HR Certification: Evaluating a”Free” Credential by Applying What We Know

It’s time to think like the HR professionals we are.

As professionals in human resource management, we all assess human capital and the credentials that candidates present as qualification for the position they desire.

In the ongoing conversation about SHRM’s newly announced certifications, I have read comments that make me wonder if we’re applying our own professional expertise for ourselves, as we would for a hiring manager or a client.

A typical scenario

Try this scenario-based question:

A new institution called Brandex College has been founded, but faces stiff challenges. As a new institution in higher education, it won’t qualify for accreditation until it has a track record, which takes years. It also lacks alumni, who are critical to success.

To quickly develop an alumni base, Brandex College makes an unprecedented offer: it will award a degree at no cost to anyone who possesses the same degree from an accredited institution. Show a diploma, complete a brief questionnaire and sign a form, and you are the proud holder of a degree from Brandex College.

As you are assessing candidates for a position, you receive a resume from a candidate who possesses two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Business: one from a well-known public university and the other from Brandex College.

What would you do?

As an HR professional, which of the following do you do?

A. Credit the candidate for holding two degrees in the desired field;

B. Congratulate the candidate for being so resourceful;

C. Base your assessment on the state university degree and ignore the other;

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D. Question the candidate’s integrity for presenting a degree that did not require actual work.

Based on my own experience and knowledge of our field, “C” would be the obvious best answer. However, if this question were to appear in the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exam, where partial credit will be given for the second best answer, “D” could also be an appealing choice.

Of course we would not consider a degree granted simply on the basis of another degree and gained with no personal investment of time or resources to be a valid credential. So why are some certified professionals considering SHRM’s offer of a free certification with no test required?

Why would you want a “free” certification?

I challenge everyone holding a current HR certification to think twice before accepting the offer of a “free” certification. As a professional whose business is talent, you wouldn’t give credit for a credential that was acquired in this way. Why would we validate the practice by participating it in ourselves?

As professionals, our actions must have a better justification than “because it’s free and easy.” We owe it to ourselves to respect our profession and the credentials we have earned, and know that any credential worth having is also worth earning.

As for me, I am responding to SHRM’s offer by saying, “no thanks, Hank.” I will stick with a certification that I have earned, and if I ever decide to acquire another one, I’ll earn that too.

Jim Steele, EdD, GPHR, SPHR is Associate Professor of Management at George Fox University, where he teaches courses in management, HR, and global business in the MBA and DBA programs. Jim co-developed the MBA program’s concentration in Strategic Human Resource Management. Prior to his teaching career, Steele was an HR executive for over 20 years at companies including Intel and Matsushita. He is a volunteer director on the board of the HR Certification Institute, and has served as a volunteer in numerous capacities for both HRCI and the SHRM Foundation. Jim’s e-mail address is Board@hrci.org.

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