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SPHR is an important professional credential for HR

The HR field is filled with many professionals who are highly educated and qualified. However, the days in which a college degree is sufficient training for the job are numbered. More and more HR professionals are seeking greater training either as a requirement of their job or on their own in an effort to enhance their knowledge of the ever-changing HR field. One avenue that these knowledge-seeking HR professionals are traveling is SPHR certification.

"I would encourage everyone to consider certification," said Dr. Larry Phillips (SPHR). "I think it is going to become virtually a requirement for entry into and progress within the profession."

"Increasingly, the SPHR has become a required or preferred credential for senior HR management positions," said Phillips. "Certification indicates that the individual has mastered the body of knowledge of HR at the strategic level as determined by a comprehensive test. The SPHR designation is recognized nationally and internationally as an indication of both experience and expertise in the practice of HR. In many cases, the credential is a requirement to be considered for senior professional positions. In other situations, it is clearly the tiebreaker when equally competent individuals are being considered."

Lack of competitiveness from non-certification. According to Phillips, the major disadvantage of not being SPHR certified is a lack of competitiveness in terms of career advancement. As in most careers, those with the greatest training and most certifications are likely to climb the corporate ladder quicker than those who do not. "Even if the individual has a PHR certification, failure to upgrade to the SPHR when moving up the corporate ladder will become a severe disadvantage," said Phillips.

Another disadvantage mentioned by Phillips comes from the trend of the HR profession moving toward increasing certification, which is quickly becoming an expectation. "If you don't have the certification, your expertise and credibility is much more likely to be questioned," said Phillips. "As an analogy, you are much more likely to feel comfortable with having your taxes prepared by a CPA; the same is true with having someone do your HR work. CEOs are becoming more familiar with and more comfortable with persons who possess the appropriate certification in HR."

Passing the test is difficult. Passing the SPHR certification exam is no easy task. HR must appreciate that becoming certified will be neither quick nor easy. "The test is comprehensive and difficult," said Phillips. "According to the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI), which is the SPHR certifying body, 58 percent of those taking the SPHR passed during the most recent testing cycle which occurred in May/June 2007."

What makes the test so difficult? According to Phillips, it doesn't just require mere expertise in programs and various employment laws. Rather, one needs to be able to integrate multiple laws/regulations and programs in order to answer the questions.

Preparing for the SPHR certification exam. Phillips number one piece of advice for those HR professionals who are considering taking the SPHR exam is to study hard and use multiple study strategies and references.

Multiple references available. Multiple references are available for HR to use in preparing for the SPHR certification exam. One such reference is the book written by Phillips, SPHR: Senior Professional in Human Resources which was written specifically to prepare candidates to take the SPHR examination. Additional options include using study groups, taking the SHRM Learning System course or a college level HR course, in combination with individual self-study. "The harder you study and the more you over learn the material the better chance you have to pass it," suggested Phillips.

Five tips for SPHR preparation. While it was difficult for Phillips to narrow down his multiple tips for successful SPHR preparation, he listed the following five "most valuable" tips:

  1. Study hard using a variety of materials and study strategies.

  2. Keep asking "How does this information relate to the actual practice of HR, particularly from a strategic perspective?"

  3. Keep asking "How does this information relate to other programs and laws?" Remember that virtually everything is interdependent; what you do in one program impacts others and there are probably multiple laws and regulations that apply.

  4. Answer the questions you know and go on. Do not dwell on a question that you are unsure about. Go through the whole 225 questions first and then go back to those that you don not know or are unsure about. ANSWER EVERY QUESTION; THERE IS NO PENALTY FOR GUESSING WRONG!!!

  5. Expect to be challenged by the questions and keep a positive outlook while taking the test. You are probably doing a lot better than you think you are.

Source: Interview conducted by CCH, a Wolters Kluwer company, of Dr. Larry Phillips (SPHR). Dr. Phillips authored the SPHR Exam Prep, Second Edition (ISBN 0789736764). Dr. Phillips has taught numerous PHR/SPHR certification classes and is on the faculty of Indiana University South Bend where he teaches graduate and undergraduate HR classes.

For additional information on this and other HR topics, consult CCH Human Resources Management or Personnel Practices/Communications.

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