After months of books and tests and books and tests (and tests) I finally took the SPHR exam and passed it. Seriously... there's nothing like the feeling I got when I read the word "pass" on the screen. It was an exhausting process - but all in all, I feel it was worthwhile. Mostly I learned so much and learning is never wasted. I'm also proud to join other colleagues who also completed their SPHR. We'll make our profession stronger as we take our certification requirements seriously.
While I have the experiences "fresh" in my mind I thought I would jot them down. These experiences could help someone else - I know how eager I was for information and tips before I took the test! I will divide my tips into four categories: "Experience," "Resources," "Preparation," and "The Big Day."
The HRCI has changed the experience / education requirements for the test for the 2011 windows (click here to visit the HRCI page). Now a candidate for the PHR needs at least 2 years of exempt experience (with a Bachelor's degree) and a candidate for the SPHR needs at least 5 years of exempt experience (with a Bachelor's degree). The experience requirements take into consideration education level - for instance, a candidate for the SPHR who has a master's degree needs only demonstrate 4 years of experience.
With that said, of course experience matters - particularly generalist experiences. While specialists are allowed to sit for the exam (click here for an approved position list) the road towards certification is much tougher for specialists. I know. I was there. My specialty area is Training and Development. Thus, I prepared for the Human Resource Development module quite easily... yes, I still needed to brush up on some motivation or leadership theories but nothing major. However, modules on Compensation and Benefits and Labor Relations absolutely baffled me. I had to start from scratch - and bring it all together without having been there. I can't tell you how hard that was.
With that said - it's doable... just much harder. Basically, if you're a specialist you can expect to spend more time reading, talking to people, and asking real world questions.
One tip as you consider taking the exam - register early right when your "window" for registration opens. The slots in the testing centers close fast, and you may be forced to take the exam earlier than you'd like or (as was my case) in a different town!
The SHRM Learning System is probably the best preparation tool you can find. It's pricey - but well worth the price. One particular strong feature of the SHRM Learning System is the access to the Learning System's Website. The Website includes flash cards, over 1000 questions, a pre and a post-test, a great Case Study and other super valuable resources.
Even though I strongly recommend the Learning System, however, I hardly recommend that you stick only to it. Most people will tell you that expanding your circle of materials may improve your chances - not only because of the content of various books but also because of the comments, cases, exercises, etc. Here are some of the materials I particularly liked:
Anne Bogardus - SPHR / PHR Certification Study
Larry Phillips - SPHR Exam Prep
Lisa Guerin and Amy DelPo - The Essential Guide to Federal Employment Law
I also checked out several government websites including
Each of these sites includes fact sheets, faqs and other great resources. Finally, one of my favorite resources for Supreme Court cases was the Oyez site, put together by the IIT Chicago Kent College of Law. You can search any Supreme Court case and see basic information - hugely helpful.
A lot of colleagues choose to join one of the SHRM Preparation Courses or a course offered by a local university or college. I haven't done that, but folks who have told me that it was worthwhile. Taking a class may allow you to discuss "real life" issues with colleagues (and those "real life" applications are likely to REALLY help you come exam day!)
I did have the opportunity to participate in the preparation course offered by my friend and colleague Tom Mobley (thank you Tom!). Tom's course "got me started" (I participated in it early in the game) and gave me a great "road map." Tom's tips and bonus tests were also very helpful. If you live near Cincinnati, OH, you may want to check Tom's program out.
Here is something I did that made the difference between passing and not passing: I found a WONDERFUL "study buddy," Jim Foord. While Jim lives in California and I live in Des Moines, IA, we still managed to meet weekly for several months. We used mostly used skype and Go to Meeting to connect.
Working with Jim helped me immensely for several reasons. First, Jim did a fabulous job of putting together a study plan. Since someone else was counting on me, I knew I had to stick to the plan. Second, discussing the study questions with someone really made it real. Third, Jim and I supported one another as the "goings got rough" - when we got tired or frustrated or thought we wouldn't make it. Even if you are fortunate enough to take a class or participate in a more formal training, I strongly recommend finding a "study buddy."
A few tips as you prepare for the test:
THE BIG DAY
So now you've studied (hopefully with a study buddy), completed lots of practice exams and are ready for "the big day." Here are some last "words of wisdom."
Now comes the scariest time of all - once you "unmark" and answer all questions, you'll need to "finish"! I can't remember the name of the button - but there's a button you click when you're finally "ready." To make things worse, the system then starts asking you a bunch of survey questions on your experience (yikes). By then my heart was beating fast and the last thing I wanted to do was to answer any questions!
At the end of it all, the system will quickly calculate whether you passed or not. You won't know "how well" you passed (or how close were you to passing if you didn't pass) until several weeks later. Seeing the "pass" word is something else - I had to sit back and smile for a few minutes just to sink it all in. If you don't pass, however, know that you can complete it again (there are no limits to how many times you can repeat the process).
I hope these explanations and tips help you! Do you have any comments? Would anyone care to expand on what I said? Do you agree or disagree with anything?