What Is PHR & SPHR?


PHR (Professional in Human Resources) and SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) are certifications available through the HR Certification Institute (HRCI), an affiliate of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). The initials PHR or SPHR are often displayed after a human resource professional's name, and listed on a CV or resume to highlight expertise. Both certifications are voluntary yet require recertification every three years, so hiring managers often give preference to candidates who have obtained either designation.


  • Both the PHR and SPHR imply a commitment to best practices and a focus on industry trends. However, each designation indicates a different skill set and level of experience. The PHR is for HR professionals whose primary responsibilities are tactical rather than strategic, who focus on HR program implementation rather than creation, and who function primarily within the HR department rather than organization-wide. The SPHR is for HR professionals whose primary responsibilities involve designing and planning HR policies and practices, and whose decisions have impact both within and outside the organization.

Body of Knowledge

  • As of 2010, PHR and SPHR certifications reflect expertise in strategic management; workforce planning and staffing; human resource development; compensation and benefits; employee and labor relations; health, safety and security; and general employment practices.


  • According to HRCI, either certification is obtained by providing documentation of work experience in the field of human resource management and by passing a certification exam on core industry knowledge. Candidates must have two years exempt-level experience in human resources to apply for either the PHR or SPHR certification exam.

    HRCI highly recommends PHR candidates have four years' work experience and SPHR candidates have eight years' work experience before taking the exam.

    Additionally, recent college graduates and students within a year of graduation may be eligible to apply to take the PHR exam in the student/recent graduate category.

    Note: Application and exam requirements are reviewed and revised periodically to reflect the needs in the human resources profession. The most current standards and instructions are available through the Human Resources Certification Institute website at hrci.org.


  • An assessment exam (practice test) is available online through HRCI prior to certification to help determine which certification best matches a candidate’s expertise.

    There are generally two application and testing windows per year, early summer (May to June) and winter (December to January). The certification exams are offered by the HRCI through more than 200 proctored test sites globally. The most current fees, instructions for application and access to current study materials and prep courses are also available through hrci.org.


  • Both the PHR and SPHR require 60 additional educational hours every three years or for the exam to be retaken. Hours are gained through job experience, research and publishing, leadership in the HR industry, approved continuing education or national or international membership in professional organizations.

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