July 19, 2011

Certificate of Learning

I finished my BA in Human Resources Management from Boise State University last May.     I was CEO of a small company here in Boise and in that position I was the sole HR provider for the company.  We did some business consulting within the Addiction Treatment industry and on occasion I had been solicited for advice within the Human Resources arena.  I had some first-hand experience and some education as part of my General Business Management BBA from Boise State.

It became evident that there was a potential room for growth on the consulting side of our business because the average treatment center was relatively small and simply did not have the experience or resources to provide for their own in-depth HR functions.  Boise State had just "upgraded" the Human Resources Management from a minor to a major degree of study.  Putting two and two together I decided to go back to BSU and get my HR Management degree.  I liked the subject, enjoyed the the HR work I was able to do, and since it was for the betterment of my business, work was going to pay for it.

HR Management isn't too far off from General Business Management, so getting a 2nd degree from Boise State was relatively easy to accomplish.  I only needed an additional 30 Credits (two full-time semesters), with only two new required courses.  I ended up retaking a class that I wanted to learn more about the subject matter (and get a better grade), so the total new credits I took for this degree was 33.

Along the way I needed to part ways with my employer.  It was a good run for both of us, but it was evident that it was time.  I like to think that we left each other in much better shape than we started in.

Now I have a new degree and an opportunity to pursue new career opportunities utilizing that degree.  I've been trying to find employment in this new field but I keep running into a Catch-22.  I have too much experience for entry level positions, but the higher level positions keep going to internal applicants.  I really would really like to work for a larger company, but I need to get my foot in the door first.

Another barrier to entry is that I'm seeing a lot of job postings for "entry level" positions listing that the employer would prefer a PHR certification.  I've seen some postings actually list the Professional in Human Resource (PHR) certification as a job requirement.  The rub is that in order to be eligible to sit for the exam, an applicant has to have two years of "professional" experience.  "Professional" experience is defines as exempt-level work with an approved job title/classification.  Far more advanced than what you would expect for "entry level"!

It used to be, up to six years ago I believe, that a student just coming out of school could cram and take the PHR exam.  When they reformed the eligibility requirements, they decided to create a new assessment: the Certificate of Learning.

About the Certificate of Learning

In 2006, SHRM created its Academic Initiative—an effort to set the agenda for the future of HR education, based on a multi-year, multi-method research study to define minimum standards for HR education at the undergraduate and graduate level. Part of the long-range strategy for the Academic Initiative was the development of an assurance of learning assessment for graduating HR students. SHRM commissioned the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in November 2009 to conduct a series of studies to inform the potential development of a new assessment for graduating HR students. 

  1. Help universities meet their accrediting body’s assurance of learning requirements by showing that the HR degree program delivers what is promised.
  2. Show that the student has acquired the knowledge required for an entry level HR position.
  3. Provide HR students who pass the exam, a means to differentiate themselves in the job marketplace.

  • Employee and Labor Relations
  • Employment Law
  • HR and Organizational Strategy
  • Managing a Diverse Workforce
  • Performance Management
  • Staffing: Recruitment and Selection
  • Total Rewards
  • Training and Development
  • Workforce Planning and Talent Management
  • Leadership
  • Career Planning
  • Employee Benefits
  • HR Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Measuring HR Outcomes: Metrics and the Bottom Line
  • Risk Management: Occupational Health, Safety, and Security
  • Negotiation Skills
  • HR and Globalization
  • HR Information Systems


Undergraduate students and graduate students in HR or HR-related degree programs are eligible to take the exam beginning one year before graduation and ending one year after graduation. The registration web site will require the applicant to provide information on a variety of areas, including but not limited to the degree program sought, the university the student attends and the number of HR-specific courses in the major area of study or concentration. Any applicant who meets the eligibility requirements will be given a registration number and information about selecting a test-taking site. 

I went ahead and ponied up the cash for the exam.  It was not what I expected, and the delay to get my results has been excruciatingly long, but last Saturday I got the new via email....I passed!

"Dear Christopher:

On behalf of the entire SHRM team, I extend heartfelt congratulations to you!  You passed the SHRM Assurance of Learning Assessment.  Fifty-five percent (55%) of the examinees who took the assessment passed it. 

In addition to this email, we will send you a formal letter to your address of record next week.  That letter will include information about the total score you earned compared to the minimum score required to pass the assessment as well as how many questions you answered correctly in each of the 18 content areas.  And, it will include your Certificate of Learning.

Additionally, the letter will include information for you about how to reflect this tremendous achievement on your résumé.  We realize that it is critical for you to let potential employers know you have passed this assessment because it shows you possess the knowledge required to enter the profession at the entry level."

Only 55% passed?  I'm surprised.  The exam was difficult, but it is supposed to cover everything we learned in school.  If 45% of my fellows couldn't pass this exam, shouldn't that mean I have a leg up on a significant portion of my competitors when applying for a HR position?  I would hope so.

Now if only SHRM did a better job informing the public about the Certificate and the prerequisites for the PHR.

One day at a time....one day at a time.


Anonymous said...

I will be taking this test next week. Do you remember the score you recieved on it? Also do you know what the minimum is to pass?

Any other advice for it?

Christopher Stogdill said...

I do not remember my score, but I remember thinking the test was rather difficult. I think it is too difficult because too many questions were experiential based and not stuff covered in school.

Unknown said...

I took the test August 1st, 2012 and the test said only 60% passed. And it was very difficult! I actually have a Bachelors in Psychology and Sociology with only a minor in Business so I studied about 2 months straight learning all the employment law/other mostly from scratch. It helped that I had an HR internship and have been very involved in HR learning since my Junior year. Still the test was hard and I did talk to a friend who majored in Business and he said that he had a very difficult time as well. I am pretty sure the minimum to pass is 60%, but you can look that up on the SHRM website.
After I took the test I was told that I would know what my score was 2 months after the test window closed,-October 15th. However, I received and email from SHRM saying I passed roughly September 15th, which was odd. They also told me they would send me a card with my score and the best way to advertise this certification on my resume, which I still haven't received. It is November 23rd. Chris do you know why this is? Also glad to hear you passed I hope you felt as excited as I was!

Christopher Stogdill said...

I think they give the two-month window to make sure they have enough time to get out the notices after they review any testing irregularities. Most major tests of that nature they look at certain questions with higher than expected wrong answers as part of an on-going validation process.

I was not given a card with my final score, jut the percentage of people that passed. As far as the whole "best way to advertise the certification", I was given this:
Certificate of Learning, Assurance of Learning Assessment for Graduating HR Students, 2011, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Confirms that I possess the minimum knowledge required to enter the HR profession as defined by SHRM.

Pretty lame since it should be SHRM's responsibility to educate the public, much less its own members about the changes to the PHR and the new Certificate of Learning.

This Certificate is useless if an employer is looking for a PHR and doesn't know about it.

Anonymous said...


Do you remember the study materials you used to prepare for the exam?

Christopher Stogdill said...

I only used the little sample study booklet that was issued when I signed up for the exam. The majority of the material seemed to be things I already had learned so when/if I had any questions I just looked them up in my old textbooks.

It seemed them majority of the questions were ones I could answer based on experience or those that required knowledge of the current legal environment.