Benefits and Compensation

Executive Brief: HRCI Explains Exam Construction, Recertification, GPHR

Watch the interview.

Here’s a transcript of the interview:

HRDA: This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor. I’m here with Linda Anguish from the HR Certification Institute. Linda, would you like to tell us a little bit about what you do there?

HRCI: I’d be happy to, Steve. I’m the director of certification products and services, and part of my role is involved with working with volunteers to construct our certification exams, working with our test development partners to publish and deliver those exams, and then finally, working with our recertification team that assists individuals in keeping their certifications current by recertifying every 3 years. We also have an approved provider program that offers recertification programs to our certificants, and I work with that team as well., now thoroughly revamped with easier navigation and more complete compensation information, will tell you what’s being paid right in your state—or even metropolitan area—for hundreds of jobs. Try it at no cost and get a complimentary special report. Read more.

Exam Development Process

HRDA: Wow. OK, let’s go back to those exams that you mentioned. I’m interested in knowing how you establish what body of knowledge the exams are going to cover.

HRCI: Well, it’s actually quite a comprehensive process. We start out doing something called a “practice analysis,” which is very similar to a term you may be familiar with, “job analysis,” but this is for an entire profession—in our case, the HR profession.

We start out with a task force of HR practitioners from the population who would be the audience for the exam. So, for example, for the GPHR, we would gather a task force of global HR practitioners, whereas for the PHR or the SPHR, maybe practitioners that are practicing primarily here in the United States. And that task force takes a first crack at defining the list of responsibilities that a qualified HR practitioner would need to know and the knowledge that’s required to perform those responsibilities.

When that draft is completed, we then put it into a survey format, and we e-mail it out to, depending on the size of the target population, hundreds or thousands of HR professionals in the geographic area, and we ask them to respond via e-mail survey to validate what we’ve listed as what that HR professional needs to know.

When the responses come back, they are analyzed statistically, and those that maintain a certain level of statistical response so people do say, “Yes, I do do this in my job. I am expected to do this, and it is important,” that stays in the body of knowledge, and anything that doesn’t resonate with the survey respondents may be removed from the body of knowledge, and basically that leaves us with an outline of tasks and responsibilities and knowledges that the qualified HR practitioner is expected to know.

That forms the body of knowledge, which we then publish, and we tell test candidates, “This is what you may be tested on.” And all of the questions that appear on the exam must tie to those specific responsibilities and knowledges that the practitioners have told us, yes, they are responsible for performing.

So it’s quite an extensive process. We do repeat it, the entire process, about every 5 years for each exam. We do some minor updating in between, but we do that complete analysis of practice and survey validation about every 5 years for each one of our exams to make sure that the content remains current and relevant.

HRDA: That’s great. Who actually writes the questions on the exams?

HRCI: Well, I’m glad you asked, because I think that is something people wonder about. Actually, certified HR professionals who hold the certification do offer their services to the Institute on a volunteer basis, and they are trained by our exam development partner on how to write questions from multiple-choice exams. But by using certified practitioners, we make sure that, again, our questions remain relevant to things that are actually being performed by the HR professional today, and at this time, we have about 200 certified volunteers who are working with us on our exam development activities.

HRDA: Wow. That’s fantastic. Do you have a system for testing the questions before they actually go onto the test?

HRCI: We do. On each unique test form, about 25 of the total questions are what we call pretest or pilot questions, and they are those that are being analyzed for their statistical performance. So these questions are not obvious to the test taker because obviously we want the candidate to take them as if they were part of the scored exam, but they don’t count for or against a candidate’s score. They’re just being tried out so we can later analyze their statistical performance.

HRDA: Do you ever find that there’s a bad question that you have to remove?

HRCI: Absolutely. If that pretest question I mentioned performs within acceptable statistical parameters, we add it to the test bank, and it may be used as a scored item on a future test. But if it doesn’t, it is returned for editing by our volunteers.

Sometimes those statistics tell us how to fix it. For example, if people chose two of the four potential answers almost equally, that means one of the distractors, as we call them, one of the incorrect answers, is too close to being correct, so we have to remove that and make it a little less correct.

Sometimes in a case where candidates are, for example, selecting all four options equally, and there appears to be no clearly correct answer, the subject of the test question might be too obscure or too specialized, and so, in that case, we would remove it entirely.

I also should mention that before any test form is administered, it’s put together into the format in which the test taker is going to see it, and a final panel of volunteers takes a look at it right before it’s administered to make sure that there haven’t been any changes in laws or regulations that might impact the correctness of the exam question. And, of course, if there are those changes, then the question is pulled. Depending on whether it can be fixed, it may be edited or discarded.

Certification and Recertification

HRDA: Thank you. Let’s talk a little bit about certification and recertification. How many people are there who are currently certified?

HRCI: Right now, we have 127,439 individuals who hold one or more certifications from the Institute.

HRDA: I’m one of them, by the way. What percentage of those people recertify?

HRCI: Last year, our recertification rate was 88 percent of those who were due to recertify. So we’re very pleased by that percentage. Of course, we’d love it to be 100 percent, but you always do have individuals who are moving out of the profession, etc., so we are very pleased in that the 88 percent rate has held constant for us for the last couple of years.

HRDA: Yes, I think that’s a great number. Do you have any tips for people who are going to recertify? Are there any common problems that people run into?

HRCI: The best advice that I can give anyone is to record your activities as they’re completed. We do have an online recertification file, so it’s really easy when you complete some type of activity to go in and record it right away. That way, you remember all the details. Plus, hopefully, you have your documentation on the activity that you just completed handy and are able to get that out of the way.

The other thing that I would suggest is to make sure that you read through all of the categories of things that qualify for recertification. A lot of times, people believe that only going to classes or even participating in virtual events like webinars are things that qualify for recertification. In reality, there’s a wide variety of activities. For example, if you take on a new responsibility on the job and that requires you to learn something new in terms of the field of HR, you are able to document and record the hours that you spent working on that new activity to qualify for recertification hours.

HRDA: OK. What do you do to verify that what recertifiers submit is accurate? Do you check to see if they registered for events that they claim they attended?

HRCI: We do randomly audit a percentage of those who recertify each year, and for those individuals, they must produce documentation of what they’ve submitted. So there is a chance that you could be selected for a random audit and would have to, in that case, provide evidence of your registration and attendance at the events that you told us you participated in.

HRDA: During these random audits, do you find problems?

HRCI: Well, the greatest problem could be overcome, as I mentioned to you originally, by entering all of your activities as soon as possible, and then storing your documentation in a safe place until the chance for audit is past. Mostly what we find is that people will have lost that piece of paper and sometimes will have to go back and find verification for something that they did.

So, just keeping all of your verification in one place and, again, entering your information as soon as possible seems to really help with that. As a side note, the word “audit” does tend to strike some fear into the heart of people. I guess it’s appropriate to be talking about that the day after tax day. Just the term “audit” does seem to make people think that it’s going to be more arduous than it really is. We will work with you and really want to help you to be able to complete that audit successfully because, obviously, we are interested in keeping our certificants with us, if at all possible.

Global Certification

HRDA: OK. One of the HRCI offerings that’s attracting attention is the GPHR—the global professional certification. How is that new certification doing?

HRCI: Actually, it’s done quite well. The certification was initially offered in 2004, and in less than 10 years, we have over 2,400 individuals who hold the GPHR credential. For some, that’s their only credential, while some hold it in conjunction with one of our other certifications. It’s important to note that this is a little bit more of a specialty certification. It’s really intended for individuals who work cross-border, so only if your job involves sending people to different countries or being responsible for HR activities in more than one country or region would this be the proper credential for you.

HRDA: Are most of the people who seek it based in the U.S. or are they mostly based overseas?

HRCI: I think we’re starting to see a little bit of a shift in that. When the certification was originally introduced, it really was seen as a product that U.S. multinationals would be mostly interested in, and that was probably the initial cohort of individuals who became certified. But as the world has changed, globalization has taken over, the world has become smaller, more and more people are going to different countries, I think those lines are blurring, and we have a nice mix now of individuals who even may have started out being U.S.-based and are currently on an overseas assignment, or would like to be sent overseas at some point in their career, or currently are overseas and may be even looking to come in the other direction and take a position here in the U.S. for part of their careers. So, I think it’s really become a nice mix of individuals as long as they have that cross-border focus.

HRDA: So that could be a good strategic move for people to take that GPHR even if they currently don’t have that assignment.

HRCI: The key is really that you have experience in more than one country, doing human resources in more than one country, whether that’s physically being located elsewhere or having responsibility for individuals in another country. Since a professional certification exam tests your knowledge that has already been attained in the field, we do require a certain amount of global HR experience in order to even take the exam. But I do definitely see a trend going forward that there’s more and more of this cross-border focus, so if you have the experience, it’s definitely going to make you more marketable in the future to hold a credential.

HRDA: Thanks. And now just a general question: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners about the HRCI?

HRCI: I’d just like to say that I think that as evidenced by our growing certified population and the amount of people who choose to recertify, the value of certification in general is really becoming more widely known and appreciated in many fields, but definitely in the field of human resources and in a very competitive job market and for folks who are really interested in being able to demonstrate their mastery and kind of stand out from the crowd in terms of advancement. Certification can be a very, very powerful tool to have on your résumé or in your professional background; it just helps you stand apart from the general population, I think.

HRDA: Great. Linda, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate your answering all of these questions for our listeners.

HRCI: Thank you so much.