Sara-Kate DeBord, Senior Human Resources Business Partner with Paycor, Discusses Her Experience with HR Certifications

Through our Newton Recruiting Insights series, we discovered that nearly 1 in every 4 of our users has an HR certification. Considering this finding, we wanted to take a closer look at HR certifications to understand what motivates people to obtain them. Attempting to calculate their true value, we looked into the influence certifications have on areas such as job qualification, pay level, and organizational ROI. Through this research, we made some interesting findings, however, we wanted to get perspective directly from a leader in the HR field. To do so, we sat down with Sara-Kate DeBord, Senior Human Resources Business Partner with Paycor, to get her take on HR certifications.

Do you have any HR certifications? If so, which ones have you obtained?

Yes, I have my Professional in Human Resources certification, more commonly known as the PHR. The certification is issued by the Human Resources Certification Institute.

Why did you choose to get certified?

Earlier in my career, I was looking for a way to continue my HR education and set myself apart from other candidates who may be applying to similar roles. The HR job market is extremely competitive. I wanted to show my dedication to the profession and learn more about the different specialties within HR (benefits/comp/employee relations/talent management etc.).

What is the certification process like?

For the PHR certification, you are required to take a 150 question, multiple-choice exam based on HR operations, best practices, and legal regulations in the US. Typically, the exam takes anywhere from two to three hours.

There are many different ways to prepare for the exam, based on your learning style. Most study independently and at their own pace. However, knowing my hectic schedule, I needed to find a way to make studying a priority. I enrolled in the SHRM study group that was held locally. The sessions were held for nine weeks, three hours each Tuesday night. We had a detailed curriculum and schedule to work our way through the extensive study material. The SHRM materials came with practice tests, flashcards, and quick reference guides. These classroom sessions, along with the materials provided, were extremely helpful and left me feeling prepared!

How well did the certification process prepare you for your role in HR? Does it offer practical benefits in your daily work?

More often than not, textbook answers don’t apply in the HR “real world.” There are different nuances and ways that you need to apply HR best practices, depending on the organization in which you work. All in all, obtaining my PHR allowed me to develop a strong foundation of practical and applicable HR knowledge. As I grow in my career, I continuously draw from and build upon this knowledge base.

As far as job qualification and progression, pay level, and overall organizational performance, what effect do you believe that certifications play on these factors?

When applying for jobs, having a PHR certification definitely sets you apart from those candidates without one. By how much, this depends on the organization and the value that they place on the certification. I have seen this vary.

Do you have to get re-certified? If yes, what’s the process like and how often must you re-certify?

Every three years I need to complete a minimum of 60 CEU’s (continuing education units) in order to recertify. CEUs can come from on the job training, seminars, conferences, and so forth. This number is not hard to reach over a three-year span and I always make sure that I attain it. I will do anything to avoid retaking that three-hour exam!

Would you encourage your team and other HR peers to get certified?

The PHR/SPHR certification is great to obtain when you are new to your career, or new to the HR field in general. It helps to give you fundamental knowledge about human resources and will help to prepare you for any role that you step into. The PHR/SPHR also shows commitment to the field. It lets your peers and employers know that you are interested in continuing to better yourself as an HR professional.

What advice would you offer to those thinking about, or currently going through, the certification process?

Study hard! The hard work up front is worth only having to take the test one time. Invest in the tools and resources necessary to help you pass the exam. Believe it or not, I have referred back to my study guides once or twice when a tricky HR situation has popped up!

Get to Know Sara-Kate!



Sara-Kate DeBord is currently a Senior Human Resources Business Partner with Paycor, supporting the Product & IT and Newton teams. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Communications and Human Resources Management from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Sara-Kate has held the roles of Recruiter, Employee Relations Coordinator, HR Specialist and HR Business Partner in organizations ranging from 150-14,000 employees. She obtained her PHR certification in December of 2011.

HR Recruiting. Simplified.

If you are an HR professional dealing with the Recruiting and Hiring at your company than Newton is here to help! Currently, 1 out of every 4 of our users has an HR certification. Why such a high percentage? Because Newton is built with industry-leading functionality that caters to the needs of leading HR professionals. With a user-friendly interface, intuitive workflow, advanced features, and EEOC/OFCCP compliance built-in, Newton provides the tools necessary to automate and manage the hiring process. Interested in learning more? Contact one of our product experts today!

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