Organizational Wellness

PHR Certification: The Ultimate Guide

Dec 22, 2023
Last Updated Dec 22, 2023

If you’re looking for the next step in your career in human resources, you’re probably hustling for a new position or promotion. Both can expand your responsibilities and can positively influence your development. But how can you stand out from the crowd and move your career forward?

One way to help your career progress is to get certified with an HR program. Certifications can make a huge difference in your career. In entry-level HR positions82% of professionals are promoted within five years if they’re certified, while only 68% of professionals without certifications are promoted. 

One specific certification you can get is the PHR certification. Completing it helps highlight your dedication to progressing in HR

Dive into what the PHR certification is, the requirements, the costs, and how to earn this distinction.

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What Is PHR Certification?

Professional in Human Resources® (PHR®) certification is a program offered by HR Certification Institute (HRCI). As the organization puts it, this certification is meant to show “technical and operational knowledge of HR management, including U.S. laws and regulations.” Essentially, it shows you know the ins and outs of your field. 

All certifications are designed to show that you’re competent in an area of HR. PHR is a specific certification to show that you understand department management. 

PHR Certification vs. SHRM Certification

PHR isn’t the only certification out there. SHRM also offers two certifications for HR professionals: SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP. The Certified Professional certification is for individuals performing HR-related duties or pursuing a career in Human Resources while  the Senior Certified Professional certification is best for individuals with at least three years of experience. 

While PHR focuses on management, SHRM certifications focus on leadership. Both provide instruction on specialized aspects of working in HR, leadership skills, increasing engagement, and improving operations. 

Tips for Choosing Between a PHR or SHRM Certification

So which certification is best for you? Both PHR and SHRM are excellent certifications, so choosing the right one is going to depend on your goals. Here are some factors to consider when selecting between them: 

  • PHR. If you’re looking to learn more about HR management, PHR is likely the certification for you. The certification covers more business-related topics, management, workforce development and planning, and development. PHR is also more general, so if you’re newer in your career or not in a leadership position yet, this could be the right choice. 
  • SHRM. These certifications explore HR leadership in-depth, relationship management, and the ethics of HR. If these specialities resonate with you, these certifications might be the right choice. SHRM is also designed for HR leaders and managers specifically, if you are already in one of these roles, it might be the certification for you. 

PHR Certification Requirements

Each different certification program has prerequisites. These are the necessary certification qualifications

  • Have a Master’s degree or higher with 1 year of experience in a professional HR job OR 
  • Have a Bachelor’s degree with 2 years of experience in a professional HR job OR
  • Have at least 4 years of experience in professional HR job

The PHR certification isn’t geared toward HR leaders, but it’s a great way to show off your knowledge to your employers. 

PHR Certification Cost

PHR certification costs come in two pieces: the application fee and the exam fee. The application is $100, and the exam fee is $395. It’s important to note that once your exam application is approved by HRCI, you can’t get a refund if you withdraw or don’t take the exam. 

Supplemental  study materials can cost anywhere from an additional $40 to $100. These materials will help you prepare to pass the final exam and get your certification. Most individuals taking the exams spend about 60 hours studying, and these materials can help you make those hours as effective as possible. 

While there are costs associated with the applications and exam fees, it’s important to remember this can be an investment in your future, and your company’s development. Consider talking with your employer to see if they will pay for a portion of the certification cost—or all of it—because they stand to benefit from having highly trained HR professionals. 

How to Get a PHR Certification

Ready to get certified? The overall process is going to look something like this:

  1. Set up an account on the HRCI site
  2. Select the certification you’re pursuing, PHR in this case. 
  3. Opt into testing accommodations if you’re eligible. 
  4. Provide proof of your eligibility for the certification. Usually, this just means documenting your experience and education, but you can be selected for a random audit and be required to send in transcripts. 
  5. Review the testing policies. 
  6. Pay the costs. 
  7. Wait for application approval. 
  8. Once approved, schedule your test. You have to schedule the exam within 120 days of approval. You can take the test at a Pearson VUE testing center or at your home or office using OnVUE. Spots can fill up quickly at testing centers, so it’s best to schedule as soon as you’re ready. 
  9. Study, study, study! This is where it’s helpful to have study materials to practice with and enhance your knowledge. 
  10. Take the exam. It takes about 2.5 hours to complete, so plan accordingly. 
  11. Pass and reap all the benefits of having a PHR certification! 

PHR Exam Format

So what does the exam look like? It’s a test of 90 scored questions and 25 pretest questions. They’re multiple choice questions. Here’s a breakdown of the topics you’ll be tested on: 

  • 39% Employee and Labor Regulations
  • 20% Business Management
  • 16% Talent Planning and Acquisition
  • 15% Total Rewards
  • 10% Learning and Development

It’s a computer-based exam, even at the testing centers, so you won’t need to worry about bubble sheets and #2 pencils. 

PHR Certification Validity Period

Your certification is valid for threeyears after passing the exam. If you let your certification lapse, you can run into two problems. The first is that you no longer have proof of your competency in HR. You can’t list it on your resume or other professional documents. The other problem is that if you fully let your certification expire, you have to go through the entire exam process again to get recertified. 

PHR Certification Renewal

To avoid retaking the test, you will have to renew your certification. This involves completing professional development activities and demonstrating professional achievement to receive recertification credits. Activities that you can  report for recertification: 

  • Attending seminars
  • Reading online materials
  • Watching webinars
  • Reading HR books
  • Taking online HR courses
  • Attending HR conferences
  • Implementing a new program at work
  • Serving as a volunteer HR expert
  • Conducting original HR-related research
  • Maintaining an HR membership

To stay certified, you need to accumulate at least 60 credit hours. You will need to accumulate these hours during the three years your certification is valid. Once three years have lapsed without hitting this benchmark, you’ll have to retake the exam

Career Prospects for PHR Certified Professionals

What are the benefits of being PHR certified? Here are a few to consider (and they affect your career prospects too). Certified professionals: 

Building a Healthy Workforce: The Impact of PHR Certifications on Employee WellnessCertification, like the PHR certification, can help you be ready to tackle the challenges of HR and to be more confident in your ability to work. In addition, certified HR professionals are also better equipped to deliver results that drive businesses forward: reduced costs and improved employee wellbeing. 

Wellness programs can do both. In our Return on Wellbeing Study 2023, Gympass found that 85% of C-suites see wellness programs as a cost-saving measure. On top of that, 9 out of 10 of companies that measure their wellness program spending see a positive return on investment..

Talk to a wellbeing specialist at Gympass today!

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Gympass Editorial Team

The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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