Human resources (HR) professionals are at the top tier of many businesses. Whether the business is for-profit, a nonprofit or mission-focused, HR professionals are expected to protect the company’s interests and oversee employee productivity. Plus they’re handling employee benefits and compensation packages, including insurance and retirement plans.

It’s a big job that comes with lots of responsibility to do the right thing in every situation. Human resources practitioners, eager to meet those needs, are getting credentialed through HR certification programs.

“HR certification demonstrates that you’re a student of the profession and shows you’re a proven practitioner who is really interested in driving your career advancement,” says Amy Dufrane, CEO of the HR Certification Institute, noting certification increases job opportunities for HR professionals, leads to higher compensation and results in higher career satisfaction. “Being certified gives them positive evaluations from their supervisors, because they know best practices in HR.”

Career growth

HR professionals are used to maintaining corporate and ethical standards while guiding employees in the workplace.

“Credentialing gives employees a sense that they are qualified to use their judgment and practice their craft at a credible level,” says human resources expert Dave Ulrich, professor of business at Ross School of Business at University of Michigan.

It can build an HR employee’s self confidence and self-image too.

“It is an investment in you and it helps you grow not only professionally but personally.”

“Certification helps to give you that knowledge base and competency to have the confidence to move your business forward, which is what we’re all trying to do in business,” says Dufrane, explaining certification demonstrates the HR practitioner’s knowledge and commitment to the career. “It is an investment in you and it helps your business, and in turn, it helps you grow not only professionally but personally.”

Seal of approval

Employees benefit from certification but so do businesses. Companies welcome the chance to hire HR professionals with certification since it shows the HR practitioner can help the company manage the workforce, increase productivity, handle risk management and avoid liability.

“It shows you’re a serious human resources management professional,” says Ronald McKinley, Ph.D., MBA, SPHR, who is Vice President of Human Resources and Employee Services Chief Human Resources Officer for The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. “You’re not a novice. You have experience. You know what needs to be done in most instances, you’re capable of doing it.”

McKinley, who’s been certified since 1993, recommends certification, saying without his SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) certification, he wouldn’t have had his past three jobs.

He says when companies see an HR professional is certified, “it’s like a seal of approval.” The employer knows the employee has a degree, passed the certification exam, and is experienced in human resource management.

“Organizations win today by delivering sustainable financial results, customer service, and community reputation,” says Ulrich. “To deliver these outcomes requires excellence in talent, leadership, and culture. Credentialing helps business leaders have confidence that their HR professionals can deliver real value to financial, customer, and community outcomes.”

About certification

It makes sense that human resources professionals get certified since professionals in other fields including law, finance and medicine must pass credentialing exams.

HR professionals can choose from variety of certifications based on their education, experience and location. “Make sure you’re getting a certification that’s right for you,” says Dufrane, who advises HR professionals to make sure the credentialing program they choose is accredited.

Before deciding on a credentialing program, practitioners need to consider the type of HR they’re focusing on now and plan to work on in the future. For example, many HR representatives in California want to get certified in “cross border” HR, which covers many of the best practices for companies doing business in the U.S. and Mexico. Other certifications cover best practices for HR professionals in the U.S. only.

While the respective certification exams last a few hours, HR professionals study and prepare for those exams for months. Those who pass, receive their credential. To keep their certification active, they are required to recertify every three years.

“Making credentialing into a lifetime process becomes a predictor of success,” says Ulrich. “There is a body of knowledge that you should continually tap into and draw on as you create your career success.”