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Should Professors Pursue HR Certification?

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From time-to-time, student chapter advisors ask if they should seek HR certification.  Below is a sampling of comments made by current and former student chapter advisors on the subject of seeking certification. 

Advisor Comments

"Yes I believe that HR profs should be certified by [the HR Certification Institute] ... it's a demonstration of practitioner currency and can only add to our ability to reach students! Also I have found that with my being certified (SPHR) I can speak more knowledgeably about the exam and hopefully foster a stronger spirit of professionalism AND educational value within the field. By the way, my students are now taking the exams (since I certified) and to date all have successfully passed the PHR!"
- Kathleen J. Powers, SPHR; Willamette University

"I've been around and involved with SHRM and student chapters since certification began, and I must admit I orginally said, ‘I don't need to do this; I'm a Prof. and have a Ph. D.' But, I have since changed my mind and believe that advisors should lead by example. Frankly, I found the exam was fun and I argued with the Board about the answers to a few questions, but I passed with plenty to spare. It is not an easy test... The challenge is to know a fair amount about the fairly diverse areas of HRM. I have also participated in an HRCI item writing workshop with practitioners. That is more challenging than one might expect too, but also a fun learning experience."
- Tom Stone, Ph.D., SPHR; Oklahoma State University

"I became certified a number of years ago at the SPHR level. I did this since employers seem to be more interested in the certification and I wanted to be able to discuss the experience with students who might pursue certification in the future. I did not find the test extremely difficult (when I took it you needed 70% overall for a pass) and it covered a lot of what I teach. I found the recertification process very valuable (I did it through experience) since I sought out workshops in areas in which I had not received formal training (HRIS) and also tried new service experiences related to HR. I do not view this as different from accounting faculty colleagues who are Ph.D.s as well as CPA's."
- Lizabeth Barclay, Ph.D., SPHR; Oakland University

"I sat for (and passed) the SPHR in the Spring of 1996.... I am able to accurately provide info to students regarding the difficulty of the test & the amount of preparation it is likely to require. Moreover, I no longer feel sort of hypocritical when I am exhorting them to take the test. Interestingly, I think there have been some other side benefits as well. For one, I don't think it hurts one's credibility in the HR practitioner community to have acquired the certification. Additionally, it has provided me with a common experience that I share with HR practitioners in the area (which is always a plus -- especially since most of them have not shared the sometimes harrowing experience of earning a Ph.D. and since I do not share the sometimes harrowing experience of practicing HR on a daily basis). Overall, I'm very glad I did it."
- Lynn Harland, Ph.D., SPHR; University of Nebraska- Omaha

"I think the human resource management area is moving into the category of a profession even though it could be argued that it hasn't yet reached that status. A profession is characterized by a body of knowledge that is constantly expanding and becoming refined, a professional association that serves to represent the profession and assist in the dissemination of the body of knowledge, a code of professional ethics that applies to one's personal conduct and professional responsibilities, and a certification process to assess the competence of those who claim to be professionals.

"If human resource managers and professors expect to move the discipline forward and make it a legitimate profession, it seems obvious to me that certification is essential.

"Let me add that when our local SHRM chapter decided to pursue certification vigorously about 12 years ago, there was a distinct increase in the professionalism of the chapter. Many members noticed the change in our monthly luncheon discussions and the quality of our interactions between meetings. Members are more interested in learning about new developments and the latest legislation. But most importantly, they seem to have a greater concern for making certain that employees are treated properly. We encourage everyone to become certified and assist them with certification study courses and self-study materials. Our group study courses have been especially effective in eliminating some of the fear we all feel in taking a challenging exam."
- David Cherrington, DBA; Brigham Young University


It has been suggested that the certification was less valuable for professors at universities that are very theory-oriented and not necessarily concerned with connections to the professional community. It is also less important for professors not doing any consulting work with practitioners.

Dr. McDonald summarizes the reasons professors should pursue HR certification as follows:

  • Credibility with students, who wish to take your courses in preparation for the field.
  • Credibility with practitioners, with whom you interact and stay current.
  • Credibility with employers for your students to get better hiring opportunities.
  • Ability to design course work toward the body of knowledge.
  • Ability to advise and prepare students for the kind of test it will be.
  • Ability to influence students to take the exam, who otherwise may not think it is important.

For More Information 

Further information about HR certification can be found on the HR Certification Institute website at


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