And the games continue.

By now most HR people know that SHRM has decided to offer its own certification process and tag for HR professionals. Others have written about the internecine certification battle between SHRM and HRCI so we don’t have to repeat that here.

There is a broader question which is seldom acknowledged but if you’re new to the field and not yet certified – from either body – you should be aware of it.

That is, does certification mean anything?

The answer from a hiring manager’s point of view might surprise you: not really.


One of the challenges in hiring is managing the flow of candidates. Peers of mine regularly report 100s of applicants per job of which fewer than half are actually qualified. Even with the utilization of effective ATS (and some are not very effective) we still find ourselves wading through digital data for the masses including people who should not be considered.

When I was first certified, some 20 odd years ago, certification was a fairly uncommon thing so it was seldom used as a requirement in applying for jobs.

Along the intervening time though certification has become more prevalent so for hiring purposes it works to ask for it. As we strive to manage the size of the funnel for incoming candidates we can use certification, or more correctly, lack thereof, as a screening tool.

This is what it means to your average hiring manager. It simply helps narrow the stream, weed out the marginally qualified, and offers some sense of potential for the remainder.

Its a filtering mechanism.


Credentials though do not necessarily guarantee performance. You see, action had to be taken in order for things to be done. Not every certified HR professional (or attorney, accountant or engineer) has that innate bias for action.

And there’s the rub.

Being certified really means that, at one point in time you knew the HR body of knowledge well enough to pass a test. It is not a predictor at all of your actual performance in the future. Knowing something and doing it are two different things.

So the reliance from hiring managers on the certification process can be a false indicator. Having some initials behind your name means you may know something.

It is not a guarantee you’ll actually do anything.


Going forward if you plan to use licenses and/or certifications as a filter, that’s fine. They can help manage streams of candidates. But building in some alignment between hiring manager and recruiter around what certifications really implies is essential.

Maybe ask your candidates what certification means to them, why they bothered to pursue it, or perhaps illustrate some times when the certification process really assisted them in their work. How did they apply their knowledge.

I don’t know why SHRM decided the time was right to add another label to the HR certification game: that’s not the question here. Its a matter of meaning – what does any certification really mean in the end and how will both the employee and employer realize benefit from same.

In other words, now that you’ve got your initials, what are you going to do with them?



One thought on “Certifiable

  1. Hi Christopher, I don’t know much about SHRM, but here you can’t really get anything more than a very junior HR position without CIPD membership (often chartered is required too not just graduate/associate). I think it’s a well organised professional body that invests in some pertinent research, but your points ring very true wherever in the World we are. I know professionals who have been too busy doing good work to upgrade to chartered…it’s a shame they get looked down upon by others.

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