shrm-cp/shrm-scp exam: my experience

Professional certifications are a must if you want to boost your street cred with employers. Such designations can set you apart from the competition and position you, and your department, as an expert in your chosen field. I thought my MBA was enough to get me noticed, but nowadays, anyone can get that online. I needed something else to set me apart. So, I recently took the SHRM-CP exam, and by some miracle, I passed. It was not easy and totally  not what I expected. I can’t speak to the SHRM-SCP exam, but I wanted to get your attention, so I stuck that in the title. I’m dying to share my thoughts, so if you’re considering the SHRM-CP, listen up.

This certification is the new kid on the block. Back in the day (two years ago), most HR professionals were members of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), but became certified through the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI). Things got ugly, and they broke up. In 2014, SHRM announced they would create their own set of credentials. I choose to pursue the SHRM-CP because I got an email about it at least twice a day. SHRM marketed the heck of these new credentials and even produced a commercial, which I thought was a little desperate. Ultimately, the study materials were cheaper than the PHR/SPHR, so I signed up in February and took the exam about a month ago.

The exam is total B.S. It’s nothing like the study materials. I get that they try to make it difficult, so you can fail and pay to take it again, but good Lord – it’s HR, not the bar. I studied for five months. I studied in the morning before work, on my lunch break, and every night before bed. I studied on the weekends and even took PTO to hide out at the library and cram. I choose the self-study option, which includes five textbooks the size of an encyclopedia (slight exaggeration, but they’re super thick like college textbooks). You also receive access to an online “learning system” that includes eight videos that are less than ten minutes long, so I don’t really see the point. There’s an assessment, so you can figure out how smart you are before you start studying. Then each section includes practice quizzes, which I thought were helpful until I took the actual exam. There’s also a post-test, and it’s basically the same questions as the section quizzes. Lastly, you get about 8,000 flashcards, but you can spend months memorizing terms that you will never see on the actual test.

A week before the exam, I was so ready to crush it. I felt prepared and just knew I’d walk in the testing center and it would be a total joke. Totally not a joke. I was about eleven questions in and literally whispered “WTF is this? The exam is made up of knowledge questions (like definitions, but not really) and situational judgment questions, which are supposed to be like real work-related situations. You’d think they would ask questions about employment laws, compensation, benefits, ya know, HR stuff. Um, no. Everything you skim over in the reading because there is no way they’re going to ask you thatthat’s the only thing on the test.

The situational judgement questions were also very frustrating. How in the heck does SHRM know what would fly in my company? Any of the four answer choices could work depending on the leadership and structure of your company. There is only one preferable answer, and then an acceptable answer that gets you half-credit; however, a lot of the “wrong” answers would actually be the right course of action at my job. What’s up with that, SHRM?

  • My advice to prepare for the SHRM-CP is to read every word of those textbooks for like, a year.
  • If you live somewhere that offers a study group or class that provides in-person preparation, do it.
  • Take the practice tests everyday, and flash those freakin’ flash cards until you’re reciting definitions in your sleep.
  • Especially focus on the different behavioral/situational theories, risk management, and the outcomes of an effective training program. That’s really all I remember because it’s all a blur now. Everything you think they’ll ask, they might ask 10 questions. Everything you think they won’t ask, they’ll ask you 150 questions (160 total questions). So, just study everything because there is no outline to reference in the self-study option.
  • Any answer that points to HR as a strategic partner who is proactive, not passive, and serves in a consultative role to management is going to be the correct answer.

Do not let my review discourage you. You’re a total rock star and can do whatever you set your mind to. I hadn’t taken an actual test in six years, so that was another part of the struggle. The post-test will help train your mind to focus for up to three hours. I still encourage you to pursue some type of certification that can help you reach your personal and professional goals (there are credentials and designations for almost every profession). And I’m not hating on SHRM. I’m a local and national member and utilize their website and other resources almost daily. I attended the national conference in Washington, D.C. this year, and it was a great experience. I also appreciate their efforts in advancing the HR profession. I was just slightly (okay, highly) disappointed in the preparation and exam-taking process. Perhaps I’ll pursue the SPHR next.

Have you taken the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exam? Did you pass? I would love to hear about your test prep and exam experience. What are your thoughts about SHRM vs. HRCI? Go!


A former hot mess bringing you no-nonsense career advice. I've been hired, fired, demoted, and disrespected; and it was entirely my fault. I've made every possible professional mistake and want you to learn from my screw ups, so you can have the career of your freakin' dreams.


  1. Ash, your blog is really an inspiration to me. I am inspired. Thanks for being real and down to earth.

    • thank you, simone! I’m so glad you enjoy the blog. please let me know if I can ever be of assistance. I offer resume-writing, interview coaching, mentoring, or can just chat for general career advice. tell your friends!

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