Do HR Pros Need Initials After Their Name?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, maybe nothing, if your point of view is different than mine. In my point of view, though, these people need more initials or letters after their names.

This is the current Executive Board of the Society of Human Resources Professionals (SHRM).  Left to right, they are

  • Hank Jackson, CPA
  • Janet Parker, SPHR
  • G. Ravindran
  • Henry Hart, JD
  • J. Robert Carr
There’s a few letters after some names, but only Janet Parker possesses an HR related certification. Does that seem somehow wrong to you?

It does to me.

Now I will be the first to admit that having PHR, SPHR, GPHR, CEBS, or a similar HR related certification does not guarantee that you have the skills to run a massive organization like SHRM. I have the letters JD and SPHR after my name, and I certainly couldn’t do it. But certification would have guaranteed that these people had the guts and determination to study their ass off and take a special test to show that they possessed at least a basic knowledge of general HR principals. I don’t think that is too much to ask of the leaders of an organization that represents “over 250,000 members in over 140 countries.”

This week I got a call from a man who needed someone to speak at a workshop on an emergency basis when his scheduled speaker landed in the hospital. He wanted someone to speak about “HR and something internet related”, so a couple of people gave him my name. He had no idea if I was a good public speaker, but he had looked me up on Linkedin and knew that I had the letters SPHR after my name, which gave me – and him – all the credibility he needed. I wouldn’t have landed that gig otherwise, even if I was the most knowledgeable and talented public speaker in metro Detroit.

I think we deserve as much from SHRM leadership, don’t you? Or are professional certifications a waste of time and money? Do they tell us anything at all? Let me know in the comments because I value your opinion!

(By the way, if you thought what was wrong with that picture was that it contained only one female in a profession easily dominated by females, I’m with you. But that’s another post. 😉 In the meantime, the song “Initials”.)


9 thoughts on “Do HR Pros Need Initials After Their Name?”

  1. I’m less bothered than many about SHRM’s Executive Board having passed the PHR/SPHR/GPHR exam. Is having certification really job-related for what they are expected to do for SHRM?

    Take Bob Carr for example. He was recently named chief global communications and marketing officer for SHRM. His biography indicates that he ran his own employment law firm. In addition, he served as senior director for strategic planning and human resources at the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (now the American Association for Justice). He also served on the executive team of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and as director of AARP’s human resource group and its volunteer resource center.

    Would adding SPHR really enhance his credibility? Would it enable him to do his job better at SHRM?

  2. I must echo Matt’s comment. The group you showed here are not necessarily HR pros. Hank’s job is to run a large membership organization effectively as a business. That job does not necessarily need to be an HR person any more than the CEO of GM needs to be an automotive engineer. Another is the legal counsel of SHRM, another is from India where the SPHR doesn’t have an equivalent.

    As Matt said, would HRCI certification add credibility? Maybe or maybe not. However, SHRM’s CHRO should be certified, because his job is HR. Just one person’s opinion.

  3. To both Matt and John – If you don’t need to be certified to run an HR related business like SHRM, does certification matter at all? We spend a lot of time at conferences and such encouraging HR pros to become business partners and to assert business sense. Does it not work the opposite way when the business is actually an HR-related business?

    When Mary Barra was appointed the VP of Global HR at GM (all of those initials! :-)), there was some griping from the HR world about the fact that she was an engineer who came out of product development, not HR. She obviously had a lot of business skills, but not being an HR pro (with the initials to back it up) was seen by the HR world as a disadvantage.

    Maybe that’s the answer – we don’t need to be HR certified at all. We just need to demonstrate better business skills.

    Or should there be both when it comes to HR?

  4. Again, I go back to the position title and job specification. In Mary Barra’s case, I would argue that given it is a VP of HR position, having the certification is appropriate. In Bob Carr’s position in marketing, I would hope he has an understanding of HR (and given his background in employment law, I would expect he does), but is it something we would really require as part of his job description?

  5. So if it is all about the individual job and the job specifications, why promote general certification at all?

    My point in giving the example about the speaking engagement was that my SPHR doesn’t have anything to do with my ability to speak about social media and HR, but the HR audience I am speaking to sees the SPHR after my name and can immediately empathize and relate to me. The same thing happened at a SHRM local group I spoke with.

    While I used the SHRM board as an example, I think this is – or should be – a general concern across the board. We either get behind the certification bandwagon 100%, or we quit believing it has any specific value, because it always comes down to a particular job and the organizational determination of what that job needs (like Mary Barra).

  6. In terms of HR Certification, I don’t know that the non-HR people in SHRM would qualify to take the exam. That in itself is an interesting conundrum – are there other organizations that you can lead but not qualify for the professional certification exam?

    I agree that there needs to be more of a general consensus on the importance of the certification or else dropping it entirely. I personally would like to see it completely overhauled and become a series of classes/tests covering not only HR but also key areas of business essentials like finance/accounting, marketing, ethics, operations, and HR.

    I would also like to see less material on labor relations since union membership is at it’s lowest level of all time yet represents 18-22% of the exam content. I find it odd that you can be certified without even understanding a basic balance sheet but you need to know in depth information about NLRB voting standards.

  7. Thanks for your comment, Shana. Based on your interesting conundrum comment, I looked up the American Medical Association (AMA). Their EVP/CEO is a medical doctor, as is their current President. Other commentors would suggest this was totally unecessary; do you have to be a doctor to run a professional association?

    I also found your comment about the entire labor relations module/portion compelling. On a personal level, I like legal based test questions because they are easy for me, but I have to agree that this section is not based on any user reality.

  8. In an effort to enhance morale and productivity, limit job turnover, and help organizations increase performance and improve results, these workers also help their companies effectively use employee skills, provide training and development opportunities to improve those skills, and increase employees’ satisfaction with their jobs and working conditions. Although some jobs in the human resources field require only limited contact with people outside the human resources office, dealing with people is an important part of the job.

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