What Is the SPHR and Is It Right for You?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover the Senior Professional in Human Resources certification, what it entails, eligibility requirements, and how getting certified can advance your career.

[Featured Image] A woman with long brown hair and glasses sits near another hr professional reviewing SPHR qualifications on his laptop.

What is SPHR?

SPHR® stands for Senior Professional in Human Resources and refers to a professional certification administered by the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI). As one of HRCI’s eight certifications, the SPHR validates the knowledge and skills of HR professionals. More specifically, the exam demonstrates mastery of the strategic and policy-making aspects of HR and is geared toward HR professionals who are planning rather than implementing policy. 

Getting the SPHR certification can benefit you in several ways, including: 

  • Building your confidence and authority in HR

  • Keeping your HR knowledge current 

  • Qualifying for advanced HR roles, such as HR Manager, Senior People Manager, or HR Director

  • Earning a higher salary

According to Payscale’s 2018 study surveying more than 102,000 respondents with HR job titles, having an HR certification resulted in salary increases of 31.6 percent. The median pay for people with the SPHR was $108,000. [1]


Here is some basic information about the exam: 

  • Cost: $495 for the exam, application fee of $100

  • Availability: You can take the exam year-round at a Pearson VUE testing center or remotely using OnVUE, an online testing program.  

  • How long certification lasts: three years. 

  • Staying certified: Earn 60 recertification credits over three years (including 15 business management and strategy credits) or retake the exam.

Continue reading to learn what the SPHR exam covers and how to determine whether you should take it. 

What does the SPHR exam cover?

The SPHR exam takes two hours and thirty minutes (plus thirty minutes of administration time) and consists of 115 questions and 25 pretest questions. Question types include multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, drag and drop, and scenario questions. They test your HR knowledge, ability to apply principles to solve real-world problems, and combine different elements or approaches to solve complex problems.

The exam covers the following functional areas: 

  • Leadership and strategy (40%): developing HR strategy, contributing to organizational strategy, monitoring risk, influencing people management practices

  • Employee relations and management (20%): monitoring employee satisfaction and performance 

  • Talent planning and acquisition (16%): forecasting organizational talent needs and developing strategies to attract and engage talent

  • Learning and development (12%): developing strategies and trainings to retain employees

  • Total rewards (12%): monitoring the effectiveness of compensation and benefits for attracting and retaining employees 

To pass the SPHR exam, you must earn a scaled score of at least 500 out of 700. 

Is the SPHR right for you? 3 signs to look for

Now that you know what the SPHR includes, your next step is to determine whether you should take the exam. Look for these three signs:  

1. You meet the eligibility criteria. 

To be eligible to take the exam, you must meet one of the following sets of requirements: 

  • Four years of professional HR experience and a master’s degree or higher 

  • Five years of professional HR experience and a bachelor’s degree 

  • Seven years of professional HR experience with less than a high school diploma or equivalent

HRCI’s Certification Policies and Procedures Handbook defines professional experience as

  • Having decision-making authority

  • Using independent judgment when performing duties

  • Experience in roles requiring data collection and analysis

  • Experience interacting with people at multiple levels

  • Individual accountability for results

The PHR® (Professional in Human Resources) is a similar certification, testifying to your mastery of the technical and operational aspects of HR management. To be eligible, you must meet one of the following sets of requirements: one year of HR experience and a master’s degree or higher, two years of HR experience and a bachelor’s degree, or four years of HR experience.  


2. You want to plan HR policy. 

In an entry-level or individual contributor position in HR, you would mainly implement existing policies. An SPHR certification shows you can plan policies and strategies that impact the organization. 

3. You want to apply for jobs that require this certification. 

With the certification (and the experience and education required to take it), you may be able to qualify for more advanced HR roles. When exploring advanced roles in HR, you may find that some employers require having the SPHR certification or list it as a desired credential. Getting certified can increase the number of career opportunities available to you.    

To take the SPHR exam, you need to apply through HRCI, read the handbook, and schedule your exam within six months of getting approved. The HRCI also offers preparation materials so that you can walk into your exam feeling confident


Explore HR with Coursera

If you're thinking about getting certified, online courses can be a great way to build HR skills and knowledge before taking the SPHR exam. Start learning with Coursera today.

The University of Minnesota's Human Resource Management: HR for People Managers Specialization equips learners with a deeper understanding of what works in the workplace, including a toolkit of best practices for hiring, managing, and rewarding employees.

In Macquarie University's Leading: Human Resource Management and Leadership Specialization, you'll learn how to motivate staff with meaningful work, better deliver on your organization's strategic objectives, use teamwork to innovate, and strengthen your personal leadership skills.

Article sources

  1. Payscale. “HR Certifications: How They Impact Pay and Career Trajectory, 2018 US Edition, https://www.payscale.com/research-and-insights/hr-certifications-pay/.” Accessed May 31, 2023.

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