Human Resources Certification: What Does PHR Buy You?

In an economy where jobs are hard to come by, voluntary professional certification can be a great way to separate oneself from the competition. For professionals in the field of human resources, the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification is one way to go. A recent study (Lester et al., 2010) explored the value of obtaining a PHR certification for recent students who have just entered the workforce.


The researchers conducted their study on recent HR graduates from three different universities in the U.S. They found that college graduates who passed the PHR certification exam were more than twice as likely to get a job in the HR field than those who did not take the certification exam or did not pass the exam. However, passing the PHR certification exam did not predict starting salary or the number of promotions received by these employees. The researchers speculate that that salary and promotions are more heavily tied to employees’ work experience, which was fairly low across the board because employees in their study were new to the workforce.

The researchers argue that even though recent college graduates don’t officially become PHR certified until they have 2 years of experience in the HR field, passing the certification exam communicates to employers that they possess an advanced level of HR knowledge. This may explain why those who passed the PHR certification were more likely to obtain employment in the HR field.


The researchers suggest that serious thought be given to the development of an “alternative HR job knowledge test” that would allow students and recent graduates to signal to potential employers that they possess a sufficient mastery of the field, especially before they are able to acquire the requisite work experience to become PHR certified. This of course could take many years or possibly never happen, so for those considering taking the PHR certification exam, don’t wait.


Lester, S.W., Mencl, J., Maranto, C., Bourne, K.A., & Keaveny, T. (2010). The impact of passing the Professional in Human Resources Exam on early career success for undergraduate entering the human resources field. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 18(3), 282-290.