How To Get An HR Certification Without Experience

When I was studying for the SPHR exam, I encountered a number of people who were interested in getting an HR certification but they did not have any work experience in the field.  Through my research, I learned that there is a pathway to certification that you can pursue even if you’ve never held a job in human resources.

What is aPHR Certification?

So how do you get an HR certification without experience? The Associate Professional in Human Resources (aPHR) is the ideal certification for someone looking to be credentialed if they’ve never been employed in a human resources role.  The aPHR is a rigorous test of a candidate’s knowledge of topics that they should be familiar with when they are just starting out in their Human Resources career.  

HRCI is a credentialing organization that has existed for over 40 years with the sole purpose of testing HR knowledge and conferring designations to candidates.  It is best known for the PHR and SPHR certifications, and it added the aPHR to its offerings early in 2016. The organization designed the aPHR to focus on the key topics that HR Generalists are most likely to encounter early in their career.  In addition, the only requirement for the aPHR is a high school diploma or its equivalent for international candidates. The exam is knowledge-based which means that unlike HRCI’s other exams, candidates aren’t expected to draw on their experiences or use situational judgement to answer any of the questions. This makes it perfect for students who haven’t been able to gain any industry experience while in school, armed service members transitioning to the civilian workforce as well as people looking to make a career change.

The exam is broken down into six functional areas:

Exam Topic%
HR Operations38%
Recruitment and Selection15%
Compensation and Benefits14%
Human Resources Development and
Employee Relations16%
Health, Safety and Security5%

The emphasis on HR operations ensures that a candidate has a firm grasp on the tactical aspects of human resources management and a broad understanding of all other functional areas.

You have to apply on the HRCI website and get approval prior to being able to schedule your exam.  The aPHR has a rolling application deadline so you have the flexibility to take the exam at any time throughout the year. Once your application has been approved by HRCI you have 120 days to schedule your exam at a PearsonVue test center during the exam eligibility period.

aPHR Exam Questions

The aPHR exam has 125 questions and you’re given 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete them.  One hundred of the questions count toward your score and the remaining 25 are pretest questions.  HRCI includes pretest questions on the live exams and uses the response to them to determine which of those should appear on future exams.  You won’t know which of the questions that you’ll encounter on the exam are considered pretest questions, so be sure to take them all seriously.  Another important thing to note about the aPHR is that the exam is positively scored which means that you are not penalized for a wrong answer.  

The questions will primarily be multiple choice, but you will also see some fill in the blanks, multiple-choice/multiple-response and drag and drop. The HRCI website offers up some samples of the content of the questions that you might encounter on the exam.

aPHR Passing Score

The aPHR exam score ranges from 100 to 700 and the passing score is 500.  Each of the questions on the exam has a different weight relative to how difficult it is compared to other questions.  Simply put, harder questions are worth more points. Once HRCI receives your raw results they use a scaling method to convert your raw score to a scaled score. Because the exam is fully computerized and is tracking your score as you go, you will get your preliminary score results report while you’re still at the testing center. HRCI will send you an email with your official results 24-48 hours after the exam.

The results report will state whether you passed or failed the exam and it will show your performance by section based on a range  from lowest to highest. If you fail the exam, HRCI will show your score relative to a passing score. The results report is a really useful tool. If you need to retake the test or are considering other certifications, it will identify your strengths as well as the areas that could benefit from some additional focus.

aPHR Pass Rate

The good news is that as of this year, the aPHR pass rate is 85%. So the odds are definitely in your favor as long as you put in the time and effort to study and understand the exam content. Even though the pass rate is higher than the HRCI exams geared toward seasoned professionals, it’s important to create and stick to a study plan. The exam covers a lot of material so you want to be very disciplined about your studying and give yourself sufficient time to review.

aPHR Cost

If I haven’t scared you completely and you’re ready to take the plunge, you might be wondering just how much the aPHR costs. You will have to pay a $300 exam fee and a $100 application fee, both of which are due at the time that you apply for the exam. Once your application has been approved, the fees won’t be refunded if you change your mind and withdraw from the exam.  It is definitely costly, but consider it an investment in your future as it signals to potential employers that you’re making a serious commitment to a career in human resources.

With that being said, I always advocate being a savvy shopper and look to save wherever I can. HRCI periodically offers discounts of up to 75% on the application fee. So if you have some flexibility around when you can take the exam, I suggest following their socials to see the next time a discount code is released.

Studying for the aPHR

Now that I’m done with the specifics about the exam, it’s time for you to take the most important step toward becoming certified.  And that is to start thinking about how you will make your study plan. There are three things that I want you to do first:

  1. Download the exam content outline from HRCI
  2. Assess your level of confidence with each of the areas presented on the exam
  3. Start thinking about how you learn best – are you a visual, auditory or tactile learner

Armed with that information, you can head over here  to see exactly how I laid out my study plan for the SPHR.  Even though the test is different, the same rules apply and I want to share my tips to help you prepare.

Related Questions

Can students sit for the SHRM-CP exam?  Students in the final year of an HR focused Bachelor’s or Master’s degree program can sit for the SHRM-CP exam.  Unlike the aPHR, SHRM requires that students have 500 hours of related experience in order to be approved.

Where can I take the aPHR exam? HRCI exams are available at PearsonVUE test centers.  There are over 5,000 locations in 175 countries. You will have to search the PearsonVUE website to see if the test is available at the center nearest you.  Not all tests are available at all testing centers.

Recent Content