PHR Human Resource Research Study Findings

by Dawn Boyer, PhD. candidate

PHR Human Resource Research Study Findings (copyright 2011)


The study’s survey period took place between the summer of 2010 and all of 2011, using a population of HRP’s across the United States. The primary goal was to survey HRP’s with PHR or SPHRcertifications and that were practicing in the HR field at the time of the survey. The researcher distributed the survey to a population of 2,000 potential sampling candidates, with the total response of 497 survey participants.

For the final survey results, where respondents volunteered demographic information, data was obtained from 111 males (23%) and 380 females (77%) for a total of 491 sharing gender information. The ethnic composition of the population who shared information was as follows in Table 2, identifying participants as: (1) White (Caucasians), (2) Black (African American or descendants), (3) Asian (Eastern Asia), (4) Hispanic (Spanish or Latino origins), (5) Pacific Islanders (Hawaiian, New Zealander, or Guam, etc.), or (6) Mixed Race (or ‘other’ ethnic origins) for a total of 485 (98%) reporting.

The educational attainment of the sample population was 4 with High School Diplomas (2%), 10 with some college (5%), 8 with Associates Degrees (4%), 68 with Bachelors Degree (32%), and 111 with Masters Degree (52%), and 14 with PhD degrees (7%) for a total of 215 reporting educational levels of the 497 (43%). Other degrees or certifications noted by participants were DDI Facilitator (8), Lean Six Sigma (6), AIRS or recruiting specialization training (3), and IPFW (3), in addition to Compensation, Benefits, Team Leadership, Executive Coaching and Team Management, Anger Management, and Instructional Design.


The principal research variable will be whether the HRP has achieved the PHR / SPHR certification, while other dependent research variables are: 1) years in the HR career arena, 2) educational degrees, and 3) age as maturity factor, as well as 4) intrinsic value of the certification to the survey subject and 5) the extrinsic perceived value of the certification to the business community (or employer). These variables may affect the opinion of whether the PHR (or any) certification is necessary for job knowledge. Variables were defined through the research goals and survey instrument and treated as independent variables within the factor analysis to allow for development of correlations, which are important in the context of this study.


The instrument used was a survey designed by the researcher. An institutional researcher reviewed the survey for clarity, bias, and readability. The questions were developed specifically to address the study's research goals. The research goals were to find the answers to questions related to whether HRP’s have a higher sense of HR knowledge after obtaining a certification, and whether they feel more qualified to perform their job after obtaining the certification.

Questions asked were related to demographic information such as gender, ethic heritage, and education level to get a feel for the educational level and heritage demographics to show an attempt at a valid cross-section of the larger population. According to the United States Census Bureau, the race/ethnicity makeup of the country in 2010 was: White (72.4%), Black or African American (12.6%), Hispanic/Latino (8.7%), Asian (4.8%), Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (.2%), and Mixed/Other Races (2.9%/6.2%) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Gender population differences were noted as .508% women and .491% men (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Compared to the US Census as a population, in this study Whites were under-represented, Black or African Americans and Asians were over-represented by almost 100%, Hispanics were over-represented by almost 200%, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders were close to true representation, and Mixed/Other Race were under-represented by approximately 50%.

Section two sought information from HR practitioners related to their motivation to achieve the PHR Certification for education, work, and career expertise, as well as salary and/or promotional gain. Section three asked for workplace development related information such as years of experience as a HR practitioner before and after the PHR certification.


The collection of data commenced upon completion of Old Dominion University's Human Subjects approval process via the Institutional Review Board (IRB). A database of business contacts the researcher had been developing for years were contacted using social networking to obtain the names and contact information for human resource practitioners across the country.

SHRM has a database of HRP’s available to members. A caveat to using the database was it could not to be used for research studies. Therefore the researcher had to reach out into the general business community for HRP’s with PHR certifications willing to participate in the study. The researcher continued to sent out requests until October of 2011 to ensure the final response rate was statistically significant.


The survey requested a small amount of demographic information, plus 18 intrinsic/extrinsic related value questions, which were rated on a Likert Scale of one to five. The value of the Likert Scale rating of one equaled strong disagreement to the statement and a value of five being strong agreement to the statement. Survey data collection ended November of 2011.



The researcher analyzed the completed participant surveys regarding their knowledge and perceptions of the PHR certification after successful completion of the exam.

The researcher coded text responses provided by participants using a quantitative approach for each section’s data analysis, as well as open-ended responses into categories based on similarities. Coded categories were beneficial because participants' qualitative responses determined the categories to create a priority based on decisions made by the researcher. This increased the validity of the quantitative data collected.

Themes that emerged in the qualitative review coding demonstrated almost 100% of participants, providing open dialogue text responses, believed the certifications were valuable for self and peer credibility, and enhanced promotional chances, as well as salary increases. Ninety-five percent believed the certification was worthwhile, and established an ‘elitism,’ or differentiation from non-certification holders, and 70% noted having the certification was rewarding. Forty-seven percent of respondents agreed employers do not care if a HRP had a certification, and 34% noted it was of little or no value, but almost 36% note companies recognized it as a value to the business.

Experience was more valuable to the companies than education and/or certification (46%). Twenty-three percent believed a formal educational degree was of more value than the PHR/SPHR certification, almost 16% had the viewpoint the certification was better than experience alone, 15% noted the certification enhanced an educational degree, and 9% noted it was better than a formal degree. Forty-one percent believed studying for and obtaining the certification helped them to understand their HRP responsibilities and employment law better. Close to half the participants placed more professional value (42%) on the certification than personal value, while almost 18% noted they placed more personal than professional value on the achievement. Respondents noted business people don’t understand or recognize the certifications (24%), but an equal amount (24%) admitted it looks good on a resume.

Respondents were eager to share their opinions about themselves and the exam(s), with 22% percent self-describing as continuous learners who like to keep current in their field of knowledge. Eighteen percent noted the exams were hard or challenging and 21% studied only for hard facts so they would be able to pass the test. Slightly under 10% had the viewpoint the exams came close to accurately representing the HR body of knowledge, while an opposing viewpoint of inaccuracy came to slightly over 7%.

Commentary indicated 12% felt the exams were money-making and self-serving activities for SHRM. Six percent noted the exams and/or certification were time and cost prohibitive. Almost 3% stated the learning systems/books did not help. Five percent mentioned the newer requirements for the exams does not reflect the certification’s value.

QUANTITATIVE RESULTS (still to be completed)

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