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Education & Certifications

Should I Get a Recruiting Certification?

Female recruiter dressed in a white blazer holding documents, looking at camera

With most jobs, the best way to get better at your work is through hands-on experience. Unfortunately, that only happens with time, plus a lot of mistakes and learning experiences along the way. If you want to build up your knowledge base more quickly, professional training programs and certifications can help you do so. 

Recruiting certifications help HR and talent acquisition professionals acquire new knowledge that will serve them on the job while demonstrating their expertise in the eyes of prospective employers and clients. But certifications require an investment, both in the form of time and money. Are they really worth it?

Here, we’ll cover some of the reasons you might want to consider getting a recruiting certification and compare two of the top options. 

Why get a recruiting certification?

Stand out when applying for jobs

Early on in your career when you don’t have much experience, it can be difficult to position yourself above other candidates. A professional certification can help demonstrate your commitment to the field and show that you’re serious about staying in a position for an extended amount of time. 

When you’re further along in your career, certification can make the difference between you and another candidate with a similar background and experience. Also, it can be a point in your favor if you’re hoping to land a promotion, especially to a managerial role or the director level. The higher up the company ladder an HR professional is, the more likely they are to hold a certification¹; 28% of HR generalists say they have at least one certification, while that number is 56% for chief human resources officers.

Earn more money

If there’s one big argument in favor of getting a recruiting certification, it’s that in most cases, it will help you earn more money. According to research compiled from Payscale data, professionals with some type of HR certification saw pay increases¹ ranging from 3% to 30%. 

As you probably know, how much you’ll earn over the course of your career is directly impacted by how much you make right now. So, the sooner you can take steps to boost your pay, the greater the payoff will be over your lifetime. For most certifications, even a modest pay bump will cover the cost of the tuition and testing. 

Keep your skills current

The recruiting field is changing constantly and at a faster pace than ever before. Getting certified (or renewing your certification, if it’s been a while) can help you stay abreast of the latest trends, technology, and tools that will make you better at your job. 

Some of the topics your certification may cover include current best practices for writing job descriptions and conducting interviews, the best digital technologies to use in talent acquisition, strategies for engagement and retention, new tools for workforce management, and evolving practices in diversity and inclusion. 

Stay compliant 

A big part of a job in HR is keeping your company on the right side of the law. Certification demonstrates your mastery of the laws pertaining to labor and employment, workplace safety, security and employee privacy, as well as professional ethics. It can also help you brush up on core job functions like administering official offers, I-9 verification, and the administration of payroll and benefits.

Two top recruiting certifications to consider

Recruiting certifications come in all shapes and sizes, from simple online courses to lengthy training programs with in-person exams. Some are meant for generalists, while others specialize in a specific aspect of the field like talent development or workforce optimization. 

Two of the largest and most reputable recruiting certification programs are offered through the Human Resources Certification Institute² (HRCi) and the Society for Human Resource Management³ (SHRM). We’ll take a closer look at them here. 

Together, HRCi and SHRM certification are the most frequently called-for credentials in job postings. They’re also the two most widely-held certifications¹ among HR and recruiting professionals, with 17% holding HRCi’s Professional in Human Resources (PHR) credential and 15% holding SHRM’s Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) title. With a certification from either organization, you can be sure you’re getting a credential of value from a respected industry source. 

Now, we’ll share the basics of each of these organizations’ most popular certifications and compare some of the differences between them. 

Professional in Human Resources from the HR Certification Institute (HRCi PHR)

If you’re a mid-level HR or recruiting professional with at least a year of experience under your belt, the HRCi PHR certification might be a good option for you. According to HRCi, this certification “demonstrates your mastery of the technical and operational aspects of HR management, including U.S. laws and regulations.”

PHR certification is meant for HR professionals who report to a manager and whose work focuses primarily within the HR department rather than the broader organization–in other words, someone who’s not yet at the director or c-level (if you’re at a higher level, consider the organization’s Senior Professional in Human Resources certification instead). 

The breakdown of material is as follows:

  • 39% employee and labor relations
  • 20% business management
  • 16% talent planning and acquisition
  • 15% total rewards
  • 10% learning and development

It’s a three-hour exam made up of 150 questions, most of which are multiple-choice. 

To be eligible to take the PHR exam, you’ll need to have a mix of education and experience as follows: a master’s degree and one year of HR experience, a bachelor’s degree and two years of experience, or a high school diploma and four years of experience. 

Society for Human Resource Management Certified Professional (SHRM-CP)

If you have a bit more experience under your belt or hold a higher-level job title, SHRM-CP certification might be a good choice for you. SHRM-CP is meant for HR and recruiting professionals who design and implement policies and serve as a point person for the organization’s HR needs.

Like HRCi’s certification, SHRM requires a mix of education and experience to qualify for the exam. Their requirements are as follows: a graduate degree in an HR discipline and current employment in an HR role, a bachelor’s degree and one year in an HR role, or less than a bachelor’s degree and three years in an HR role. If your degree is in an area outside of HR, you’ll need to tack on an additional year to the experience requirement. 

Here’s how the exam topics break down:

  • 18.5% business
  • 18.5% interpersonal
  • 17% people
  • 17% organization
  • 16% workplace
  • 13% leadership

The four-hour exam consists of 160 questions, 95 of which are knowledge-based and 65 of which are situational/judgement items. 

Whereas HRCi’s PHR certification focuses more on practical knowledge, SHRM-CP is more geared toward using critical thinking to apply HR principles to solve problems. Many HR professionals opt to get their SHRM-CP in lieu of an MBA. 

Alternatives to getting your recruiting certification

If you don’t yet meet the requirements for one of these certifications or aren’t quite ready to pony up the application fee, there are plenty of alternative options that will give you a leg up in your career and help you build the background knowledge you need to one day take a certification exam. 

Free online classes

One of the internet’s biggest redeeming qualities is that it makes high-caliber learning available to almost anyone at no charge. Many organizations, like prestigious business schools, make HR and recruiting course material available online for free. ‘Managing Social and Human Capital’ from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and ‘Preparing to Manage Human Resources‘ from the University of Minnesota are two great choices, both of which are available on Coursera. 

YouTube videos

YouTube has come a long way from the days of funny cat videos (although we still love those, too). It’s a treasure trove of educational material ranging from lecture-style instruction to how-to’s to inspirational TED talks from leading thinkers in the field.


One of the best ways to sharpen your recruiting skills is also one of the most basic: by reading guides from the pros. And, if you have a library card, it doesn’t cost a thing. You can find awesome books about every recruiting topic under the sun, but here are a few of our favorite starter guides: Recruiting 101: The Fundamentals of Being a Great Recruiter by Steven Mostyn, High-Tech, High-Touch Recruiting by Barbara Bruno, and The Robot-Proof Recruiter by Katrina Collier.