Professional in Human Resources (PHR)

Carol Eliason Nibley
Carol Eliason Nibley

Table of Contents

Many folks land a position in human resources planning to learn on the job. If you’re one, are you trying to decide if an HR certification is worth the time and effort? This article introduces the PHR certification, the most popular of all HR certifications.

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What is a Professional in Human Resources (PHR)?

The Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification has been a standard in the industry for almost 50 years. In 1976, the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) began offering certification programs to distinguish HR professionals who mastered the knowledge associated with successful human resources careers. As of January 2022, more than 68,000 professionals hold the PHR certification. HRCI offers other credential programs as well.

PHR vs. SHRM-CP

In 2014, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) decided to offer its own certification program instead of partnering with HRCI. Today, HR practitioners usually choose the PHR certification from HRCI or the SHRM-CP from SHRM since they are fairly equivalent in terms of the requirements for certification. Essentially, the PHR certification is focused on compliance and technical knowledge while the SHRM-CP certification is competency-based. As of2022, both organizations are promoting their certifications and HR practitioners must decide to select one or both.

What Are the Benefits of Having a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) Certification?

HR certifications provide many benefits to those who invest the time and resources to obtain them. Here are a few benefits the PHR certification offers.

  • Demonstrates your commitment to HR. Professionals who earn a PHR show their employers, potential employers, peers and other colleagues they are serious about a career in HR.
  • Strengthens your resume and differentiates you from other candidates. Recruiters often look for indications of expertise and accomplishments that distinguish top candidates from others. The PHR certification is helpful for those looking for early to mid-career and generalist roles.
  • Increases your salary potential and opportunities for advancement. Certified HR professionals earn more than their non-certified peers according to a study by PayScale. This same study shows that PHR-certified professionals have increased promotion opportunities.
  • Adds credibility to your ability to contribute strategically to your organization. Certified HR professionals learn how to think strategically and globally throughout the organization. These added competencies are tremendous benefits to organizations.

Tips for Preparing for the PHR Exam

Many options are available for those who want to take the PHR exam. Here are some suggestions.

Review the PHR Exam Content Outline and Create a Study Plan.

The HRCI website provides a downloadable outline of content PHR professionals will be tested on. Determine how your current knowledge and work experience relates to the exam content and create a plan to develop competence where you aren’t as familiar. Most professionals who take the exam plan to spend four to six months or more preparing. Plan to spend 60 to 100 study hours depending upon your current level of experience. This test is best suited for those who prepare over a period of time instead of trying to cram information within a relatively short period of time.

Determine if You Want to Take a Class or Study Solo

Online and in-person certification classes are available for individuals preparing for HR certifications. Study guides and online tutorials are also available for those who choose to study independently. HRCI maintains a list of vetted certification preparation providers. You may find it helpful to join a study group with others preparing to test. Local HR networking organizations can be helpful in connecting study group participants.

Take as Many Practice Exams as You Can

HRCI and other online test preparation providers offer practice exams. Some are free while others have a fee. Start with the free exams but consider paying for the HRCI practice exam before you sign up for the actual exam. This way you’ll know the areas to focus on and have confidence where your knowledge is strong enough to pass the exam.

Prepare Yourself for the Test

Know where to go for the test if you are taking the test at a testing center. Have your equipment ready if testing at home to help eliminate stress on the day of the exam. Sleep well the night before and make sure you are appropriately nourished and hydrated to be on top of your game physically and mentally. For other test preparation suggestions, review the information on the HRCI website.

Take a Long-Term View

Some people have test anxiety and some people need more time to grasp the test mindset. If you don’t pass the test the first time, give yourself permission to try again. The PHR exam had a 65 percent pass rate in 2021. Those who wish to retake the exam may do so as soon as 90 days after the first exam. Don’t give up!

How to Earn the PHR Certification

In order to take the PHR certification exam, candidates must meet certain qualifications. These are briefly described below.

Job Requirements

PHR candidates must work in a professional-level HR position. Entry-level HR practitioners are not eligible. “Professional level” is defined as a position where the individual exercises discretion and independent judgment with some decision-making authority. See the HRCI definition of professional-level experience for more details.

Education and Experience Requirements

PHR candidates must also have a combination of education and professional-level work experience. These are the criteria:

  • A master’s degree or higher plus one year of professional-level HR work experience,
  • A bachelor’s degree plus two years of professional-level HR work experience, OR
  • Four years of professional-level HR work experience.

Other Criteria

Those who apply for the exam must be currently working in a functional HR position rather than aspiring HR professionals or those working outside the HR field.

Recertification

Once someone passes the PHR exam, they must maintain their certifications through a series of demonstrated professional and learning activities totaling 60 credits every three years. If they fail to submit evidence of these professional development activities, they will need to retest. Some individuals actually prefer to retest rather than track the professional development requirements, but either option is acceptable as long as deadlines are met.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Professional in Human Resources (PHR)

The PHR test costs $395 plus a $100 application fee. HRCI also sells second-chance insurance which costs $250 and allows a second opportunity to take the test if the candidate doesn’t pass the first time.
Most HR practitioners find that 60-100 hours of study over a period of six months is the ideal amount of preparation.
HRCI uses a scaled score in a range from 100 to 700. A score of at least 500 is needed to pass.
Carol Eliason Nibley
Carol Eliason Nibley

Carol Eliason Nibley, SPHR, GPHR and Principal Consultant at PeopleServe, has more than 25 years of experience in human resources, most recently serving as Vice President of Human Resources for a technology company in Utah County. Carol has taught HR certificate courses at Mountainland Technical College and in other settings for more than 12 years.

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