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Why would a senior HR professional invest in an advanced certification if they already have an executive position, a PHR, or an advanced degree? Is there a significant benefit to obtaining a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification? Read on to find out why the SPHR certification is an asset worth the investment.

What is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)?

The Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) is a certification that signifies advanced knowledge of human resources principles and best practices. Focusing on strategy and policymaking, the SPHR certification is one of the most difficult certifications to obtain. As of December 2021, the exam had only a 58 percent passing rate.

What are the Benefits of Having an SPHR Certification?

Like other HR certifications, the SPHR offers its holders and their companies several valuable benefits. Here are a few.

  • Career progression. The SPHR certification is the most desirable for senior HR leaders. It designates the holder as one capable of leading the HR strategy for an organization.
  • Increased salary. One study showed that the median pay for individuals with the SPHR increased by almost 50 percent over the PHR. Further, the salaries of SPHR holders increased by 93 percent over those without any certification. The increases are likely due to the combination of additional certification and the increased ability to contribute through experience and knowledge enhanced by the certification.
  • Strategic contributions. The SPHR trains its certificants on a broad range of business issues that enable a more strategic focus on overall business goals. This makes the SPHR holder better able to contribute at the executive table.
  • Company value. Companies that employ five or more HRCI-certified professionals enjoy significantly higher stock prices than those that don’t. Leaders in the HR function are better prepared with an advanced certification such as the SPHR.

How to Prepare for the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) Exam

Preparing for the SPHR requires a combination of knowledge through experience and knowledge through exam study. On-the-job experience provides a strong foundation for SPHR candidates to build upon as they begin their studies. Most SPHR holders have a depth of experience that provides the foundation on which they can then start to prepare for the exam.

Focus on Strategic Human Resources Concepts and Activities

Learn from strategic HR professionals by reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and studying best practices and current trends. Participate in strategic activities in your workplace. Immerse yourself in all business aspects of your company, not just the human resources function.

Formalize a Study Plan

When you feel ready to begin studying for the test, create a formal study plan. Review the SPHR content outline and determine where to focus your study time. A simple online search will yield many results for available books and online resources.

Consider Taking a Class or Joining a Study Group

Many professionals find it helpful to take a class and interact with others who are preparing for the exam. A competent instructor will guide students through the learning activities to prepare successfully. HRCI maintains a list of vetted certification preparation providers. A study group can be helpful for those who wish to learn from and teach each other.

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 where you need to focus your study and where your knowledge is strong enough to pass the exam.

Prepare Yourself for the Test

If you’re going to test at a testing center, know in advance where to go.  If you’re testing at home, have your equipment ready. This will 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 while others 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 SPHR exam is one of the hardest of all HRCI tests. Those who wish to retake the exam may do so as soon as 90 days after the date of the first exam. Don’t give up!

Who is Eligible for the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) Exam?

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

Job Requirements

SPHR candidates must work in a professional-level HR position. Ideally, the SPHR candidate will be responsible for planning strategy within their organization, not just implementing policy.

Education and Experience Requirements

SPHR candidates must also have a combination of education and professional-level work experience as listed below:

  • A master’s degree or higher plus four years of professional-level HR work experience,
  • A bachelor’s degree plus five years of professional-level HR work experience, OR
  • Seven years of professional-level HR work experience.

Other Prerequisites

Those who take the SPHR exam actually do not need to have a previous certification. If you are prepared and qualified to take the SPHR exam based on your job level, education, and work experience, you don’t need to take the PHR exam first.

Recertification

Once someone passes the SPHR exam, they must maintain their certifications through a series of demonstrated professional and learning activities totaling 60 credits every three years. Of the 60 credits, 15 must be approved business management and strategy credits. If an individual fails to submit evidence of these professional development activities, they will need to retest at the 3-year mark. Some professionals 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 Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)

The SPHR exam costs $495 plus a $100 application fee. HRCI also sells second-chance insurance which costs $250 and allows a second opportunity to test if the candidate doesn’t pass the first time.
Most senior HR practitioners find that 60-100 hours of study over a period of six months is the ideal amount of preparation, but this will depend on your experience and the quality of your study.

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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