512.835.1343 | info@pivotu.com

‹ All Blog Posts

Why I choose HRCI – Part One

Alice Dendinger | September 24, 2015 | Performance Management, Talent Management, Trust

This is Part One of a series of posts on “Why I choose HRCI.”


The HR certification field is going through an identity crisis.

In May 2014, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) announced a new competency model for HR Professionals.  Personally, I was thrilled with their move until they announced a new certification exam that would reflect the competencies in the model.  To be honest, I was extremely upset, disappointed and disheartened.  SHRM was pursuing their own certification exam independed of HRCI.

Test TakersSHRM is the world’s largest HR professional organization, with more than 250,000 members worldwide. Although HRCI and SHRM are legally separate organizations with different governing boards, they were closely intertwined. HRCI was created in 1973 by SHRM (then known as the American Society for Personnel Administration) and was originally called the ASPA Accreditation Institute for the purpose of overseeing its professional certification process. Their belief at the time was the need for an independent agency to administer the exam thus giving the independence, oversite and credibility needed for a professional certification. But now SHRM is competing with HRCI for a share of that market.  This is according to Mike Losey, former HRCI board member and past president and CEO of SHRM.  “The founding principle was that HRCI would issue the test and SHRM would handle the test preparation and stay out of the testing processing completely,” he says.  It was set up as a firewall.  Today, Mr. Jackson states that there is a governing board established within SHRM with a firewall.

The new SHRM-CP (Certified Professional) and SHRM-SCP (Senior Certified Professional) exams were administered to the public for the first time in January of this year, 2015.  Results will not be available until August. Anyone who already had a PHR or SPHR certification was given a golden ticket to take the exam multiple times until they could pass it.  According to Mr. Jackson, he said that “SHRM assumes that anyone currently holding the certification is competent so they should be able to easily get the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP credentials.”

Further, to be eligible to take the SHRM-CP exam, individuals with HR-related graduate degrees need essentially no professional experience, whereas the PHR and SPHR exams require that an individual with a Masters degree have at least 1 year in an HR-specific position prior to being eligible to obtain the qualification as a certified HR professional.

Why has SHRM taken this approach?  Does it have to do with the demands of the millennial generation?

I do realize I will upset some people by saying this, but I believe that having a certification should mean more than getting out of school and taking a test.  It should be based in some amount of on-the-ground experience.  I have always considered this base of real experience to be a strength of the SPHR/PHR qualification.  According to national standards, to become certified by exam, the exam must have three components:

All certification examination questions are multiple-choice with one best answer. The examinees will be asked questions at different cognitive skills. The three types of cognitive skills: recall, application, and analysis, which are described as:

  • Recall: To measure memory and the ability to recall or recognize previously learned (memorized) knowledge ranging from specific facts to complete theories
  • Application: To measure basic interpretation of data and the ability to utilize recalled knowledge to interpret or apply written, numeric or visual data
  • Analysis:  To measure the application of knowledge which is the ability to utilize recalled knowledge and the interpretation/application of distinct criteria to resolve a problem or situation and/or make an appropriate decision

The HRCI exams have been created on these principles.  The exam has always been very high in predicting the professionalism of the test taker.  Those of us who have passed the exam are very proud of our credentials and holding membership into this elite group.  Yes, somewhere I read that less than 46% of people taking the HRCI exam pass it on the first attempt.  I do not think everyone should pass it – that is what makes it so highly valued.  Not everyone passes the CPA exams on the first effort or the Bar Exam on the first try.

SHRM has “sold” us all on the fact that their test is competency based and this is premier.  Recall – Application – Analysis –  is what creates a competency – technical and behavioral type – and this has always been the basis for the HRCI exam since the early nineties when it was developed.  There is nothing, in my opinion, that sets the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP apart to make it “better than” the current certification through HRCI.  In my opinion, this decision by SHRM was a serious misplacement of our financial resources.

What’s more, I have a great deal of faith in the validation that HRCI has done on the SPHR/PHR exams.  Each year, 25 questions on the exam are beta questions, meaning that they are not counted towards the scoring but are simply put on the exam to determine whether they are a good indicator of whether that person indeed holds the expertise that is being tested.  See more about validation in my Part Two.

Given the above concerns, unless and until I see SHRM prove that their exams mean something for professionalism in this field, I will personally continue to hold the SPHR/PHR qualification in higher esteem than the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP.  Given two otherwise equally qualified candidates for a job in the field of Human Resources, I will assign a higher value those who were eligible for and passed the HRCI exams.  The credibility of the SHRM certification is still an unknown and therefore I advise those who ask for my opinion at this juncture to plan on taking both exams and hedge your bets.  I heard you can’t fail the SHRM exam.


Looking for an SPHR/PHR Certification Prep course?  Join Alice and PivotU for an interactive study experience that will build your professionalism in the field of Human Resources while preparing you for certification.

Back to Top