Joyce Lain Kennedy

DEAR JOYCE: What do you think of the value of certifications, especially in the information technology (IT) industry? -- F.Q.

Opinion is all over the map on this issue, although certification as a tool for job search may be gaining ground.

Technical and professional certifications from third-party agencies aren't guarantees of proficiency, nor do they predict performance. After years of a booming certification industry, some IT workers laugh at certs, complaining that they do little to boost pay for skills or increase on-the-job success.

As one industry veteran commented: "I myself would happily invest in any certification that predictably would give me a payback within a year or so. Ain't seen one yet."

And another: "... the organizations performing the certification approvals cause a parasitic drain on the industry to which they become attached."


But a new thread of opinion is surfacing, rating certs as a way to gain an edge for employment selection in a tough market (browse for "Certifications are no longer optional"). Here's the essence of the re-examined argument:

-- Certification is useful for resume triage by HR screeners who may not know the particulars of a given certification, but nevertheless count it as a marker of extra knowledge and place resumes of cert holders in the coveted "interview" pile.

-- Certification is valued by outsourcing firms because the credentials add credibility to project proposals. Employees with certs in outsourced departments are thought to be more likely to keep their jobs than those without the credentials.

-- Certification is viewed as continuing education that indicates a job seeker has stayed up to date in a fast-moving field.

-- Certification for new college graduates shows they offer more than school-taught skills and are willing to make an extra effort to excel.

GET CERT SMART. Certification is an employment factor in a number of fields other than IT, such as project management, management consulting and architecture.

Certifications aren't cheap in time or money. Before enrolling in a learning program, invest personal effort to really check it out from all angles -- necessity, value, quality, cost and marketability. Start with a Web search for the word "certification," followed by the name of your career field. ("certification project management," "certification computer programming").

Caveat: Be wary of advertising pitches appearing on job boards that offer a free evaluation of your technical skills and credentials. The offer sounds like a free lunch, but -- big surprise! -- it can cost you plenty of money when the evaluation comes back with deficiency ratings and urges you to enroll in an online certification course.


Anything you can do as a job seeker that makes you stand out from the crowd is worth considering. If extreme competition continues in the job market, as it probably will, an online observation by an unknown IT guy may prove to be spot on: "Eventually 'certified' will be synonymous with 'employable.'"

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