HR Insights 8 min

Everything You Need to Know about SHRM Certification

April 16, 2021

SHRM certification. You’ve heard people talk about it, seen the letters following other HR pros’ names, and may have noticed events or webinars touted as “SHRM accredited,” but aside from that, you might be feeling a little bit out of the loop.

Well, fret not. We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about SHRM certification in a nutshell, from the big picture of what it is and whether you need it to the details of how to get it and what it costs. Ready? Let’s go!

What Is SHRM and What Is SHRM Certification?

The Society for Human Resources Management, or SHRM, is a 501(c) nonprofit professional membership organization devoted to promoting, educating, and connecting human resources professionals with each other. It has three main functions:

  • Offer education and certification in human resources
  • Act as a networking hub for the HR industry
  • Lobby Congress on behalf of human resources and labor management interests

SHRM has been around since 1948 and has over 300,000 members, which gives it some serious clout in the HR industry.

The SHRM Certifications

SHRM offers two paid education certifications to its members: SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP. Certificate holders often append these initialisms to their names, and since SHRM offers recertification credit through events, webinars, and other HR learning initiatives every year, it’s hard to be in HR and not hear about them.


SHRM-CP is the first level of SHRM certification. The CP stands for Certified Professional, and the certification is targeted at the operational level of human resources. It includes training on foundational HR elements, such as policy implementation, technology and data collection, disciplinary action, and compliance.


SHRM-SCP stands for SHRM Senior Certified Professional and is the more advanced certification intended for senior and executive-level HR roles. It focuses more heavily on strategic elements of HR like engagement and retention, as well as workforce planning and policy creation for entire organizations.

How Important Is SHRM Certification? Do I Need to Be SHRM Certified?

If you’re wondering if you’re required to have a SHRM credential to work in the HR industry, the answer is no. The HR industry is not overseen by a licensing body like accounting, law, or medicine, and you don’t need a SHRM certificate or any other HR certification in order to practice HR.

However, you don’t always need an undergraduate or graduate degree to work in many fields (including HR), yet both are viewed favorably by employers. One of the main selling points of getting an HR certification is that it can improve your chances of getting hired, and with 34 percent of HR professionals having at least one certification to their names, it’s certainly something worth considering.

Becoming SHRM certified does take time and effort; it’s not just an expensive rubber stamp.  The organization has a solid reputation in the HR industry, and a SHRM certification shows that you have gained core competency in human resources. It’s something employers recognize easily, which might make the difference between moving to the next round of interviews, negotiating a higher salary, or achieving that long-awaited promotion.

What’s the Difference Between SHRM and HRCI Certification?

The Human Resources Certification Institute, or HRCI, is another well-known HR education organization offering instructional courses and certification to HR professionals. The main difference between SHRM and HRCI certification is that while SHRM offers two certificates, HRCI has eight different certifications that target a slightly broader audience, including brand-new HR professionals, international HR, and California-based human resources pros.

HRCI Certificates

The eight certifications HRCI offers are:


Associate Professional in Human Resources is the first level of HRCI certification, aimed at students and those just beginning a career in human resources. The aPHRI certification provides similar entry-level training but with a focus on international (non-US) HR practice.


Professional in Human Resources is the next level of HRCI certification. To apply, candidates must have some professional experience in HR, or a combination of experience plus an HR-related graduate or undergraduate degree. PHRI and PHRca are the international and California-specific versions, respectively, of the PHR certificate.


Senior Professional in Human Resources is the HRCI senior-level certification that focuses on strategic and organizational development. These certifications require significant prior experience in HR, and they’re aimed at HR executives and HR pros who are either seeking advancement into a management role or already in one. SPHRI is the international version of the SPHR certification and leans slightly more on HR service delivery and data analysis as a result.


Global Professional in Human Resources is another senior-level certification offered by HRCI, in this case targeted at HR executives in multinational organizations. It takes the SPHRI certification a step further by covering the intricate challenges HR executives face when managing HR teams and employees in multiple countries.

In the world of HR certifications, HRCI is the Pepsi to SHRM’s Coca-Cola; in fact, they’re even more closely tied, since HRCI used to administer certifications through SHRM until SHRM developed its own certification program. But both institutions are widely respected, and when it comes to choosing one or the other, it’s more a question of how their certification offerings match your career path than which one is preferred by employers. That said, if you’re just getting started in HR and you feel you need a certification in order to get a leg up in the hiring pool, the fact that HRCI has an associate-level certification with no entry prerequisites makes them a good choice.

SHRM & HRCI Certificates at a Glance

SHRM Certificate


HRCI Certificate


Good for:




aPHR (US) Entry-level HR professionals


aPHRI (International)




PHR Experienced HR professionals


PHRI (International)
PRHCA (California-specific)


SHRM-SCP SPHR Senior / executive HR professionals
SPHRI (International)
GPHR (Multi-national)

How to Get SHRM Certification

Obtaining SHRM certification is relatively straightforward. The steps to getting SHRM certification and maintaining your SHRM certification are as follows:

1. Determine Your Eligibility

Before you decide which SHRM certificate you’d like to acquire, you have to know which SHRM certificate you’re eligible for.

In order to apply for SHRM-CP certification, you must have at least one of the following combinations of education and experience:

  • An HR-related bachelor’s degree (in progress) and three years of experience working in HR
  • A non-HR related bachelor’s degree (in progress) and four years of experience in HR work
  • An HR-related bachelor’s degree (completed) and one year in an HR role
  • A non-HR-related bachelor’s degree (completed) and two years of experience working in HR
  • An HR-related graduate degree and current employment in HR
  • A non-HR-related graduate degree and one year in an HR role
SHRM certification shows that you have gained core competency in human resources, and it’s something employers can see at a glance.

In order to apply for SHRM-SCP certification, you must have at least one of the following combinations of education and experience:

  • An HR-related bachelor’s degree (in progress) and six years in an HR role
  • A non-HR related bachelor’s degree (in progress) and seven years in an HR role
  • An HR-related bachelor’s degree (completed) and four years in an HR role
  • A non-HR-related bachelor’s degree (completed) and five years in an HR role
  • An HR-related graduate degree and three years in an HR role
  • A non-HR-related graduate degree and four years in an HR role

2. Select Your Credential

Assuming you qualify for both SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP, you now have a choice to make. If your current HR responsibilities are operational in nature (e.g., that of an HR generalist or similar role that does not involve strategic work) and they will stay that way for the foreseeable future, you might choose SHRM-CP.

If you are in an executive-level or other HR role that involves a significant amount of strategic work, or you are highly experienced at operational HR and you aspire to a more strategic role, you are probably a better candidate for SHRM-SCP certification.

3. Apply for SHRM Certification

Once you’ve determined you qualify for a SHRM certification and you’ve selected the credential you want, you should check the dates and fees for upcoming exams. Then, apply for certification through the SHRM application portal where you’ll create an account, complete your application, and submit your payment. Once your application is approved, you’ll receive an authorization email that allows you to schedule your exam.

Q: How much does SHRM certification cost?

A: Start to finish, SHRM certification costs range from about $1000 to $1500 depending on a few factors (like whether you are already a SHRM member or you’re actively serving in the U.S. military).

Exam fees range from $270 to $475, and the self-study version of the SHRM Learning System ranges from $725 (for military and SHRM members) to $950 (for non-military and non-members). There may be additional fees for transferring or rescheduling your exam, and if you need to retake the exam, you must pay the same full exam fee.

4. Prepare for the SHRM Exam

You have a choice of two methods when it comes to preparing for your upcoming SHRM exam.

  • Self-Study: You can purchase the study materials (or as they refer to it, the SHRM Learning System) and prepare for the exam on your own.
  • Instructor-Led: Depending on your schedule and budget, you can also take an instructional course led by a SHRM expert.

Whether you choose to study on your own or take one of the SHRM courses, the material you will be studying is the same. The SHRM Learning System contains four learning categories based on the SHRM Body of Competency & Knowledge, or BoCK.

You can read more about the learning modules and what they cover here: Preparing for SHRM Certification.

5. Take the Exam

The exams for SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certification both consist of 160 questions, divided into two categories: stand-alone knowledge and situational judgment. The exams are timed, with a total of four hours (240 minutes) allowed for all questions. However, the exam timer doesn’t start at 240 minutes and count down to zero; each section is independently timed and minutes don’t “roll over” into the next section.

Once you have passed your SHRM certification exam, you’ll be officially SHRM certified and can add your SHRM credentials to your name. Congratulations!

How to Maintain Your SHRM Certification

Once you’re SHRM certified, you need to maintain your SHRM credentials by recertifying within three years of your certification.

Q: How long does SHRM certification last?

A: Three years.

There are two ways to maintain, or recertify, your SHRM credentials during your three-year certification timeline.

  1. You can either earn 60 recertification credits, known as Professional Development Credits or PDCs, by participating in or attending various SHRM-authorized activities and events.
  2. If you decide not to collect the 60 PDCs required for recertification, you can also recertify by reapplying, scheduling, and paying to retake the SHRM exam at any time in the last year of your three-year certification lifespan.

We suggest the former, especially because earning credit hours toward your recertification can be done by attending great (and often free) events just like our own HR Virtual Summit. Events like this allow you to diversify and deepen your HR knowledge at no cost, and they also provide a great chance to network with and learn from other HR professionals across the country and around the world.

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Rob de Luca
Copy Director | BambooHR

Rob de Luca has written extensively on culture and best practices in the HR field, combining original research and input from HR experts with his own perspective as a manager, creative executive, and veteran of industries ranging from hospitality to consumer electronics. He believes culture is critical to organizational success and that HR holds the keys to defining the employee experience.