Where do you go in terms of professional development when you start your career with an associate’s degree in human resources? As one of the fastest online associates degrees available, an associate’s degree program in human resources offers quick preparation for entry-level HR jobs. If you want to pursue further credentials, like the Professional in Human Resources certification from the HR Certification Institute, you will need more work experience than a candidate with a higher level of education to compensate for the degrees you don’t have. However, if you don’t want to go back to school, this certification can be a faster and more cost-effective way to advance your professional qualifications and your career.

The Benefits of Certification for HR Professionals With Associate’s Degrees

Is It Worth It to Get the Professional in Human Resources Certification

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There are many reasons to pursue a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification. A survey by compensation software and data company PayScale found that, within the human resources industry, credentials like the PHR certification are widely considered to be valuable. In particular, the study found that these qualifications can aid in the acquisition and endorsement of new professional skills, increases in earning potential and opportunities for advancement, the HR Certification Institute reported. According to a survey conducted by the HR Certification Institute, certification can also increase your job opportunities, because half of hiring managers report a preference for certified HR professionals.

These outcomes are significant, especially if you have an associate’s degree as your starting point instead of a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree. The lower your level of formal education, the less likely you are to move up into higher level – and higher-paying – positions. If your associate’s degree allowed you to work as a human resources assistant but your career has plateaued here, certification may be what it takes to become a human resources specialist. This career move would take you from a career with a median wage of $40,390 to one where the median salary is $60,880, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s a pay increase of more than 50 percent.

Similarly, if you managed to work your way up to a human resources specialist role without a bachelor’s degree but you’re now locked out of management opportunities, certification could be the key to your next opportunity. Although human resources specialists make a good living, HR management is where the real money is. For human resources managers, the median annual salary is $113,300, the BLS reported – a massive increase of more than 85 percent from the median wage of an HR specialist.

The PHR certification is accredited by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, a feature that gives the credential extra weight as being validated by an external organization known for having rigorous standards.

Becoming a Certified Professional in Human Resources

Getting certified requires you to meet experience and education requirements and to pass a computer-based exam. The PHR certification, in particular, showcases your skills in and knowledge of technical and operational aspects of human resources management. The credential is most suitable for human resources professionals – not necessarily those with management experience – with experience implementing programs and managing logistics within human resources departments. Over the course of three hours, test-takers answer 170 questions – 150 of which are scored – on five functional areas of HR.

Is It Worth It to Get the Professional in Human Resources Certification graphic

The largest functional area, Employee and Labor Relations, accounts for 39 percent of exam questions. This exam section covers responsibilities related to functional effectiveness across the employee life cycle, employee engagement data, programs and regulations that promote diversity and inclusion, health and safety programs in the workplace, promotion of organizational policies, handling of complaints, labor relations techniques, performance management and legal risks pertaining to employee performance and employment activities.

Next largest is the exam section on business management. This exam section encompasses responsibilities such as applying information that pertains to best practices in the business industry, modeling and reinforcing the core values of an organization, understanding and building relationships with stakeholders throughout the organization, identifying practices to mitigate risks and evaluating data that pertains to organizational strategies. The functional areas of Talent Planning and Acquisition and Total Rewards comprise nearly equal portions of the exam, 16 and 15 percent, respectively. The smallest portion of the test is the Learning and Development subject area.

The HR Certification Institute requires different amounts of professional experience depending on your level of education. With only an associate’s degree, you – like candidates with only a high school diploma – would need a minimum of four years of professional human resources experience. In contrast, with a bachelor’s degree, you would need only two years of experience, and with a master’s degree, you would need just one year of work experience.

The cost of the exam and application fees are under $500. Given the impact on your salary potential, these costs are well worth it – even once you factor in the costs of exam preparation materials.

Additional Resources

Are Companies Willing to Train Someone If They Only Have an Associate’s Degree in Human Resources?

What Is the Difference Between a Certification in Human Resources and a Master’s Degree in HR?

How Advanced Does My Degree in Human Resources Need to Be to Get a Good Job?

How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Human Resources?