PHR vs SPHR or both?

I'm currently an HR manager and I am trying to decide which test to take.  Someone told me that most companies ask for PHR.  Now does this mean that they specifically desire PHR over the SPHR or does having the SPHR automatically mean that it's better than the PHR and it's well over the PHR requirement that companies ask for?  Is the PHR a totally different skill set than the SPHR? I have thought about taking both tests and wonder if that's the best way to go.  I'm only assuming that the SPHR is more valuable than the PHR due to the title of "Senior," and wonder if taking the PHR would be redundant if you already have the higher certification.  Can anyone shed some light on this for me?



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  • I'm also interested in what people have to say on this subject. Also, is the online SHRM Learning System a good resource to use for preparing for one or both? Will I learn what I need to know using it?
  • Marv and Barbie - I have spent the last month or so looking into this because I want to take the certification in May.  From what I have found the SPHR supercedes the PHR as it is the Senior.  The choice to take the PHR or the SPHR is dependent on your years in the industry and the knowledge that you have acquired.  I believe the SPHR is recommended for those that have more than 5 years of experience and have a more strategic HR management knowledge versus the basic everyday HR knowledge.    By more strategic I mean - the people that are making policies and making decisions that impact the overall business. They have a "seat at the table" and have the ears of executive management (should be a member of executive management). 

    I have decided to take the SPHR as I have almost 8 years of hands-on and strategic management HR experience.  I am purchasing the SHRM Learning System.  From some of the postings I have read, this seems to have the self-test questions that are the closest match to the actual exam.  Many posters have said that the recent exams seem to have a lot of questions based on unions/collective bargaining. 

    Anyone that has taken the exam recently - does my research match what you experienced?

  • I just sat for and passed the PHR exam in December.  You have to have at least 2 years of exempt level HR experience to take the PHR.  They recommend at least 2-4 years experience for the PHR and at least 4-6 years experience for the SPHR.  The PHR is more focused on the daily operations of HR and the SPHR is very heavily focused on the strategic business partner role.  Recertification requirements have also played a role in a lot of people's decisions as to which exam to take.  Both certifications require 60 credits in each 3 year period.  The SPHR requires a specific number of recertification credits in strategic management wheras the PHR has no requirement as to which specific areas your credits are in.  I think it really depends on your role in your organization and you goals in the near future.  Many people will take the PHR and then take the SPHR several years later when their career has progressed to the executive/director level.  We did have some people in our study group who just took the SPHR and had never done the PHR.  Depends entirely on you.

     I participated in my local SHRM chapter's certification study group, which I can't recommend enough.  You can purchase the SHRM Learning System at a discounted rate.  They have HR professionals who are already certified come to lead modules in which they have particular expertise.  Even if you have a lot of experience, I think everyone can benefit from the study groups.  If nothing else, the study group keeps you motivated and on track.

    I used the SHRM Learning System as my primary study tool.  All of the content was great and reflected the content of the exam, but the test questions were a very poor representation of the actual exam.  I also used Anne Bogardus's SPHR/PHR Test Prep book (on for about $35) and found the practice test questions to be much closer to the actual exam.  I would also recommend taking HRCI's Assessment exams (2 exams for $70) which you could use as a pre and post test to your studying.

     Good Luck!!!

  • Good Morning,

    JEP123 is correct. I have had my PHR for about 6 years and most companies are looking for either- it just depends on the position. I have a "seat at the table" and I am going to begin studying for my SPHR. I would advise that you take the PHR first- since it is a tough enough exam. The SHRM learning system is the best tool on the market- I used it for my PHR and passed. I disagree about the SHRM Learning System's representation of the  test questions- they were very accurate and I took the assessment exam as well. You have to understand that their are many versions of the exam- that way you can't cheat or give away the content. I am sorry that your experience wasn't more positive.

    I agree that study groups are helpful and I have taught some of the modules for my local SHRM. I would say that you need to know what your learning style is and go from there. I highly recommend one of the university sponsored systems thru  the SHRM learning system. It is instructor led, a SPHR usually teaches the class and you have tests to take on each module. You can also work with your fellow classmates on any tough areas!


    HR Manager/PHR


  • I really appreciate all of this information. I'm still on the fence about which exam to take, but it sounds like SHRM is the right resource.
  • I'm in with JEP123 and Angie.  I took the PHR exam in December 2003 and passed.  I recert'd in 2006, but took the SPHR in January 2007 and passed.  I'm sure I will only recert the SPHR.  For the PHR, I took the class and that registration provided the SHRM books / CD.  I highly recommend that approach.  For the SPHR, I just bought the SHRM Learning System and the test prep book referred to above.  For both exams, I took the on-line assessment exam twice.  Well worth the money.  For both exams, I scored very closely to the assessment I took right before the exam.  The assessment is very helpful in identifying the sections where your need more work / study.  I will admit that I was surprised at the number of questions on the SPHR exam that seemed directly related to the the Employee Relations section, i.e. Unions. 

     Good Luck!


    HR Manager / SPHR

  • Was the test tough? I am taking the test at the end of this month and I do not think I have ever been so nervous. What do you feel is the most effective to study - I have the SHRM system?
  • Hi,

     Like any good HR person, I'd say, it depends. First, there are requirements by SHRM as to how many years a person has been in the profession to be eligible to take the SPHR. You'll want to check that. But, I'd say if you meet the eligibility requirements for the SPHR, take that one and not the PHR or both. I have just completed this and took the test a few weeks ago. Having the SPHR means a bit more to an employer, and if you're going to study and take a test anyway, I'd shoot for the SPHR. It is a tough test, so learn as much as you can. If you aren't eligible to take the SPHR, certainly take the PHR. As a profession, HR is more important to business today than ever and showing your client group that you are serious about your profession helps you gain creadibility. Good luck!



  • I've never bothered with the certification and I'm usually too busy although I think it is giong to have to happen sooner or later.  It's becoming more important than education and experience.


    For what it's worth, my wife is also in HR management and she wishes she had skipped the PHR and gone straight to the SPHR.

  • TXHRGuy - your wife is not the first person I have heard say that about taking the SPHR instead of the HR.  All of these people have had more than 5 years of HR experience.  That is part of the reason I have decided to take the SPHR versus the PHR.  I should have taken the PHR after I first got into HR but never had the time or change to. I too, think that the certification has become more important so I decided that this year I was going to take the time and get the SPHR.
  • I just recently took the SPHR exam and failed.  I am an HR Manager with over 7 years experience.

    The SHRM system is great - however, my experience was such that I felt the exam was written in a foreign language.  There were words and terminology that I had never heard of.  I was very frustrated during the exam.  I won't lie it is a tough test.  But both of my study partners passed - a PHR and a SPHR.  I recommend getting in with a study group and taking those test questions over and over again.  Learn the flash cards.  If you have done all that then just take a deep breath and go for it.

    You are allowed to mark the questions you aren't sure about so that you can go back after you have finished the test and review them.  Get through the exam first - then go back and look at your marked questions.  I remember there being a few questions about "competency models" and I had never studied a competency model...on my own or in the SHRM Study Prep Course.

    I am back to studying again and will be taking the exam again in May.

     GOOD LUCK!!!

    Sandra [:D]


  • The SPHR is recognized as the higher certification.  Take the SPHR and forgoe the PHR.

  • Ok, I just got my SHRM learning system in the mail. Since I think I'm going to try the SPHR, any other suggestions for supplemental materials on the strategic issues?
  • Go to the forums at shrm and click on the one for HRCI/certifications near the bottom.  There are a lot of good study groups that come out of that forum.  Learning with others is often useful, you get good discussions and info from the others in the group.  In fact, that's all I did was study groups, I didn't use the learning system or any other real study materials. But I had about 15 years in HR, most in management so that probably helped a great deal.

     The PHR and SPHR are very different tests though.  The PHR is the more "practical" test, more admin in questions.  The SPHR (which I took) is much more strategic and big picture.  Even so, I was surprised by the number of admin type union questions on the SPHR.  I took mine a couple of years ago when the pass rate was 53% for my "class".  I think it's hovering near 60% now!  :)

  • From the postings I've seen, you are correct.  I had purchased and studied the SHRM Learning System and found it to be great.  They have a good learning layout and plenty of practice questions.  I tested last year for the PHR and received my certification.  SHRM was a big help as I have only been in HR for about 4 years.
  • I am an HR Generalist in my role in the company, but we do not have unions and we are not that sophisicated as regards comp and pay grades.  I focused most on that because that is what I felt I was weakest in.  I passed the first time I took the PHR test.
  • If you took both exams you can only recertify the SPHR. 

     Per HRCI

    "The SPHR exam supersedes the PHR designation; therefore, the PHR and SPHR cannot be held simultaneously."


  • I was wondering if you retook your exam and if you passed. 
    I took my SPHR exam on June 6th of this year 2008.  I failed it.  I was doing over 90% on the SHRM software of 1040 questions.  I don't get it.  I'm terrified to try again as you have to pay that darned fee EVERY time.  Anyway, I, like you, found the test to look COMPLETELY foreign compared to anything I'd been studying.  I 'm not sure if I can pass it if I'm already doing 90% on the training material and still failed it.  I'm still currently waiting for my results to see where I went wrong and what my actual score was.


  • Hi, I've been in hr for 13 years. I was "over confident" and took the SPHR and failed. I then took a class and decided to go for my PHR, and passed. The study material for both are the same. The SPHR places more of an emphasis on stategy. The SPHR is about applying the "terms" you learn, and not just rote memory, which is what the PHR is about. Deciding which exam to take was hard for me, and now that I passed the PHR I wish I went for my SPHR.

    I used the HRCI study material, and it worked perfectly. There are six modules, and each comes with flash cards. If you read all the modules, and study, you will pass.

     If you've been in hr, at an exempt level for 5 plus years than you may want to consider the SPHR.

     Good luck, Maggie.

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