionals to quietly slide over from their HRCI certification to collect a handful of new credentialing letters after their name from SHRM.

SHRM also began offering its first certification exams in May 2015. The grades from that inaugural batch of SHRM certification tests were mailed in August to test takers.

The results? It appears the SHRM test wasn't as difficult as the long-standing HRCI exam.

SHRM says 69% of people who took the SHRM-CP exam in May passed. That’s well above the 57% pass rate for the most recent batch of PHR exams from HRCI.

For senior HR certification, the exam pass rates were similar between the two groups—53% for SHRM-SCP exams and 54% for HRCI's SPHR exam.

A SHRM spokesman said both its rates are “within industry standards.”

Online resources  Learn more about HRCI certification at www.hrci.org and SHRM certification at www.SHRMcertification.org.


{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Jayesh Bhaskarakurup October 25, 2016 at 5:29 am

Hello all

iam working in saudi, planning to do SHRM CP, PHRI , which one best . can i have study materials plse

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Tonya October 18, 2016 at 9:07 pm

Which test is harder?

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Aasif Malik September 20, 2016 at 7:34 pm

Hi all,

Earlier today I passed the SPHRi exam in my first attempt and I must say it was tougher than I thought. The sample tests had me thinking otherwise as they had a similar language and feel to the HRCP book content. The exam was very tricky and tested my experience as an HR professional rather than just the theoretical know-how.Having gotten through that I must say I’m relieved.

The reason why I’m writing here is that someone recently mentioned that if I completed an HRCI certification, it would make me eligible for an equivalent SHRM qualification, minus the exam. Ofcourse I’d be charged a fee for the SHRM letter. So I googled it but haven’t found anything so far that supports that theory.

Anyone knows anything about that?

Cheers!

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Nadeem October 16, 2016 at 2:15 am

Dear Aasif,

I am also planning for SPHRi and require your suggestion / help regarding the same.

It will be really please if you can email me your number and i will call you back.

Have a great day.

Nadeem

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Mahmoud October 19, 2016 at 12:48 pm

Hi Nadeem

Also I’m planning to for SPHRi, I’m a PHRi certified last year,

Can we arrange to talk to each other

my contact No. is 00971524265610 (UAE)

Regards,

Mahmoud

Reply

Mellanie September 6, 2016 at 4:57 pm

I passed my PHR in Jan 2011, after taking it twice, spending thousands of dollars in SHRM training books and online test questions, and several months in classes. The test questions were very tricky and there was a LOT of memorization about court cases, etc. that I find perhaps not unimportant, but unnecessary in performing my job of HR every day for the past XX years. The questions were nothing like the ones in practice, it was like speaking a different language.

Now I just went onto the SHRM site and took some practice questions for the SCP, and I don’t know if these are just easier questions to reel me in and convince me to choose their cert program, but their questions were so much easier and in plain language. I would like to know what you all think?

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Vicki August 6, 2016 at 8:14 pm

I forfeited my PHR years ago after making a career choice for the sake of my family that prohibited paying for recert activities. That said, I am in a Director role at the company that I have been with for 19 years, and although they do not care about certification (and will not pay for any training or testing) I feel the need for my own sake to get a professional credential, if for no other reason that in interacting with peers from outside the company. I stay current on legislation and utilize acquired skills and knowledge every day; however, I will be paying for prep and exam out of pocket, so I want to be sure I make the right decision between SPHR and SHRM-SCP. Any thoughts?

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Visakhan Kumaran Potty August 5, 2016 at 7:51 am

Hello ,

I am working as HR middle level professional from last 6 years.SHRM or HRCI Certifiction is more worth out side USA,Especially in Middle East and Asian Countries.Please advice on this.

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deepti s July 29, 2016 at 8:27 am

hi,
I am considering to appear for SHRM SCP ,can any one help me with the info .is this certification recognized in all industries?
I have taken 3 yrs break from job for kids .Iam indeed nervous about getting back to studies

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Anonomous July 11, 2016 at 5:25 pm

Basically the SHRM exam works like this: if you know the materials (well enough to pass the HRCI exam) AND you think exactly the same way as the people who prepared the SHRM exam then you will do well on the situational problems and may very well pass the exam. However, not everyone handles situations exactly the same and that doesn’t necessarily mean that one person handles it incorrectly over another. The SHRM exam acknowledges this and gives partial credit for some answers that do not match up exactly with how they think the situation should be handled. However, that is only partial credit for a question where on the HRCI exam the same test taker most likely would have received full credit. Unfortunately, for many of the test takers this introduces an unknown variable in whether or not they will pass… and for everyone out there who is thinking of taking the SHRM exam, the SHRM test prep courses that are marketed to prepare you for the SHRM exam do not teach you how to think like the SHRM test makers. IMHO this is a flaw in the SHRM exam preparation process. Maybe it isn’t the fault of SHRM but it something that people should be considering before selecting which exam they plan to take.

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LARRY LARSON August 22, 2016 at 1:32 pm

Thank you for your insightful comment. It is unfortunate that a battle has arisen between HRCI and SHRM. For HR professionals, it will add confusion to an already misunderstood area of expertise.

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Dana Owens July 5, 2016 at 3:04 pm

Good Afternoon Everyone,

I took the SHRM-CP exam on June 27th and received a “Pass” status on the monitor after I completed the exam. However, in the body of the printout that was handed to me at the testing center, it says “Congratulations, your preliminary results indicate that you have passed the SHRM-CP exam.” Official results will be processed and sent to me. My question is, I’m hung up on “preliminary” and this is the first exam of this type I’ve ever taken. Is there a chance that the testing center’s “Pass” determination may possibly result in a “Fail” determination from SHRM? Has this happened to anyone?

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Ann Alaniz July 14, 2016 at 12:58 pm

My understanding is; if your prelim results indicated Pass, then you passed. If the testing center reports any questionable cheating or activity from your testing session…then they will report that and your PASS will be under investigation and can result in a NOT PASS.

No worries and Congratulations!

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Terry G July 1, 2016 at 9:24 pm

Great info all! I am considering a HR Cert and have been doing my homework. I think I’ve settled on the SHRM-CP. I will be taking a HR Cert prep course for 13 weeks that will prepare me for the exam. After reading all the posts, should I also consider the PHR after I get my SHRM-CP? Or, will that be over kill? Any info will help, thanks.

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Aaron Hoosier, PHR, SHRM-CP May 1, 2016 at 4:26 am

To be very honest I worked harder for my PHR letters. For me it was a turning point in my life. I do not feel the same way about SHRM-CP. I am using both for now but I may end up dropping one after I am able to see more clearly how things will play out. I will add that SHRM-CP needs outside accreditation. If they want to have the SHRM-CP mean anything it needs to go through an outside accreditation process.

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Ray Harrell, SHRM-SCP March 15, 2016 at 9:24 am

I took the PHR exam back in 2011 and the SHRM-SCP exam this year. I passed both. I will say that the SHRM exam tested not only my memory of certain facts and theories, but also challenged me to respond to scenarios within the workplace, which is what HR professionals actually do.

While HRCI may have been the gold standard for HR certifications, SHRM has always been the premier repository for HR information and research. As such, I think they are more in tune with what current trends, laws, best practices, and competencies are within HR.

Unfortunately, because this is a political issue, some of us as job seekers may face prejudicial treatment from directors who may feel strongly about one certification or the other, and make a hiring determination based on your certification.

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Chad June 12, 2016 at 8:40 pm

How long did it take you to get official results?

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Leslie July 20, 2016 at 6:51 pm

Hi Chad – – the results from Prometric (for both exams) are immediate. As soon as you complete the exam, you will see your results.

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Stephen Leitz, PHR, SHRM-CP December 22, 2015 at 11:40 am

In my opinion, I believe the HRCI examination to be the industry standard still to this day. Even though it is nice to have the additional SHRM-CP letters behind my name, I still believe the HRCI certification is the best. I believe SHRM wants to achieve a global standard and also make some money in the process, but still think they were a little late to the game. I enjoy reading SHRM articles and posts as it is up to date information and important for all HR representatives to make informed decisions. Again, this is just my opinion :-). I could be clear off base with others opinions. Great article by the way!

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Ray Harrell, SHRM-SCP March 15, 2016 at 9:15 am

This may be true, but SHRM is the organization that holds the body of knowledge and the research that enables them to produce valid exam instruments. HRCI is only a certification institution without any body of knowledge. Without a tight connection to SHRM, HRCI is nothing more than a testing organization. In the end. hopefully both sets of credentials will carry equal weight in the industry.

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Tera October 8, 2015 at 10:09 pm

I have watched this from afar as I came up on my first HRCI re-cert on an SPHR this past year. I recertified, then filed away the idea that I think I can slide into the SHRM certifications somewhat easily (who wants to take a test if you don’t have to). Watching my peers, I don’t see many letters changing after names, and SPHR still seems to be the standard. Can’t imagine it will go awa, so I don’t know that I’ll bother with the SHRM one at this point. I will always be proud of that SPHR and never forget the moment I saw the “pass” message on the monitor in the test center.

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TAM October 3, 2015 at 10:32 pm

I can say that I have been through hell and back on the SHRM side. While I didn’t pass the SCP, I believe it was because I spoke out in public forums about the differences between the SCP and SPHR tests and members of SHRM didn’t like it. When I brought it to managements attention, they became even more uncomfortable to the point that I am now censored from comments on their website and everything I say is monitored.

I have been a lifelong member of SHRM and am an HR Executive. I called SHRM out on their own policies or the lack thereof. I appealed my test all the way to the President of SHRM, Henry Jackson and was given a line of political rhetoric.

It is unfortunate that an organization like SHRM has turned out to be nothing more than a money machine and cares nothing about its members.

The SCP testing is to me a complete failure from the start including the lack of communication to the testing through to the process of distributing results to those that tested. There are many unsatisfied testers speaking out, I’m not the only one.

My issue is not one of sour grapes because I didn’t pass. My issue is how that organization has handled the entire process and me, in particular as a member. Such a shame.

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Debi February 29, 2016 at 2:45 pm

While I never tested for the SPHR, the SHRM-SCP process for me was a huge challenge and immensely rewarding when I saw that I passed on the monitor at the external to SHRM testing center. I’m fairly certain that it isn’t possible to “identify” the test taker and render a Fail result based on that identity; this is the purpose for scheduling the exam at a testing center which has no connection to SHRM.

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Ray Harrell, SHRM-SCP March 15, 2016 at 9:20 am

Tam, I think you failed because you didn’t answer questions properly. Your testing site is completely independent from SHRM and their scoring, while based on metrics provided by SHRM, is completely internal. It would be different if the immediate result was PASS, and then the verification said FAIL.

SHRM is probably right in censoring your comments on their site, as it sounds like you are bitter about many things.

The reason SHRM created their certification is that there were widespread complaints that the HRCI exam didn’t speak to real issues that HR professionals actually face, and was nothing more than a rote memory exercise about theory and facts.

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Lacey B, SHRM-CP May 26, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Ray Harrell – very well said. I took the PHR exam years ago and failed by 3 points. I had even taken the classes for that exam that (at the time) SHRM had offered and still failed. I got tripped up by the trick questions and all the memorizing that was required. Plus, I’m a really nervous test-taker and generally do poorly on standardized testing due to the anxiety that I have around testing.

I took the SHRM-CP test in May 2015 and passed with flying colors (as they recently released a testing matrix a couple months back, so I got to see how well I tested). I loved the real-life scenarios in the CP test and found them to extremely practical and true to my years in HR. There wasn’t any questions on the CP test that were trying to “trick you up” and I loved that about it! What really shows your true HR ability – real-life scenarios to show how you apply your knowledge or a bunch of theories and random facts? I am so glad SHRM broke off from HRCI and will continue to support SHRM every step of the way. I’m taking a little break from certifications, but will plan to take my SHRM-SCP in a few years.

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