The worst advice I ever got about how to get certified

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Steer clear of advice like this when you're trying to get your next IT certification.As you traverse the path of life, you will encounter a lot of well-intentioned people giving very poor advice. Much like the handful of key characters wandering through The Sixth Sense — the ones who don’t entirely grasp the nature of their reality — these folks often don’t realize their advice is bad.

Maybe sometimes such advice is not inherently bad, but simply doesn’t work for whatever situation you am currently facing. It has been enlightening for me to look back at some of the worst advice I ever received about getting certified. My mission today is to break down those memorable miscues and see why they just didn’t work.

Someone once told me to do “what you love” or “what you like to do.” They told me this in the context of certification, most likely intending to let me know that I should pursue the classes and certifications I find enjoyable. In short: Do what you want.

I actually think this is counterproductive to finding success on your certification path. I tend to agree that doing what you love applies to life and should apply to your career — but I don’t think it applies to certifications.

My reasoning here is that if you can master interacting with the 16 personality traits spread across the globe, then you can be successful in any endeavor you set your mind to — whether you “like” it or not. It’s also the case that technology changes constantly, and that you should pursue whatever technologies are most attractive to employers.

In other words, IT certification should be seen not as your passion, but as your path to success. It may seem counterintuitive, and many will doubtless disagree, but any belief in pursuing your passion should not be applied to certifications. They are a means to allow you to “do what you love” in other, more fulfilling areas of your life.

Steer clear of advice like this when you're trying to get your next IT certification.“Go in cold” is another piece of IT certification advice that I have been given by quite a number of well-meaning professionals along my journey. Whenever I hear this advice, I immediately discount it. You should never ever blindly set out to accomplish anything meaningful, but you should never take a test without preparing for it.

You should do exactly the opposite of what’s being suggested by anyone who tells you to take a certification exam without preparing for it. You should know that exam inside and out. I schedule my exam and set aside money to pay for it on the day that I start preparing — but I would never take the exam without setting up a study window.

“Listen to your body” (and mind) and let it tell you when to study. Feel free to blow off this advice when it comes to certification. Instead of taking the “whenever, bruh” approach, you need to make a keep a strict study schedule.

You can of course make allowances for you personalized habits, studying, and test-taking routine. You should know your own pace stick to it. Don’t take a “que sera, sera” approach to studying, however, and definitely don’t wait schedule your exam until “it feels right.”

Deadlines should drive your overall planning, and your preordained study schedule should keep you on your toes from one day to the next. Regular study removes test anxiety from the equation. If your “training” schedule is set, the you just need to stick to it and success will follow.

My bodybuilding coach would never let me weigh myself over the first six months that I worked with him. Why? He always told me that, “As long as you are on plan, results will come. Treat your certification aspirations the same way: Focus on your plan, and the results will come.

“Listening to music while you study helps you relax absorb the info better.” Some people certainly benefit from this approach, but I have never been able to pull it off. People who can multitask while studying have my respect, but the way I see it is that if you want to have the material really sink in, then you need focus. Cut the social media, cut the music, cut the distractions and your mind and pocketbook will thank you later.

Steer clear of advice like this when you're trying to get your next IT certification.“Stop and smell the roses.” While this recommendation is generally well-intentioned and inevitably comes on the heels of a huge success, don’t let your guard down. Stopping your training program, even when you’ve achieved your initial goal, is a surefire way to disrupt your good training habits and stumble back into complacency.

Instead of stepping away completely, take some time to celebrate your milestones — and then continue to sharpen your skills. A celebration is not a stop. The world of technology is constantly changing, and your training is what helps keep you relevant and informed. Procrastination is the enemy of progress.

“Just memorize all the questions and answers a couple of days before you walk in.” Yeesh! This is perhaps the worst of all bad IT certification advice. Some people can pass an exam this way. But the depth of your actual understanding — or lack thereof — will be noticeable in the first real-world scenario you come across.

I could maybe pull this off — or at least my ego thinks I could. Supplying a memorized answer to a multiple-choice question prepares you to handle a real-word technology scenario no better than reading a Dan Brown novel prepares you to unravel a centuries-old art mystery.

No matter how you chart your course, or what advice you take, I believe that everyone’s journey is unique — and I hope that you steer clear of some of the pitfalls we’ve discussed here. As always, I wish you success on your path and happy certifying.

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Nathan Kimpel

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive with a diverse background in all areas of company functionality, and a keen focus on all aspects of IT operations and security. Over his 20 years in the industry, he has held every job in IT and currently serves as a Project Manager in the St. Louis (Missouri) area, overseeing 50-plus projects. He has years of success driving multi-million dollar improvements in technology, products and teams. His wide range of skills include finance, ERP and CRM systems. Certifications include PMP, CISSP, CEH, ITIL and Microsoft.

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