A Certificate or a Degree – What does the HR Professional Need?

A Certificate or a Degree – What does the HR Professional Need?

The famous Roman emperor Julius Caesar once said: “Experience is the teacher of all things.” Clearly, nothing can take the place of experience, especially when it comes to your profession. Case studies and taking a close look at workplace situations certainly adds value, but nothing can really take the place of experiencing any such situation oneself. Such experiences add significantly more value and offer lessons on how to handle the same situation as well as similar ones in the future.

Experience, though, by itself sure is not enough if you are a professional – say, in the HR field – looking to advance your career. Hard credentials do matter, and employers like to see evidence of continuing education from a candidate, such as a HR degree, a HR certificate or a HR professional certification.

Statistics bear this out. According to “Occupations that Need More Education for Entry are Projected to Grow Faster Than Average”, a chart from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the decade from 2016-2026 is expected to see a one-sixth growth in jobs for positions that require a Master’s degree. The likely growth, though, is only one-ninth in this period when you look at positions that require a certificate or any other form of a postsecondary non-degree award.

Statistics, however, do not tell the whole story, or talk of softer, “non-numerical” concerns. For instance, some HR professionals might not be in a position to make the type of commitments – both in terms of money and of time – that earning a HR degree would require, while a HR professional certification is less demanding on both counts. Also, one may not be looking for as broad-based knowledge as would come from a degree, and the concentrated, focused content of a HR certification might be what instead serves the purpose at hand. A HR degree cannot be replaced by a certificate, but if what is needed is new skills, a HR certificate can serve as a credential of advanced education along with providing the necessary knowledge.

As a professional and educational option, earning a certificate is certainly becoming popular. According to the Institute for College Access and Success in the US, the number of people earning certificates has gone up by more than half since 2005. In a considerably lesser time period than a degree, certificates prove to be a great way to gain practical knowledge. An advantage for certificate students is that the coursework they undertake can also help to prepare them for certification exams in their field. Industry professionals recognize certifications as an endorsement of advanced knowledge in a subject.

Time for a closer look at a degree, then. When looking to fill leadership roles, employers often prefer to hire or promote professionals who have advanced degrees to their name. And, promotions into leadership positions tend to come with a potential for higher earnings. According to the BLS, in 2017, the median annual salary for a HR manager was $110120, while for a HR specialist, it was $60,350.

It is, again, a question of time and money. Unencumbered by family and home responsibilities, younger professionals might choose to obtain a Master’s degree at an early period in their careers. The familiarity with the rhythm and rigor of school, a longer time period to pay off student loans, and a longer career ahead to maximize the payoff from an advanced degree are among the advantages here.

Studying for an advanced degree is also popular with veteran professionals at a later stage in their careers. They often pick online programs for their flexibility, other than regular full-time courses. The advantages of an online course are live lectures for collaboration and interaction with professors and classmates, as well as bridging the gap between academic theory and practical application through real-world expertise of the faculty.

It ultimately becomes a choice of priorities. It is best to conduct your own research with regards to salary and employment figures, especially given the regional variance in job availability and salaries. What matters is that the choice you make, meets your needs.


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