Preparing for Experience-Based Certifications

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In this newsletter, we frequently discuss how to study written materials, build home labs, get the most out of e-learning and otherwise prepare for certification tests. Not all credentialing programs are exam-based, though. There are a few certs out there that are founded on professional experience — such as The Open Group’s IT Architect — and there likely will be more in the future. What’s more, many high-level IT credentials out there already have some form of work-based prerequisite that’s measured in hours or years.


One of the chief advantages of certifications that are tied directly to experience on the job is that employers — particularly those in technology — place a high premium on one’s demonstrated skills in work environments. Any credentials bound to experiential qualifiers probably will have a good deal of credibility with people who make hiring decisions. What’s more, because they don’t have an exam, qualified candidates likely will view getting these certs as much less stressful and demanding.


Just because these certifications are experience-based, however, does not mean they’ll require a nominal amount of preparation on the part of the participants. It’s not as simple as walking into a credentialing location, filling out a form and walking out with a certificate shortly afterward. There still will be a significant amount of effort involved, as there are many elements that have to be pulled together to obtain any “portfolio” certifications. The following are the most common criteria for these kinds of credentials.




Most of these programs will require candidates to provide written records attesting to their experience on the job. Thus, they’ll need to present specific work dates and job titles to whoever reviews their qualifications. Also, they usually will be required to explain the tasks they performed and the technologies they worked with in great detail.


Of course, participants generally must sign some document attesting to the fact that their employment documentation is accurate, but further proof will likely be needed, which brings us to the next requirement.




Candidates for experience-based certifications usually will have to provide a set of references, the number of which will vary among organizations. Credentialing programs will be looking for direct contact information of high-level people you’ve worked with at various times throughout your career, typically supervisors or managers who closely monitored your performance. Ideally, these will be people you got along with well personally and professionally. If you have spent a substantial amount of time as an independent contractor, then you’ll want to list a client or two who will give you glowing reviews upon request.




Finally, some of these programs will actually require participants to make a presentation or answer questions before a board of experts, which is comparable to dissertations given by doctoral candidates. While it might not be intentional, these sessions assess your ability to communicate clearly and effectively as much as they test your understanding of a given job role or technical skill.


Preparing for this phase of a work-based certification is the most difficult because it’s essentially an unknown. You don’t go into the meeting knowing what you’ll be asked and will have to think ahead about the issues and challenges in your field. Qualified individuals, however, usually will have a pretty good idea of what topics will be covered and prepare accordingly.

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