So You Wanna Be an SME…

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Information technology certifications frequently are built by a collection of subject-matter experts (SMEs) who aren’t employed by the program. Some of these people already are in a database that the certifying organization consults whenever it needs to develop a credential or assess and adjust an old one.


In other instances, the certification program will issue a call for qualified professionals to participate in creating a credential or periodic fine-tuning.


Whatever the case, if you’re trying to get on a short list of certification SMEs, it’s important to keep the following points in mind:


Make Sure the Cert Aligns to Your Job or Skill Set
Certifications are getting deeper and more specialized. Accordingly, your area of expertise must fit the core topics of the certification. It’s not enough to simply say that because you are a network administrator, you should take part in the development of a particular network administrator credential. To avoid wasting both parties’ time, communicate with representatives of the organization to make sure your job role, knowledge and experience correspond to the program.


Figure Out Your Preferred Contribution
Let’s assume your professional qualifications align to the certification in question. The next issue is which role you’ll play in the development process. There are a few different kinds of contributions, from job-task analyses to item writing. Find out what each element will entail, weighing it against your preferences, before deciding exactly how you will participate.


Be Aware of the Commitment
Partaking in certification development sessions is no light affair. Typically, these will last multiple days, with each lasting as long as a regular workday, if not longer. Thus, you’ll have to either persuade your employers to allow you to go (tell them it’s for your own professional development) or take a few days off. Also, these events probably won’t take place in your hometown, so it’ll likely mean travel, and the credentialing organizations usually don’t supply free room and board. Assess the time and financial commitments involved with participation early on.


Be Prepared to Communicate
Once you’re there, you’ll quickly realize these meetings are pretty lively. There’s lots of discussion, interaction and argumentation (mostly friendly, of course). As you make the case that a certain topic should be addressed in a larger percentage of the exam, a particular test question is irrelevant to the certification or any other claim, be prepared to defend it against forceful contentions.


Find Out What the Perks Are
People participate in these sessions for a variety of reasons. Some do it for the passion they have for their field, others do it for professional prestige. Still, it doesn’t hurt to get something tangible for your efforts. The benefits of being an SME can range from tchotchkes such as key chains and T-shirts with the certification’s logo to getting “grandfathered” in as one of the first certificants. Consider these quid pro quos as you evaluate the all the responsibilities involved.

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