What Is PHR Certification, and Do You Need It?

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Discover how the PHR certification can help you advance your career in human resource management.

[Featured Image] A man prepares to take the PHR certification exam at a desk with his laptop and notes in a modern library.

HRM, or human resource management, is a holistic approach to efficiently handling a firm’s workforce. Beginning with recruitment, HR professionals actively seek and attract qualified individuals to join an organization. Deployment, another critical aspect of HRM, includes placing employees strategically in roles that complement their skills and expertise. HRM takes on the responsibility of monitoring employee performance. 

The Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification helps demonstrate your knowledge of HR management and can help advance your HR career. Considering the multifaceted nature of the role, an HR professional's proficiency is critical to a firm's success. Read on to understand how acquiring the PHR certification can enrich and expand your HR management skill set. 

Read more: What Is Human Resources and HR Management?

What is PHR certification?

The Professional in Human Resources (PHR) is a certification granted by the HR Certification Institute (HRCI), a Virginia-based credentialing and learning organization. HRCI's certifications are widely acknowledged in the HR industry. 

Who should get PHR certification?

The PHR certification is meant for professionals seeking to validate their technical proficiency in HR management, inclusive of US laws and regulations. Geared toward experienced HR professionals, the certification underscores practitioners’ operational responsibilities within the HR department of an organization.

Eligibility criteria 

To qualify for the PHR exam, you must fulfill one of the following conditions set by the HRCI:

  • Have a master’s degree or higher and possess a minimum of one year of experience in a professional-level HR position

  • Possess a bachelor’s degree and have at least two years of experience in a professional-level HR position

  • Accumulate a minimum of four years of experience in a professional-level HR position

The HRCI outlines a "professional-level" HR position as one that entails:

  • Using independent judgment and discretion in job tasks

  • Possessing specialized HR knowledge with decision-making authority

  • Managing detailed work requirements, such as data analysis and interpretation

  • Engaging with a diverse range of individuals, including key personnel

  • Holding personal accountability for achieving targets

Read more: HR Entry-Level Job Guide: Jobs, Salaries, and Strategies to Get Hired

How much is the PHR exam?

The PHR exam is priced at $495, which includes an exam fee of $395 and an application fee of $100 [1]. 

What's on the PHR exam? 

The exam consists of 90 scored questions along with 25 pretest questions [1]. The pretest questions do not factor into your final results. Below is a breakdown of the content in the PHR exam [2]:

  • Business Management (14 percent)

  • Employee and Labor Relations (20 percent)

  • Employee Engagement (17 percent)

  • HR Information Management (10 percent)

  • Learning and Development (10 percent)

  • Total Rewards (15 percent)

  • Workforce Planning and Talent Acquisition (14 percent)

You will have two hours to complete your computer-based PHR exam [1]. 

How does the new outline differ from the old? 

The latest outline incorporates two new domains: HR Information Management and Employee Engagement. Additionally, the domain previously identified as Talent Planning and Acquisition has been renamed to Workforce Planning and Talent Acquisition.

How to register for the PHR exam

You can choose to take the PHR exam either at a Pearson VUE test center or online using the OnVue system. 

Prior to scheduling an exam appointment with Pearson VUE, you will need to complete the HRCI Application Process. Upon approval of your application and receipt of your unique nine-digit testing ID from HRCI, you have a 180-day window to choose your exam date and location [3]. 

With online proctoring through OnVUE, live monitoring and enhanced security features are incorporated, allowing you the flexibility to take the exam at your convenience.

Benefits of being PHR-certified

The following are some notable advantages to obtaining the PHR certification, accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) [4]:

  • Earning a PHR certification signals comprehensive knowledge of human resource management.

  • Payscale notes significant pay increases for PHR-certified professionals in health care (27.7 percent), retail and customer service (25.0 percent), and accommodation and food services (22.1 percent) industries [5].

What salary could you earn with the PHR certification?

A PHR designation can allow for an average annual base salary of $81,000 [6]. However, it’s important to note that pay levels vary by company. Below is a breakdown of salaries offered by popular firms for individuals with PHR certification, according to Payscale [6]: 

  • Edenwald: $115,000

  • ADP: $97,843

  • Renewal By Anderson: $91,495

  • Amazon: $87,295

  • USI Insurance: $83,988

  • Compass Group: $68,465

  • NASDAQ: $73,137

  • Paychex: $70,000

Training for PHR exam

The HRCI offers a variety of self-study exam preparation bundles to ease your training for PHR [7]. Below are some examples you can pursue:

1. HRCI PHR Cert Prep 

The HRCI's PHR Cert Prep course offers videos, practice exams, flashcards, and interactive games for flexible, on-demand preparation. If you complete all content before your exam date, you qualify for HRCI’s "pass or your money back" policy. 

Original price: $449

Bundled price: $399

2. PHR Prep – powered by MindEdge

Mobile-friendly, HRCI PHR Prep by MindEdge includes case studies, exam tips, module questions, a 175-question practice exam, and more. The "Ask the Expert" feature lets you ask direct questions to an HR expert. 

Original price: $399

Bundled price: $349

3. PHR Timed Practice Exam by HRCI

The PHR Timed Practice Exam, featuring 50 timed practice questions, lets you assess your answering speed. You can reset and retake the timed exam within a 180-day access window as often as needed. 

Original price: $85

Bundled price: $75

How to maintain your PHR certification

After passing the exam, your PHR certification is valid for three years [1]. To sustain your PHR credential, you must accumulate 60 HR recertification credits within three years [1]. As an alternative, you can retake the exam.

PHR vs. SHRM: What's the difference?

The Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) certifications are both widely recognized credentials in the field of human resources. 

Yet, while the PHR necessitates both education and work experience, the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP), under SHRM, welcomes applications from candidates with no prior work experience alongside those with professional experience. The SHRM-CP route is ideal if you’re enrolled in a college. 

Getting started with Coursera

Level up your HR skills with the Preparing to Manage Human Resources course on Coursera. Offered by the University of Minnesota, this course is part of the Human Resource Management: HR for People Managers Specialization, which will offer you insights into employee motivations and equip you to develop your HRM skills. You will need approximately 17 hours to finish this course.

Article sources


HRCI. “PHR Exam Content Outline-2023, https://www.hrci.org/docs/default-source/document-control-2023/hrci_2023-phr-exam-content-outline.pdf?sfvrsn=f192991e_2.” Accessed February 26, 2024.

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