Riddle me this…PHR, SPHR OR….MBA?

I’m fortunate that at the retained search firm I work for we get several HR positions (at all levels…Generalist, Manager, Business Partner, Director, VP, CHRO..)  in the non-profit and for-profit arena to work on in any given year.  I enjoy them quite a bit and it’s interesting to me to hear the answer to this question I always ask of hiring managers…

Do you want your future hire to have a PHR, SPHR or MBA?

Now, I do this for a very selfish reason.  When I xray LinkedIn for candidates I can use this search:

site:linkedin.com (intitle:phr|intitle:sphr|intitle:mba) “human resources”

Add a location, use a not statement to remove the job and directory results and it’s golden and fast.

More often than not, I don’t just get a straight answer of PHR, SPHR or MBA.  I get a discussion on which has more merit.  Typical answers?

PHRwanted  because it shows they’ve put in the study time and have acquired a base knowledge of employment laws and processes.

SPHRwanted because it shows time in field and the PHR know how.

MBAthey’re a strategic thinker, not just cow-towing to an organization like SHRM and what it says should be known.  Broad in scope they can sit and have a really valid conversation with the CEO, CFO and Board.

And then lastly… Who Cares? I want Work Experience…

I’m a numbers gal, so I went to Indeed and ran these searches…which will only give me a ballpark but a ballpark would help:

phr AND NOT sphr AND “human resources” (US based) (1,005 results on May 15)

sphr AND “human resources” (US based) (2, 444 results on May 15)

mba AND “human resources (US based) (2, 366 results on May 15)

Okay…so PHR is not as in demand as perhaps SPHR or MBA…and there’s definitely more to be done to these searches.

But what do you think? Either as someone hiring an HR Pro or an HR Pro…I’d love to hear your thoughts…hit me in the comments or weigh in on this LinkedIn Poll.

FOT Background Check

Kelly Dingee
Kelly Dingee is a Senior Manager, Global Talent Acquisition for Marriott International. She has extensive sourcing experience having worked for Staffing Advisors (retained search), AIRS (training!) and Thales Communications, Inc., (cleared/telecom) and got her start in the profession while a full life cycle recruiter at Acterna (now known as Viavi). Lucky for Kelly, she had a boss who could see the potential of sourcing candidates from the web, and in 1998, she stepped into a newly created sourcing role. No truth to the rumor that she has a side business to help you push your resume to the top of Google search results…


  1. Kathy says:

    My question is why does asking for an SPHR (or PHR for that matter) rule out also looking for an MBA. I have both (all three if you count the fact that I got my PHR and then 5 years later passed the SPHR test) and feel that I learned something important during the attainment of each. Wouldn’t it be better to ask two questions – one as to whether or not they want an MBA, and then ask if they want someone who has added a certification (PHR or SPHR) to their work experience?

  2. Travis S. says:

    I have both the PHR and an MBA, and both have their uses. I got my MBA first, which gave me a good oversight of strategic human resources and business in general. I then received my PHR earlier this year as I got more trench HR experience and needed better understanding of employment laws and nitty gritty HR stuff. In my role, I need to know and do the transactional HR duties but also provide strategic input to my organization. If I were hiring another HR professional, I would have to look at what the role really entails. Do I need someone to do the day-to-day HR work, or do I need someone who be a strategic leader? That, along with my budget, would guide my decision.

  3. Lisa Grimes says:

    There are times I think people just want to be able to put the initials behind their name and that would magically get them a job. There were people in my PHR/SPHR prep class that had absolutely no experience in HR and they thought this would get them a middle or upper management position in HR. I believe it is a combination of education and experience. That said, I feel that having the PHR behind my name as given me more credibility in my organization.

  4. Kelly Dingee says:

    Great feedback…it all comes down to perspective…who thinks that the phr, sphr or MBA is important…the candidate or the hiring manager? It really points to taking a look at where you want to go career wise and what typical expectations are for credentials before you go down a path that has significant financial investment. For some people it’s a personal goal, but for those that think it gives them credibility…that’s different.

  5. Shannon says:

    I love when people discuss this topic! I think it creates valuable dialogue into the direction the field is headed. Personally, I am pretty narrowly talent-focused, and until SHRM provides more substance in that sub-discipline, as opposed to the current focus on labor relations and administrative aspects of HR, I will stick with groups that target my areas of discipline. In fact, I found that out of all the SHRM chapters in Ohio, there are less than 20 that have a subgroup focused on staffing management (the SMA), with the nearest one to me being an hour away–not very conducive to workday-interrupting meetings. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the one meeting I did have the opportunity to attend.

    As the business community looks to HR to provide more strategic leadership into how the company’s human capital can add value and bring about positive business outcomes, it seems to me that the value of the MBA will continue to rise for HR pros.

  6. Rory Trotter says:

    Great post, Kelly.

    Personally I’d rather hire an MBA than a PHR or SPHR, but those people tend to cost a premium if they came from a decent school.

    If money is an issue then an SPHR will often give me much of what I would want from an MBA at a lower cost (I’m speaking anecdotally here).

    Ultimately, however (as you pointed out), critical experiences are what drive the day. Once we get to the executive level the degree stops mattering so much as what one has done (and has the capability to do).

    Thanks for sharing, and keep writing.



  7. John says:

    We might be missing the other independent variable in this equation: What’s the undergrad background?

    The SPHR/PHR (or Masters in HR) seems more valuable on top of a business-focused Bachelors degree than it does attached to an HR-focused Bachelors degree.

    I don’t always do post-graduate work, but when I do I pick the one I don’t already have a degree in.

  8. Melissa says:

    Great post. I currently have 2 years of experience at a ski/golf resort as an HR representative. I did everything from payroll, benefits, worker’s comp to recruiting and orientations. There were 3 people in our department for 150-600 personnel (depending on the season) and I joined the team with absolutely no HR experience. I have a bachelor degree in Psychology and I am just starting to study for my PHR exam this winter. I would love to be at a director level position in the next 10 years or less but I know that means an MBA and a lot of experience with diverse and complex companies where there is a lot of room for growth and lateral movement within the HR department. I would like to give you all the opportunity to weigh in on my future and suggest a path that you think I should travel based on your current knowledge and past experience. Looking forward to more helpful blogs. Thanks Kelly.

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