To Certify or Not To Certify: Do Professional Certifications Matter


By Kathleen Laney - February 8, 2016

The debate is on.  Do professional certifications matter? Will they help you get a job? Are they just a money making scheme without real value? And why should you bother with studying, training, and taking exams that go along with certifications?

The focus of my last blog was the importance of learning agility.  We all accept now that today’s world requires lifelong learning. But with the proliferation of information all around us that is accessible on almost any device, why should you take the time and money to get certified?

We all accept now that today’s world requires lifelong learning. But with the proliferation of information all around us that is accessible on almost any device, why should you take the time and money to get certified?

Certifications are used in business to prove a professional has the knowledge, experience, and skills to perform a specific job. Such certifications are generally accredited by an organization or association that monitors and upholds a baseline of standards for the particular industry or discipline involved.  Most certifications require its members to pass an examination. Some professions require certifications for employment or practice. In others, they are used by professionals to distinguish themselves from those who don’t have the credentials. 

There are thousands of certifications available for professionals in the United States. No matter what field you’re in, chances are there’s a certification for it. In the parking industry, the two major certifications are the CAPP and the CPP. Both certifications require candidates to register, prepare for and pass an examination and maintain active certification by completing ongoing career development activities. These, however, are not the only certifications parking professionals can get.  There a many discipline/function specific certifications ranging from project management and project engineering to marketing and HR.

When and why they are worth it

In some circumstances, a professional certification can be the difference between landing a job or not making it past the initial resume screen. In others, it's not useful, and most hiring managers will look for experience or skill over a set of letters after your name.

But where we once could determine the competence of professionals through word of mouth, our global and technologically advanced world cannot solely rely on this method to identify competence of a skill or knowledge base. A professional certification can be attractive to an employer and clients as it shows you are committed to your profession. Because of this, certifications are more important earlier in your career as entry and mid-level positions have a larger candidate pool who are less distinguishable from each other.  Certifications become less important later in your career. As you gain experience, you can demonstrate through examples your ability to perform the responsibilities of a job.

Remember, certifications are not the only way to demonstrate expertise and competencies. There are newer learning platforms such as Massive Online Open Courses that allow anyone anywhere to complete courses on a huge range of topics for free or very inexpensively.

Not All Certifications are Created Equally

In theory, anyone can set up a professional certification. All you have to do is create a few online exams, charge a fee for taking an online course, do a little PR and marketing, and there you go --- a professional certification!

Certification programs often require you to pay for expensive books and study materials, and then fork over anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to take the exam.  It’s hard not to think that the certification’s whole purpose for existence is to make money.  That is why professional certifications are only as good as the people who are behind them.

So before you decide to grow the string of letters behind your name and invest in a certification, consider which and what type of certification will get you ahead.

Certifications that tend to be the most valuable require you to demonstrate not just that you've learned a topic, but also that you have at the very least, some experience to back it up.

Here are four ways to decide what, if any, certification you should get.

  1. Start looking at the people in the positions you'd like to have in the future. Review the certifications they have, and research what it takes to get them.  Regardless of the type of certification or professional title, there are usually a series of stepping stones to get there.
  2. Check the job listings that interest you. Whether you're surfing the major job boards or openings with a particular company, see if professional certifications are part of their requirements or preferences. Many jobs—especially entry to middle-level jobs—will allow education to substitute experience when the company wants someone with existing applicable knowledge so that they don't necessarily have to train.
  3. Participate in LinkedIn's group discussions. These “micro-communities” are a greatresource to assist in reviewing potential certifications. Join a group full of professionals in your desired field. Look at your fellow group members and review discussions for any insight to relevant certifications. Also, you can post a question or start a discussion directly on certifications suggestions.
  4. Look for professional groups and associations relevant to your field. Of course, many of theseassociations require you to be a member to go through the certification process. 

Will certifications matter in the future?

Traditionally, mastering a subject or industry that has fundamentals that don’t change much, like medicine or engineering, can effectively be done through a test to verify that you have the necessary knowledge to operate within that field.

But today things are different. Technology and innovation evolve at a speed not seen by mankind before. The evolution of technology makes many certifications obsolete quickly.  Skills and knowledge that are relevant today may be outdated in a year or two.  Also, professional certifications are not typically as responsive to updating programs to be relevant to real-time needs.

The Bottom Line: Certifications Can Help You Get a Job...As Long as They're The Right Ones

Deciding which certification to get depends highly on your career and the industry you work in.

Ultimately, getting relevant certifications will not only prove you're capable of learning and that you have the proper knowledge, but also show that you're committed to your career and industry best practices.

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