HR Leads Business

Jun 13, 2018 | Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, PHRca, HRCI Director of Test Development

The New PHR and SPHR: Which Exam Should I Take?

With overlapping eligibility requirements for the Professional in Human Resources® (PHR®) and Senior Professional in Human Resources® (SPHR®), practice-based HR credentials from HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®), you may be asking yourself: "Which exam should I take?"

My response is always: "It depends." I say this because no two HR people are the same. Everyone has a unique combination of HR experience, education, training and abilities.

So, let’s start with a basic statement about the PHR and SPHR exams:

The PHR and SPHR exams are practice-based exams designed for those who have professional-level HR experience in the United States.

Do you have professional-level HR experience in the United States? If not, then you may want to consider one of the other credential offerings from HRCI. HRCI has an eligibility tool to help you find the best fit with your experience.

However, if you do have professional-level HR experience in the U.S., then you’re ready for the next step — deciding whether you are a candidate for the PHR or SPHR.

Look at the eligibility criteria. The eligibility tool will help you find the appropriate certification that best fits with your education and experience. Review it carefully and answer these questions:

  • What level of education have you completed?
  • Was your education in HR or another field?
  • How many years of professional-level HR experience do you have? (NOTE: See Understanding Professional Level Experience for more information.)

    Remember, eligibility does not necessarily mean you are ready to take an exam. And it is not a guarantee that you will pass the exam.

    Therefore, if you are eligible for both the PHR and the SPHR, please take the next step.

    Consider your own experience:

  • Do you have experience in all areas of HR or just a few areas?
  • How much time have you spent practicing each area of HR?
  • Are you leading the HR function and developing strategy or are you implementing and managing various elements of HR?

Once you have answered these questions, consider when you would like to try to earn one of these credentials.

If you want to test by July 31, 2018 (before the exams change), read the combined PHR/SPHR Exam Content Outline to see how your experience compares to the knowledge, skills and abilities (competencies) measured by each exam. Be sure to review the "core knowledge" section and note the responsibilities marked as "PHR only" or "SPHR only."

If you want to test on August 1, 2018 or later, be sure to know what the NEW exams are all about.

And if you are still unsure about which exam to take and when to test, take a look at the new PHR and SPHR exam content outlines, which take effect on August 1, 2018. You will immediately notice a couple of things:

  • The largest section for the PHR exam is Employee and Labor Relations, making up 39 percent of the exam, followed by Business Management, 20 percent of the exam.
  • In contrast, the largest section for the SPHR exam is Leadership and Strategy, 40 percent of the exam, followed by Employee Relations and Engagement, at 20 percent.

Dig a little deeper:

Compare each the functional area of each exam to one another:

  • The first section of the PHR exam has five responsibility statements.
  • The first section of the SPHR exam content outline has 10 responsibility statements.

Repeat this process for each section and note the differences between the two exams. You will see that the SPHR candidate is going to be tested on their ability to develop and evaluate various HR and business strategies. The PHR candidate is going to be tested on their ability to implement and manage HR programs and activities.

At this point you should have a much better idea of which exam is best for you. Although classes and books may help substitute for experience in some ways, you are most likely to be successful when you take the right exam at the right point in your career. 

As a reminder, the NEW PHR and SPHR exam changes take effect on August 1, 2018. If you are already planning to take one of these exams based on the old exam content outlines, be sure to schedule a testing appointment, based on test center availability, by July 31, 2018.

On August 1, PHR and SPHR exams will be based on the new exam content outlines will be published and the old exam forms will not be available under any circumstances or for any reasons. Be sure to register and schedule early, therefore, and be sure to make your scheduled appointment if you want to test before the exams change.

Best of luck!

Related Blogs from HR Leads Business: