Certified Compensation Professional: Job Description & Salary info

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A certified compensation professional's median annual salary is around $92,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a certified compensation professional is right for you.
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A Certified Compensation Professional Career: Pros and Cons

Certified compensation professionals use research and analysis to help companies decide how much to pay their employees. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of the occupation to help you decide whether it's a worthwhile choice for you.

Pros of Becoming a Certified Compensation Professional
Excellent earnings potential (median yearly salary around $109,000 for compensation and benefits managers in 2014)*
A bachelor's degree is often sufficient (71% of professionals hold this degree)****
Can work for human resources departments in virtually any industry*
Certification can enhance employment prospects**

Cons of Becoming a Certified Compensation Professional
Sluggish job growth (projected at 3% for compensation and benefits managers for 2012-2022)*
A master's degree may be necessary for some jobs (19% of professionals hold this degree)****
May require working long hours*
Requires adherence to regulations, policies and employment laws, which can be strict**
Certification can take several years and may be expensive***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **CareerBuilder.com, ***WorldatWork Society of Certified Professionals, ****O*Net OnLine

Career Info

Job Description

Compensation professionals may go by the title of manager, analyst, consultant or specialist. Regardless of title, these professionals share a common main task, which is to create and administer corporate wage plans. To make sure employee salaries are competitive with current industry trends, they conduct research, consult salary surveys and analyze market data. Often, they are also tasked with maintaining company job descriptions and defining employee classifications to make sure compensation is fair based on workloads and industry standards.

Much of a certified compensation professional's work depends on understanding and complying with state and federal labor laws, internal policies and other regulations, which means they often consult with other departments, like human resources and legal counsel. They are also responsible for certain types of corporate, financial and tax reporting. Some certified compensation professionals also manage employee benefits programs, including insurance, retirement and investment plans.

Salary Info and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in 2014, compensation and benefits specialists earned an average yearly salary around $61,000; for the same year, experienced compensation and benefits professionals at the management level earned a mean salary around $119,000 annually (www.bls.gov). While overall employment of human resource specialists was estimated to increase by 8% in 2012-2022, employment growth for human resource managers was projected at 13% for the same period. For compensation and benefits managers, employment growth was projected at only 3% through 2022, in part because companies often find it cheaper to automate or outsource their compensation and benefits functions to external firms.

Career Skills and Requirements

Education Requirements

To become a certified compensation professional, you'll most likely need a bachelor's degree, as O*Net OnLine reported 71% of entry-level compensation and benefits specialists held a 4-year degree in 2012 (www.onetonline.org). Most compensation professionals at the management level held either a bachelor's degree (71%) or a master's degree (19%), according to O*Net. Compensation professionals can pursue degrees in human resources, management, business, finance, accounting or a similar discipline.

Professional Certification

Though certification is not required for employment, many employers prefer to hire compensation professionals who have earned the Certified Compensation Professional (CCP) designation, available through the WorldatWork Society of Certified Professionals (www.worldatworksociety.org). The CCP designation requires passing a series of nine exams on a body of knowledge encompassing a variety of human resources topics, with a qualifying score of 75% required to pass each test. There are no formal education prerequisites for beginning the certification process, but the WorldatWork Society offers training courses to help candidates prepare for the exams. Candidates must complete the exam series within an 8-year period; most finish the series within 4-6 years.

Useful Skills

Through education, training and experience, certified compensation professionals need to have well-developed communication skills, including writing, speaking and interacting with personnel at all levels. Certified compensation professionals also need the ability to review, analyze and evaluate data in order to make the best possible corporate decisions. In management roles, certified compensation professionals need to be versed in conflict resolution and negotiation. Many employers prefer candidates proficient in Microsoft Office, database software and other computer applications. A thorough and up-to-date understanding of the legal and regulatory issues related to benefits administration, employment and compensation is essential to a career as a certified compensation professional.

What Are Employers Looking for?

Employers typically want candidates with 4-8 years of experience, often with 1-3 years of experience as a supervisor or manager. Many job postings also mentioned a preference for applicants with professional certification in compensation or benefits management. The following profiles are a sampling of CareerBuilder.com job openings posted in May 2012:

  • A Vermont firm looked for a compensation manager to direct employee wage programs and explain compensation plans through presentations, training and other communications channels. A bachelor's degree in finance, business, human resources or a similar field was required of all candidates.
  • A medical insurance company in Ohio advertised for a compensation and benefits analyst to carry out the compensation programs for various employee types and administer benefit programs. In addition to having 2-8 years of experience, applicants were expected to have a 4-year degree.
  • A Michigan mortgage company wanted a senior compensation and benefits analyst to manage the company's pay grade and structure. Additional duties included reviewing job descriptions and classifications, as well as managing insurance and retirement benefits. Candidates were required to have a 4-year degree and at least five years of professional experience.

How to Beat the Competition

Get Certified

In a highly competitive job market, the BLS reported that applicants who can demonstrate their expertise and experience will have better job prospects. Although certifications are voluntary, many employers prefer to hire compensation professionals who have earned compensation, benefits or human resources credentials because they represent skills, knowledge and training needed for this field.

Professional certifications often require passing at least one exam and paying a certification fee; typically, the organizations also offer exam preparation and training courses for an additional fee. The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans has four credentials, including the Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS) designation and specialty designations in group benefits, retirement and compensation (www.ifebp.org). The Society for Human Resource Management has two certifications for human resources professionals: the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) for individuals with different levels of experience and education (www.shrm.org).

Earn a Master's Degree

While most compensation professionals hold a bachelor's degree, nearly a quarter of compensation and benefits managers have earned a master's degree, which the BLS noted can increase job opportunities. Pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a master's degree with a human resources focus can help applicants stand out from the competition and give them additional business administration and management skills. Indeed, several CareerBuilder.com job postings listed a master's degree as a hiring preference.

Alternative Career Paths

Administrative Services Manager

If the education and certification requirements to become a certified compensation professional seem daunting but you still want to help a business use resources efficiently, you might consider becoming an administrative services manager. In this position, you could manage supplier contracts, oversee maintenance efforts, ensure safety regulation compliance or streamline other areas of operation. O*Net reported that in 2011, 19% of administrative services managers had a high school education, while 29% had taken college courses and 28% had earned a bachelor's degree. Though job competition could be fierce, the BLS estimated average job growth for this occupation, with a 15% increase in employment through 2020. Given the variance in required education levels from one employer to the next, however, administrative services managers are paid quite well: the BLS reported a 2011 mean annual salary around $87,000.

Human Resource Specialist or Manager

If you want to perform human resources functions but do not wish to specialize in compensation, you could consider becoming a human resources specialist or manager. In addition to payroll, compensation and benefits, human resources personnel may also oversee employee recruitment, hiring, training, labor relations or a combination of these areas. Like certified compensation professionals, most entry-level human resources professionals have a bachelor's degree. Additionally, many of the same professional certifications earned by compensation professionals are useful for human resources professionals, since the careers often have overlapping tasks.

As noted above, human resources professionals have better slightly better career prospects than certified compensation professionals, with job growth estimated at 21% for human resources specialists and 13% for human resources managers between 2010 and 2020. Human resources professionals had wages similar to the earnings of compensation professionals, with specialists taking home an average salary around $59,000 per year and managers earning a mean yearly salary around $109,000, according to BLS figures.

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

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American University

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Keiser University

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  • Associate of Arts - Accounting

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Northcentral University

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  • MBA - Human Resources Management
  • Education Specialist - Organizational Leadership

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George Mason University

  • Master of Business Administration

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American InterContinental University

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Grand Canyon University

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Herzing University

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  • B.S. - Business Management: Human Resource Development Concentration
  • Associate of Science - Business Management

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