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What is a PHR Certification & Why does it Matter? A Q&A with Our Own PHR, Gayle Luchini!

Have you ever seen the words “PHR” behind someone’s name before and wondered what it means? PHR stands for Professional in Human Resources, and it requires that someone take an exam to prove their comprehensive knowledge of Human Resources. Our very own Senior Recruiter, Gayle Luchini, recently earned her PHR after passing the exam in May. We sat down with her to go over her experience earning the PHR. She also discusses the benefits of working with recruiters that have PHRs and advice for those interested in earning their own!

What is the difference between a PHR certification and a certificate?

Both are proof that you’re extending your human resources knowledge. While a certificate is proof of HR-related education, a PHR certification is more robust. Some key characteristics of the PHR include:

Providing proof of industry experience first

You must prove your years of experience by providing a resume, a robust LinkedIn profile, or your current job description to HR Certification Institute (HRCI) when you apply to take the exam. The years of experience required varies based on your highest level of education completed.

  • Master’s degree plus 1 or more years of HR-related experience
  • Bachelor’s degree plus 2 or more years of HR-related experience
  • High school diploma plus 4 or more years of HR-related experience

Regular re-certification

Every three years you must either retake the PHR exam or get 60 credits to keep your certification and your HR education current. You can obtain credits by way of classes, webinars/seminars, books, and conferences – among other activities and professional development opportunities.

Adding “PHR” at the end of your name upon passing the exam

When you pass, you get the unique opportunity to show off your certification as a suffix in your full name. You can put it everywhere – LinkedIn, email signatures, business cards – even your “about me” on your company’s website! It’s a great benefit, and helps you stand out among fellow HR professionals.

Why did you decide to get your PHR certification?

I was looking for growth opportunities in my own career. Our CEO/President, Debbie, suggested trying to obtain my PHR certification, and was very encouraging about it. I thought about it and ultimately decided to go ahead and take the plunge!

What was the time frame for getting your PHR, and what resources did you use to prepare?

I started studying in mid-January 2017 and studied almost every day up until I took the test in mid-May 2017. I utilized one of’s e-learning prep courses taught by their Product Manager / Course Director, Jennifer Marants, aPHR. Every Monday and Thursday, I tuned in for hour-long classes, which thoroughly covered six different modules:

  • Business Management and Strategy
  • Workforce Planning and Employment
  • HR Development
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Employee and Labor Relations
  • Risk Management

Aside from the course, I used many additional resources and methods to learn the material, and I recommend going that route. The repetition helped me retain information, especially because, given that I work in a more specialized area of HR (Recruiting – which falls under Workforce Planning & Employment), I had to build on my knowledge of many modules. Extra resources included taking/reviewing notes, rereading and highlighting my books, going over practice questions and taking every practice test I could find. I even joined a Facebook group to find online study buddies and learn from their experiences, too.

The PHR exam is very long and comprehensive, so it’s important to go back and refresh on the old material even as you’re learning new material. That’s where practice tests came in especially handy!

Out of all the prep course modules, what was your favorite one to learn about?

There are two I found very interesting and those were Employee and Labor Relations and HR Development. I was surprised that I found Employee and Labor Relations to be one of my favorites, but I actually found all of the moving parts behind it quite fascinating! HR Development was an easy favorite, too, because there was a lot of psychology involved, and I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psych!

What can someone expect when taking the PHR exam?

Expect to be there a while. You’re allotted three hours to complete 175 multiple choice questions testing your theoretical and practical knowledge in Human Resources. You’re not allowed to bring anything in with you to take the exam – they even supply pencils and notepads.

Upon entry, they’ll make you put cellphones and bags into storage lockers, and you’ll be expected to turn out and empty your pockets. Believe it or not, I was asked to take off my glasses briefly for a quick inspection, so if you’re a glasses wearer, be prepared for that, too!

I found that some of the questions had multiple right answers, but I had to figure out which one was the most right. That can be a challenge for some, so it’s good to really read the question thoroughly and think through it.

What are some of the benefits that HR candidates receive when working with recruiters like you who have earned a PHR certification? What about clients hiring for HR professionals?

For me, it helps to understand candidates better. I now come equipped with a deeper knowledge of the HR industry, including career progression and potential areas of expertise. I not only can understand where you currently are in your career as a professional, but I can easily understand – and even help you – map out where it is you want to go. With that, I can really showcase and speak to your skills to hiring managers.

It’s a similar benefit for clients – being able to pin-point and understand exactly what they’re looking for. When they come to me to fill a position, I go above just checking all the boxes; I speak the language and understand what each requirement for the job means and why it’s important. When working with a PHR to fill an HR position, it’s a win-win for both job seeker and client.

Why should Human Resources professionals consider getting their PHR? Does it increase chances of a second-look by hiring managers?

Having a PHR certification shows that you’ve taken the time to complete it and have a knowledge base of the HR industry; of course, that’s going to look good to hiring managers. You may run into positions here and there that will outright say they prefer a PHR, but usually those positions are extremely high-level. The bottom line is that it’s helpful, but not required – especially if you have a lot of exceptional HR experience on your resume.

What advice do you have for an HR professional interested in getting their PHR?

Be ready to commit time to studying, and explore multiple studying formats. Learning in multiple ways can help tremendously with retention. Whatever you can do, I encourage you to do; take as many practice tests as you can. Know that you may hit a wall – after all, it is months of studying and learning; but also be prepared to climb over that wall and keep going.

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