It’s a well-understood fact that there are some very relevant and possibly even necessary certifications in the IT world. Some may be required on a government contract, some may be required to touch a certain piece of equipment, and some may just be absolutely necessary in order to have the understanding and expertise to work with a particular type of software, equipment, or network protocol.
“My IT specialty certifications – especially Microsoft certifications – seem essential for my industry in order to find any work at all,” states Wes Farley, a certified Microsoft Certified IT Professional specializing in technical support in his organization. “I didn’t gain knowledge by acquiring the certification, but it did verify the knowledge I already had and legitimized it for my company to assign me the work that I do for our clients.”
Good hiring practice?
Unfortunately, the IT industry seems smothered with what many professionals consider to be useless certifications to anyone other than the HR departments that screen job applicants. With approximately five unemployed individuals per available job, that is undeniably a lot of applicant screening that must happen. But is it a lazy approach? Are the best, most qualified job applicants being left out in the cold during the interview selection process? Are organizations missing out on hiring the best possible candidate for the job just because the insertion of a one-line job requirement in the description mentioning a particular certification?
Jay Buister, a project manager for a high-tech startup, recently acquired his project management professional (PMP) certification. “I decided to pursue the PMP certification because most job ads were asking for it,” says Buister. “I had three years of project management experience, but lacked the PMP certification and I wasn’t getting any interviews. I studied, took the exam and started getting a few interviews until I finally landed my current position. It was a weed-out certification for the job, but it worked for me.”
The real question is – is this good hiring practice? It allows human resource departments to eliminate hundreds of potential applicants to get down to more manageable few. Is that ok? Are organizations really getting the best-qualified individuals placed in these roles? Probably not.
Laura Monar - a previous stay at home mom - obtained several IT technical certifications in hopes of landing a tech support role with a local company in Las Vegas. She’s not quite there yet, but she’s making progress. “My husband was laid off four months ago and we needed income. I’ve talked to other applicants as I wait for my interview to begin,” stated Monar, referring to the waiting room discussions that she’s been a part of. “Some of the individuals there have five or ten years of experience but not all the certifications. I have the certifications, but lack the experience. Thankfully, it’s helping me get called back for a second interview, but I know that I’m not as qualified as most of the other applicants just from our discussions.”
In today’s job market with unemployment high, salaries low, and the market filled with more job seekers than we’ve seen in decades, HR departments have to do something to sift through the mass of resumes and candidates they are faced with. For certain specific fields – including many in the IT industry – certifications can become an easy 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. HR has a tough task to perform and using the certification requirement as a means of making their job easier seems like a practice that may be here to stay for at least the near future.
Gary Verdun, a Sr. Project Manager and certified PMP, may sum it up best when he states, “If you want to show your expertise and dedication to your chosen profession to your employer and your peers, then take the time, money, and effort to get certified. It helps create a common language and understanding, and proves that you are in it for the long haul and it will make you more marketable when you’re looking to change positions or get a promotion.”
There’s no question that getting the certification shows some effort and dedication to your field. It will help "orient" you to the subject matter and get you ‘in the door’ for an interview. However, it’s apparent that most professionals and job seekers agree that no amount of certification compares to real world experience in your chosen field.