What Is PHR and SPHR?

Senior Professional Human Resources and Professional Human Resources are two of the certifications issued by the Human Resources Certification Institute. The HRCI is the certifying body for three primary HR-related designations: SPHR, PHR and GPHR. HRCI also certifies HR professionals who are specially qualified in California state employment laws and regulations. There are approximately 120,000 HR-certified practitioners, according to HRCI. As of 2010, there were about 514,000 HR-related jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


The SPHR and PHR vary according to eligibility requirements, work experience and body of knowledge. The SPHR is geared toward seasoned HR practitioners whose expertise and professional background include strategic HR development as well as management of HR’s tactical processes. While some senior-level HR generalists and HR specialists hold SPHR designations, it’s common to see HR managers, directors and even some executive-level HR experts with the SPHR designation after their names.


To be eligible for the SPHR certification exam, the candidate must have at least seven years of HR work experience if he doesn’t have a four-year college degree. With a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, the candidate has to have five and four years of HR experience, respectively. Eligibility for the PHR exam is four years without a bachelor’s degree, two years with a bachelor’s and just one year with a master’s degree. All of the work experience must be exempt-level, meaning the candidate has HR experience in a salaried position where he routinely exercises independent judgment and his job responsibilities affect the direction of his employer’s business.


The SPHR and the PHR exams have 175 questions that have been reviewed and assessed by subject matter experts through an intensive analysis of HR practices. The exam content changes every five years, and the exam is administered twice a year for two-month periods. The passing score for each exam is determined every time the exam content changes. There’s not a static quantitative score exam-takers have to achieve to receive a passing score. The pass rates for the May to June 2012 SPHR and PHR exams were 48.14 percent and 58.15 percent, respectively, according to HRCI statistics.

Body of Knowledge

Both the SPHR and the PHR exams cover all of the HR disciplines, which the HRCI calls the HR body of knowledge. The exam areas for both the SPHR and PHR exams include Business Management and Strategy, Workforce Planning and Employment, Human Resource Development, Compensation and Benefits, Employee and Labor Relations and Risk Management. The SPHR exam is decidedly more focused on strategy, therefore, almost one-third of the SPHR questions are in the Business Management and Strategy category. Conversely, just 11 percent of the PHR exam questions are in the Business Management and Strategy category. The largest number of PHR exam questions are in the Workforce Planning and Employment category.


The value of SPHR and PHR certification depends on the individual HR professional’s goals. The HRCI doesn’t claim that it will provide more job opportunities, but it does promote the HR designations as proof that the HR professional is knowledgeable of HR practices, business acumen and functional HR duties. SPHR- and PHR-certified HR professionals are required to re-certify every three years. They can re-certify via continuing education or by taking the exam again on or before their original certification expires.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *