Human resources is a core of any business. What started out as personnel and payroll has evolved into many specialty areas, such as recruitment and retention, compensation and benefits, labor relations, talent development, metrics, immigration and human resources information services.
Building your own expertise within a specialty or as a generalist can make a difference in hiring and promotion. You can develop your credentials and stand out as a human resources professional in three primary ways:
Human Resources Certificate Programs
Certificates are the easiest credential to achieve and can help you gain practical, tactical knowledge about day-to-day HR issues. Typically, these one- or two-day events are a great way to learn about new technologies, such as online psychological screenings, and corporate education programs. They’re also a good way to explore a potential specialty. Certificates in state regulations and mandates are valuable because they let employers know you are familiar with important state government requirements.
“From an individual's point of view, a certificate program can be a valuable learning experience,” says Pat Lynch, president of Long Beach, California-based Business Alignment Strategies. “But I don't believe that employers put a lot of weight on certificate programs primarily because [they] are often indicators of attendance at a course or program, nothing more.”
Most certificate programs are open to anyone; degree and certification programs have stricter admissions requirements.
Human Resources Degree Programs
Undergraduate and graduate degree programs in HR offer deeper learning opportunities, but tend to focus more on theory than practical skills. “It really does not matter much what the [undergraduate] degree is in; human resources would be just as good as any liberal arts degree,” says Gregory Chartier, SPHR, an independent HR consultant Westchester County, New York. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), there are more than 260 HR-focused undergraduate degree programs at US colleges and universities.
Because an understanding of business operations is crucial for those wanting to advance to a human resources management role, experts say an MBA carries the most weight among advanced degree programs. SHRM estimates that US universities offer more than 120 graduate programs, including MBAs, that feature concentrations in human resources.
Human Resources Certifications
The most valuable educational option is certification because it truly demonstrates mastery of the subject. The three main designations in the HR profession -- all granted by SHRM’s HR Certification Institute -- are:
“The SPHR certification is the closest thing HR has to a CPA,” says Nancy Heet, SPHR, president and CEO of Workforce Management Strategies LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Manchester, Missouri. “It not only includes passing exams in five disciplines but also requires a certain number of years’ experience to be eligible.” Those who earn the designation must complete 60 credit hours of HR-related CEUs every three years for recertification.
- Professional in Human Resources (PHR®), which focuses on operations and is best for people early in their careers;
- Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR®), which is designed for people who manage HR in multiple countries;
- Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), which covers strategic issues and is designed for experienced professionals.
For additional human resources training, HR professionals can pursue a specialty certification in compensation, benefits, workforce planning and other HR-related areas. These are particularly worthwhile “if you want to be seen as a specialist in a particular area,” Heet says.
So if you’re looking for an edge when being considered for human resources jobs, consider improving your credentials with a certificate, degree or certification.
“Continuing to build knowledge, skill and capability is critical for one’s personal effectiveness as well as achieving a level of business contribution for the HR function as a whole,” Heet says. “HR professionals who demonstrate new methods and techniques that add efficiency and quality, reduce costs or otherwise address a business priority will earn the respect and right to be a business partner with their peer C-suite executives. The only way to do that is to stay current on best practices and seek opportunities to learn.”
Learn more about human resources careers.