Which CIPD course is for me?

Kim Pullinger, Content Writer · 09 Nov

The CIPD offer HR and Learning & Development (L&D) qualifications to people on all rungs of the career ladder, right from A-Level equivalent to qualifications intended for Directors. Having one of these bad boys could put you way ahead of the competition - here's why you should have CIPD on your radar.

First thing’s first – what does CIPD stand for?

It’s the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (watch out! It’s not “personal” development – make sure spellcheck isn’t ruining your company-wide email and making you look like an uninformed fool).

They’re the biggest professional body for those involved in HR and the development of people. They received their Royal Charter in 2000 to recognise its pre-eminent status in the field of HR.

What is CIPD qualification?  

The CIPD offer HR and Learning & Development (L&D) qualifications to people on all rungs of the career ladder, right from A-Level equivalent to qualifications intended for Directors. The quality associated with a CIPD qualification means that having one is often a pre-requisite to getting many jobs, and even if they aren’t, having one will put you way ahead of the competition.

No matter if you’re in the public, private, or charity sector, obtaining a CIPD qualification should certainly be on your radar.

So, now you’ve decided that you need one of these career-defining qualifications, how do you go about deciding which one to go for?

The CIPD offers three types of qualification;

  • The Award
  • The Certificate
  • The Diploma

An Award will give you in-depth knowledge of a specific subject area. They’re good for refreshing your knowledge of a particular topic within HR. Certificates cover a wider subject area and allow you to study them in detail. Diplomas cover even more subject areas and give you an in-depth knowledge of those areas.

Within the three types of CIPD qualifications, there are three different levels;

  • Foundation Level – aimed at newcomers to the profession and those without much experience
  • Intermediate Level – which is set up to undergraduate level and builds on existing experience
  • Advanced Level– which is similar to postgraduate study.

5 step guide to deciding which CIPD course is right for you

1. What do I want out of this?

Essentially, you need to consider what this qualification will do for your career. Or, to put it another way, what do I want to achieve in my career, and how will this qualification help me achieve that?

2. What skills am I lacking in?

Different CIPD qualifications cover different subject areas, so don’t just do one just so you can stick it on your CV. Although it may be tempting to go for a course that covers an area that you’re already comfortable with, so you can achieve good marks, you need to be honest with yourself and find out where you need to improve the most.

3. Where do I want to be in 5 years? 

This is almost certainly a question you’ve had constantly drilled into you right the way from finishing school, but it’s just as relevant in choosing which CIPD course to do as it is for your general career. In order to move up the career ladder, what qualifications will you need for that dream job in five years’ time? Plan ahead. If you’ve got time now, it’s a great idea to get a qualification under your belt as early as possible.

4. Will my company support me?

Some companies allow you to take study days in order to gain certain qualifications, especially if they’re a requirement for the job. But, not all will. Find out what your company’s policy is on this, as it will have an impact on how you study for your CIPD qualification and where.

You can study for CIPD qualifications at several universities (including London Metropolitan University, Manchester Business School, Liverpool John Moores University, and Middlesex University, amongst others), colleges, and private providers (such as Avado and ICS Learn) across the country.

Courses are offered full time, part time, via distance learning, in block format, or mixed-mode. It all depends on what suits you best and what other commitments you have.

Distance learning, for example, may be the best option if you don’t have a lot of time or if your company isn’t especially supportive. You can get 1:1 tutoring, and live online classrooms, without having to commute into a centre. Not all centres, however, offer every study mode option, so it’s important to find out how your company will support you if you decide to study for a CIPD qualification.

5. Am I committed to my job?

A question that you should probably be asking yourself anyway, but especially relevant here. CIPD qualifications are long-term commitments, and cost quite a bit of money. Ask yourself: Is it worth it? If you’re only planning to stay in HR for a couple of years before moving on to something else?

Depending on the study mode, provider, and whether you go full or part-time. It's around £4200 + VAT for an advanced level certificate, and around £8000 + VAT for the advanced level diploma – although there are loans and interest-free payment plans available from some providers.

How will CIPD qualification help you in your career?

So, with all of that in mind, let’s run through some of the qualifications on offer that will help you in your career. Some of the qualifications we’ll be discussing may not be relevant to you, but if you’re in management already it’s important to be able to recommend courses to new-starters, especially if they don’t have much experience already. As well as the HR courses that we’ll be discussing, the CIPD also offers L&D qualifications using the same structure.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the CIPD has three different levels of professional membership, which the different qualifications allow you to achieve. These are associate member, chartered member, and chartered fellow. You don’t have to be a member of the CIPD to study for one of their qualifications, but you can join as a student member and use their online resources area.

Foundation Level (equivalent to an A Level – aimed at those new to HR or for people without any formal qualifications)

  • CIPD Level 3 Foundation (Individual) Award in Human Resources Practice – This involves around 20-120 hours of study and can take between one month-six months. It covers the basic HR essentials.

  • CIPD Level 3 Foundation Certificate in Human Resources Practice – 280 hours (half of those to be undertaken independently), nine months. It provides a solid foundation across all areas of HR. It’s great for people who are looking to start a career in HR, or for people who have recently started support level HR jobs. It’s the most popular entry-level qualification.

  • CIPD Level 3 Foundation Diploma in Human Resources Practice – 370 hours of study (half independently), 12 months – this is the most in-depth qualification possible at foundation level.

Intermediate Level (equivalent to undergraduate level)

  • CIPD Level 5 Intermediate (Individual) Award in Human Resources Management – 15-60 hours of study, one-six months – This is the short course option at level 5.

  • CIPD Level 5 Intermediate Certificate in Human Resources Management – 320 hours (half independently), 12 months.

  • CIPD Level 5 Intermediate Diploma in Human Resources Management – 440 hours of study (half independently), 18-24 months – this is the most in-depth of the level 5 qualifications. It includes core and optional units ranging from employment law to employee engagement.

Completing the Certificate or Diploma at Intermediate level allows you to become an associate member of the CIPD (abbreviated to “Assoc CIPD”).

Advanced Level (equivalent to postgraduate study)

  • CIPD Level 7 Advanced (Individual) Award in Human Resources – 150 hours (half independently), three-six months – this Award is made up of one unit (from a choice of 18).

  • CIPD Advanced Level Certificate in Human Resources – 600 hours (half independently), 9-12 months – four units studied from a choice of 16.

  • CIPD Advanced Level Diploma in Human Resources – 1200 hours (half independently), 24-30 months – the highest qualification offered by the CIPD. Core and optional units in a variety of professional areas.

Completing an Advanced Level requires you to have a high amount of professional experience and is aimed at people with operational, tactical, or strategic responsibility. As well as qualifying you to become a professional member of the CIPD, qualifying with the Advanced Diploma allows you to become a chartered member or chartered fellow, if you also have the required experience at a strategic level.

So, it’s clear that a CIPD qualification will help you to advance your career, no matter how experienced you are. All that remains is to figure out the answers to the questions set out in this article, and then to match those with the wide range of courses available. Good luck! 



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