Dear CertMag: Do I need a certification to validate my job skills?
Dear CertMag is a weekly feature that addresses common questions about certification and related IT issues. Have a question? Send an e-mail to editor (at) certmag (dot) com.
Dear CertMag: I’m the IT guy for a small daily newspaper. I basically do a lot of the same things I’ve been doing for people since high school. It’s rare that somebody asks about a problem I haven’t seen before, but I’m pretty good at figuring stuff out. We’ve been through a lot of changes in six years, and I’m used to the learn-by-doing approach. I’ve talked with friends about certification, but I’m not sure how it would help. I know a lot already and I can always learn what I don’t know. At this point, it seems like what’s going to keep me employed, or get me my next job, is what I already have: a lot of work experience. Should I be more concerned about what a test by some outside group has to say about that?
— Dean, Fullerton, Calif.
This question brings up directly a subject I have written about several times on the fringes of past Dear CertMag columns: Why does a candidate certify?
In this position, I would actually strongly suggest that you not certify – not because it doesn’t have value for you, but because you don’t know what you want out of it. How can you succeed when you have not yet identified what success looks like?
Anyone considering certification should figure out what they want out of the investment of time and money that are associated with the “parchment” or acronym — before setting out to pursue it.
Do you want a new job?
Certifying to obtain a new job, either as an outside applicant, or to move to a different role in the same organization, is one of the most common reasons to complete a technical certification. Look for the credentials listed as required or preferred criteria for roles that you are interested in. You could possibly obtain these jobs without a credential. Do realize, however, that in the process of applying for various positions, you may be accepted faster, or progress in your organization more quickly, with a certification than without one.
Also, make sure that any certification you seek represents your skills area, and potentially your past experience. Select the learning method that works for you, and complete the credential!
Are you trying to secure a promotion?
This is a tricky reason to obtain a certification! Some organizations see certification as a “bonus” criterion, but may not “automatically” provide a promotion, or even a boost in promotion consideration, to a certified candidate. If you are certifying to get promoted, consider whether the credential is the most applicable one for role you are seeking. Has your HR department shared how this certification will help you? Do you otherwise meet the criteria for promotion, or is there something that is more critical than having the certification?
Are you trying to secure a raise?
Sadly, in my experience, certification is rarely recognized with additional monetary rewards. To consider whether certification makes sense for a raise, does your organization have a way of identifying or sharing certification in the review process? Does HR have a pay-for-performance system where certification will get additional “points” or recognition? Has your management team made available a program where a certification is recognized for a bonus or pay incentive?
Outside of these situations, I strongly urge caution if getting a raise is the main reason that you are considering certifying. Note that self-employed individuals or consulting team members may receive this benefit indirectly if the certification makes it easier to sell or deliver new business to customers.
Do you want to improve your professional reputation?
Certifications are a trust mark that helps organizations understand the formal skills development that a candidate has, particularly in situations where they do not have direct experience with the individual. If you commonly are introduced to customers through a resume or CV, or the customer has the opportunity to select from among multiple candidates, then certification may hold some potential.
Some organizations request or require certification of existing employees to demonstrate continuing education, to mitigate liability, or to ensure compliance with a set of controls or standards.
Will certification help you feel more positive about your job, skills, or role?
Suppose that a significant other or manager were to ask why you wish to certify. If you cannot easily summarize your reasons, then your best course is to delay investing in certification until you understand your own reasons. Then youn can prioritize what the credential means to you in study time and investment.