How I PASS’d My HR Certification Exam Despite Very Real Test Anxiety… And A Pandemic.

How I PASS’d My HR Certification Exam Despite Very Real Test Anxiety… And A Pandemic.

Lili’s journey to HR Certification

I thought about obtaining my HR certification for over 10 years. In 2007, I had received my MBA and I didn’t know where to begin the HR certification process. It was daunting to say the least. Becoming a PIHRA member, attending many PIHRA chapter meetings and then joining the PIHRA staff helped me figure out where to start.

Then comes the year 2020. I, along with many others, thought that working from home would give me time to do all the things I had been putting off. You know what I’m talking about – getting that additional degree, redecorating the kitchen and, yes, studying for and passing the HR certification exam. Except for getting an additional degree, I’m happy to say I did redecorate my kitchen and pass the SHRM-SCP test, but it wasn’t easy.

There are so many things that can become obstacles in the certification journey. The key challenges for me were selecting the right certification, figuring out the best ways to study, and sustaining the confidence and motivation necessary, no matter what happens, to successfully pass the exam. Everyone is different. I believe my hesitation stemmed from being a horrid test taker (yes, the SAT and GMAT were a nightmare) and suffering from imposter syndrome. Saying it out loud is a bit of a relief. Take it from me, despite the obstacles you create or those that are out of your control, you can do it.

My Certification Journey: Which Certification?

I frequently get asked, “Which certification is right for me.” I always say selecting the right certification is a very personal decision. It was a very personal decision for me too. To make my decision, I did these five things.

Speak to HR certified professionals
I spoke with many HR certified professionals to gain their insight into the different certifications. I received a lot of great input. I took what I needed and left the rest.

Do your research
I researched HR certified professionals that I admired on LinkedIn, including my boss, to see which certifications they had.

Evaluate your experience and your goals
I thought about my job experience, my education and where I saw myself in the future to decide whether I should pursue the senior certification, the California credential or another credential.

Look at the exam pass rates
Since I was interested in the senior-level certification, I reviewed the pass rates for those exams. Sixty percent of individuals pass the SPHR exam, while the latest pass rate for the SHRM-SCP was 54%.

Think about your “why”
Finally, I thought about my “why.” It’s very important to identify your “why.” This will keep you going to the finish line. My why is I want the certification to gain credibility in my professional community and increase my earning potential. Additionally, it’s very important for me to set an example of strength and achievement for my eleven-year-old daughter, Alicia.

Why the SHRM-SCP Certification?

Since my HR experience had been as an organizational development consultant, I felt that the more strategic, “senior” certification suited my interests best. Aside from other reasons, I selected the SHRM certification because I believe the SHRM certification exam does an excellent job at evaluating the competencies related to leading and successfully managing real-life HR situations in a corporate environment. In addition, it is the most challenging exam to pass as evident by the lower overall pass rates. I want to be able to say I passed an exam that is comparable to more recognized, difficult exams like the CPA or Bar examinations.

My Certification Journey: Gaining Support and Accountability

Once I narrowed down which exam I needed to prepare for, I spoke with my boss and work team to enlist their support. Luckily, my employer had the training budget so that I could register for a PIHRA SHRM-CP/SCP certification preparation class with Richard Dawson, MBA, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, PHRca, sHRBP, HRPM in April 2020. I registered for the class along with my friend and co-worker, Stacey Gordon. I highly encourage registering and creating a study plan with an accountability partner or a few of them.

My Certification Journey: Preparing for the Exam

I believe Richard Dawson is one of the best HR certification preparation instructors in the West. Richard is honest about what it takes to pass the exam. If you think you can rely on simply your experience, previous education and attending the class sessions, you’re mistaken or you’re a fantastic test taker. As I mentioned above, the pass rates are evidence that not just anyone can pass these exams. Richard shared his experience with the exam (he failed it at first) and provides clear guidance about what it takes to be successful. I calculated that I spent over 150 hours preparing for my exam.

Further, Richard is generous with his time and has the HR experience that allows him to make HR concepts come to life. He provided his cell phone and invited all the students in my class to contact him with specific questions outside of class. I still call him to get advice (he is encouraging me to prepare for the PHRca now – sigh). Richard’s HR experience with large corporations and multi-nationals helps him to translate the body of knowledge into real-life HR scenarios when he teaches. The HR experience he brings to teaching is the foundation on which the SHRM exam is built.

After 15 years, I was not used to reading textbooks or studying material on my own. In addition, as I already mentioned, test taking is not my strong suit. I had to utilize what I knew about myself to make decisions about how to study and when to take the test. While many people in my SHRM-CP/SCP preparation class took the test within 30-60 days after completing the course, I knew I needed more time. I was determined to PASS my exam on the first try. To keep motivated, I facilitated the creation of a study group that met twice a week. After my first study group decided to adjourn, I struggled with staying motivated. I needed structure and accountability. All I kept hearing is Richard Dawson’s voice saying, “you need to read all of the materials in the SHRM LMS and take as many quizzes as you can.” I heard that voice in my head for nine months. I needed help and more motivation to finish.

Scholarship Opportunity through BambooHR

In October 2020, my boss shared that BambooHR was offering 100 scholarships for a certification preparation course and related materials. I quickly applied for the scholarship and got it! This not only provided me with more classroom time, but it also provided me with online access to additional study materials, a network of additional professionals who, like me, aspired to PASS, and the final motivational push to finish what I had started earlier in the year.

After I received the scholarship, I applied and paid for my exam. For me, this was the point of no return. I had my exam date — January 15, 2021. I created a new study group and asked them to hold me accountable for reading all the materials. We met twice a week and during our study sessions completed countless quizzes together. We took quizzes from everywhere we could – the SHRM LMS, the HRCP LMS and Exam Edge.

Study Groups Are Critical to Help You Pass

My study group played a pivotal role in helping me PASS. Not only was it critical because of the HR knowledge building we did together, but also because we discussed other important factors about taking the exam that are particularly important now in the pandemic. For example, I heard nightmare stories about taking the test remotely. I heard about test takers waiting hours for their proctor to show up and others whose dog barking caused the online proctor to threaten to stop the exam. Having an uncontrollable issue occur on the day of a big exam can be extraordinarily stressful. These stories kept me laser focused on not only knowledge building but also being prepared logistically for the test. My study group also shared countless information channels with me. I learned about the app Quizlet, various HR Certification Facebook groups and online study aids on YouTube. I met hundreds of people on the Facebook groups and I learned about David Siler’s 7 Princes from one of the groups (PHR/SPHR/SHRM Study Resource and HR Professional Forum).

My Certification Journey: Don’t Forget About Self-Care

Lili ArguelloTo keep confident and motivated to take the test, I did a lot of meditations and visualizations. This has been a part of my regular practice for many years. The last couple of weeks before the exam were intense. I spent at least 10 minutes every morning and every evening doing confidence boosting mediations. As a previous marathon runner, I know the power of visualization. I visualized myself taking the test calmly and feeling the exhilaration of passing the exam. I took most of the week before my test off to study materials in the LMS that were an opportunity for growth, prepare my test taking area, rest, drink water and eat nutritious meals. On the day of my test, I shut myself up in my bedroom and asked my family for help in keeping my home quiet for at least four hours. I’m so glad that I completed my certification journey. I PASS’d and I was able to share my accomplishment with the most important person in my life, my daughter, Alicia.

Although it is stressful and a lot of work, I encourage you to do it. Now. Even during a pandemic. Start your certification journey now! It’s worth it.

Lili Arguello