Determining the Value of Certifications

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Not so long ago, the term “Paper MCSE” was commonplace in the world of IT certification. This disparaging phrase — hardly limited to the Microsoft credential from whence it came — referred to the glut of certifications that were issued to a large number of people who lacked the skills or knowledge they were presumed to possess after being certified.


In a similar sense, there is a word used in financial circles to describe what happens when a government prints so many fiduciary notes that the value of currency is diminished: inflation.


Fortunately, through measures such as improved security and performance-based testing, the “inflation” of certifications has abated, and “Paper MCSE” has all but disappeared from the IT lexicon.


The issue of value (at least on a subjective level) remains as relevant as ever, though — IT professionals still have to determine which certification is of greatest merit for them.


Here are a few recommendations on how to gauge the worth of certification you either have or are considering obtaining:



  • Align the certification with your career goals. When measuring the value of a certification, align the skills and knowledge it teaches and tests to the qualities you need to do your job better and increase your chances for career advancement. Ask yourself, “What returns will I get on my investments of time and money?”
  • Consult job listings. Look at listings for the particular jobs you want in newspapers’ classifieds section and on Web sites. Are employers asking for or even requiring any specific certifications? If several of them are requesting a certification by name, and you don’t have it, you should strongly consider getting it as soon as possible.
  • Consider name recognition. Stocks of companies such as Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola aren’t valuable solely because of the goods and services they provide. These enterprises have reputations among large numbers of both businesspeople and consumers that are largely due to successful marketing and brand-building efforts. Similarly, some vendor-specific and vendor-neutral credentialing organizations enjoy a lofty status among IT employers and employees alike, which is attributable to test difficulty and relevance of subject matter, as well as good, old-fashioned branding.
  • Calculate Risk. Let’s say you’ve attained a credential that covers an emerging tool or technology, thus demonstrating proficiency in an area that most of your fellow techies haven’t thought about going into. You’ll possess a unique set of skills, but will organizations actually want it?
    What makes a certification lucrative is employer demand for the capabilities it verifies. For instance, you might believe every consumer will use home networking technology in a few years, but would you stake your career on that prediction? It might well be worth it. Before you make that decision, though, be sure to read plenty of industry reports and studies (preferably from impartial research firms) to find out whether the buzz around a particular IT discipline is based on substantial analysis and not just hype.
  • Talk to Colleagues. You likely can find plenty of knowledgeable people at work, in online chats and forums, at IT seminars or other events who will be only too willing to offer their opinions regarding a certain certification. Chances are, if they really liked a program, they’ll sing its praises. On the other hand, if they thought it was a waste of time, they’ll probably try to steer you away from making the same mistake.
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