But do you ever feel like your certification isn’t serving you well? You spent all of that money and the job offers still aren’t pouring in? Or perhaps it’s the other way around. You don’t have the certification but you do have the experience and yet you’re being weeded out early in the job search process because you’re missing a preferred certification. Welcome to the job hunt world where certifications seem to be human resources (HR) way of saying, “I’m going to coast through this job search process!” Seriously, I sometimes think that certifications are HR’s way of pressing the ‘easy button.’
I decided to pose several related questions to project management, IT, and business professionals in general. I was looking for was answers to the following questions in order to gain an understanding of the perceived, or even actual, value of certifications to the respondent’s careers and job searches. The questions were:
- Do you have a professional certification? If so, what certification?
- Has it been beneficial to your career or job search?
- Are there any certifications that you feel are especially necessary?
- Any that are useless vs. experience?
- Finally, please make any comments you wish concerning certifications vs. real-world job experience that you feel strongly about.
The answers to the first four questions were designed to get some specific industry and certification information to compare the last question’s responses against. What I found was it really didn’t matter what industry or certification someone held, the overall feelings about the certifications were still basically the same. The real relevance – for the purpose of this article – was the answers to that final question….how do you feel certifications match up to real-world job experience.
Here are some insightful, anonymous quotes that I received from the survey:
- “Most certifications are nice to have, but shouldn’t be taken seriously.”
- “A professional credential without experience is silly…”
- “Certifications get you past the HR screening process…”
- “Experience counts, but certification opens the door…”
- “Nobody has asked for my certifications…experience is better…”
- “Certification has helped in knowledge, but not in salary or getting a better job…”
- Certifications are for HR...as it is easy to rule out candidates rather than focusing on their experience.”
- “I believe all certifications are nothing more than a formality. They will help "orient" you to the subject matter, but are nothing compared to real world experience.”
- “I feel like certifications are just another keyword for excluding job candidates.”
- “I think certifications are a year or more behind real world job skills.”
- “Many certifications become commoditized lessening their value… Some Microsoft certifications have gone that way. Anyone can get it by reading a book and writing the exam with no experience. A certification without tangible, related experience is meaningless.”
That last one sums up my own view fairly well. My soapbox has been the project management professional (PMP) certification. I’ve worked with numerous project managers without PMP certification and several with certification. The experienced project manager who lacks PMP certification has proven more competent and more successful than the lesser-experienced, PMP-certified project manager every time.
Because of the low requirements to pass the exam (61% correct answers) and the minimal experience required to be allowed to sit for the exam (35 hours of PM training and 4500 hours of real PM work experience), to specifically require that a candidate have PMP to even be considered for a project management position automatically leaves out extremely experienced and qualified candidates. It’s a lazy HR hiring process and it means that the organization will not likely be hiring the best available candidate.
That said, I think most will agree that spending the time, money, and energy to prepare for and attain any certification that is relevant – maybe even beneficial – to your chosen career shows a certain level of dedication and perseverance. It can also help level the playing field in terms of like-mindedness and a consistent vocabulary amongst colleagues and project teammates.
In today’s job market with unemployment high, salaries low, and approximately five unemployed job seekers for every one available job, HR departments have to do something to sift through the mass of resumes and candidates they are faced with while screening for each job. For certain specific fields – including many in the IT industry – certifications can become an easy (albeit somewhat misguided) way to sort through the piles of applications and the emailed resumes to get down to a more manageable few. Left in the dust, obviously, will be many extremely experienced and well-qualified candidates. And yes, probably the best candidate for the job in many cases. But you have to hang your hat on something and for HR it is often the required certification.
Finally, one survey responder summed it up well when they stated…
- “Experience plus certification is much better. Typically an experienced person with a certification shows that they at least try to touch different aspects of their field.”
Getting the certification shows some effort and dedication to your field. When looked at from the job applicant’s perspective as they are trying to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field, that’s one matter they can take into their own hands and possibly land a valuable spot in that final pool of candidates.