PHR and SPHR Changes Reflect Growing HR Complexity

As HR knowledge and practice transforms, so do the credentials offered by HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®). Effective August 1, 2018, HR professionals who seek to earn the Professional in Human Resources® (PHR®) or Senior Professional in Human Resources® (SPHR®) will see expanded areas of responsibility and knowledge on their certification exams.

Recent changes to the PHR and SPHR reflect growing complexity in HR practices. Most notably, senior-level professionals are playing expanded roles to not only create HR outcomes, but strategic business outcomes. At all levels of the profession, HR is now asked to do more to champion employee engagement and support business decisions with data-driven workforce analytics.

Candidates for the PHR and SPHR should review the new 2018 PHR Exam Content Outline and 2018 SPHR Exam Content Outline, respectively, to see the current state of key HR functional areas and competencies required for each designation.

HRCI routinely updates the exam content outlines for each of its eight credentials to reflect changes in practice and compliance. Diverse groups of HR practitioners are the driving force behind every comprehensive practice analysis study HRCI conducts. HRCI adheres to industry standards established by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) in the development of its programs. Only HRCI has human resource management credentials accredited by the NCCA.

The 2018 PHR Exam Content Outline reflects greater emphasis on the HR professional’s role in the employee experience and ability to use data to make more informed business decisions. Enhanced business management responsibilities include, for example, understanding the roles of cross-functional stakeholders and establishing relationships to influence decision-making. Enhancing the employee experience requires analyses of functional effectiveness at each stage of the employee lifecycle.

The 2018 SPHR Exam Content Outline, with greater emphasis on the alignment of workforce strategies with business outcomes, emphasizes HR planning that is aligned with an organization’s strategic plan, including the ability to analyze and assess organizational practices that impact operations and people management.

In addition to HR and business practice updates, both exam content outlines are updated to mirror the changes in new legislation, technology and social factors.

"The practice analysis for the PHR and SPHR revealed that today’s HR professionals are change agents who are 100 percent integrated into the business," says HRCI CEO Amy S. Dufrane, Ed.D., SPHR, CAE. "Today’s HR practices require more holistic strategies — not just HR strategies — that drive people, innovation and business outcomes."

HR continues to be a complex and ever-evolving profession. Perhaps what is most unique about HRCI certifications is how they not only measure your current knowledge experience, but also your ability to apply and adapt competencies to respond to unforeseen changes or opportunities. It is this — the analytically backed agility to turn the unknown into advantage — that will most likely define the next generation of HR leaders.


  • 2018 PHR Exam Content Outline
  • 2018 SPHR Exam Content Outline