4 HR Certifications You Can Get for Under $400

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Human relations (HR) is a competitive field. The industry growth in the U.S. from 2014-15 was only 5%, meaning about 22,000 new job openings at a time when there were over 2 million new college graduates. That’s going to take a while for your application tracking system to filter out.

That’s not to say that getting a job in HR is impossible; it just isn’t easy.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recommends getting an HR certification in addition to a college degree to improve your odds of employment. But those get expensive fast.

Take the CEB, for instance. The full course, with all required exams, will run you over $8,000, and that’s assuming you’re a WorldatWork member studying on your own with your own materials. Going for the lesson materials jacks the price up by thousands.

Maybe some people can get their companies to pay for these certifications. But not everyone has that option. When you’re looking for a new job (or a first job—hi, recent grads!), any cost can put you off, even if it’s an investment in your future. However, like the job hunt, finding a cheap solution isn’t impossible, it just takes extra effort.

Luckily I’ve done the legwork for you. Check out these major HR certifications, and find out how to do them on the cheap.

1. Professional in Human Resources

Price: $375

What it is

If you’re looking into becoming accredited for the first time, the PHR is a go-to. The certification is designed for HR specialists in a variety of specific occupations, with two to four years of experience and who are not the head of their business’s HR department—yet!

The exam itself runs about three hours and tests you on the technical elements of human relations, including laws, logistics, and regulation compliance.

How to prepare

The HR Certification Institute offers their own packages for PHR prep materials, though some can get pricey. (I know, shocking, right?) If you’d rather go a cheaper route, buy your own PHR guide book off of Amazon. You can also find practice tests online, for free.

Apply for the exam here.

2. Professional in Human Resources—International

Price: $200

What it is

Similar to the PHR in content and style, the PHRi takes a view that isn’t U.S.-centric. With so many companies employing branches or offices all over the world, globalization is a must for HR professionals who want to get ahead. This certification tests you on international laws and regulations, as well as best practices that are held in common across the world.

The test takes just over three hours and covers such topics as recruitment, benefits, on-the-job safety, and training, among others.

How to prepare

As with the PHR, the HR Certification Institute offers their own prep materials. But you can find free sample tests to practice on. If social learning is more your thing, check out this Facebook group for communal PHRi preparation.

Apply for the exam here.

3. Certified Employee Benefit Specialist

Price: $395

What it is

The CEBS is an eight-course certification system that tests your knowledge on employee wellness and benefits. While not as general or as broad as some other HR certifications, if you’re interested in managing hiring and benefits packages, either as a dedicated job or as part of a wider array of certifications, the CEBS is a good one to nab.

The test takes two hours and covers topics such as retirement, benefits, health packages, and executive compensation, to name a few.

How to prepare

The official CEBS study material runs in the $100 and up range. But you might be able to get around that with some of the guidebooks. There are also free flashcards.

Register here.

4. Free Online Courses

Price: Free

What it is

In my journey to find you the most affordable HR certification options, I came across a list of free HR continued study options.

While these are classes and courses—not credited certifications—taking a few of these and reflecting your continued study in your resume certainly won’t hurt you. If anything, it displays your initiative and eagerness to further your career.

How to prepare

If you do this right, then all the materials will be free. Take the time to research any course you want to take to seek out free materials and confirm that you won’t bump into any hidden fees. Just in case.

Check it out here.

What HR certifications are you going for?

Think an HR certification might be right for you? Or are you going to stick to the free classes and make a case for more once you’re hired? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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Looking for Human Resource software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Human Resource software solutions.

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About the Author


Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen is a former Capterra analyst.



I am finishing school and I wanted to get a HR certification without paying far another class . And I see where you posted about other free online courses that can be taken, my questions is will they help me past the certification task?
Thank you,
Gwen Gibson

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