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Can you improve your results with new certifications?

image As I talk to job seekers, I’m often asked if I think they should pursue some sort of certification, degree, or other continuing education in order to improve their chances of landing a new job. My answer… Maybe!

I’m a fan of a good education. I believe it can enrich one’s life, and often, it can certainly enrich one’s career.

However, there are parameters, and many people don’t spend their time, effort, or money well when pursuing new ‘sheepskins’ when their goal is to improve their careers.

Isn’t all education good education? Not necessarily!

Being most familiar with Information Technology (IT) professionals and job requirements, I can give the best examples from that field. In IT, there are literally dozens of certifications and continuing education programs available. Some carry a great deal of weight in the eyes of many employers, and others are barely worth the paper they are printed on. Many of those inconsequential courses or certifications may have value to you personally if you wanted to learn a new concept or skill for your own benefit. However, they do virtually nothing in increasing your value in the eyes of a potential employer.

There are some certifications in IT that are often seen as exceptionally valuable by employers. Some include:
  • ‘Project Management Professional’ (PMP) certification
  • ‘IT Information Library (ITIL) Foundations’ certification
  • ‘Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert’ (CCIE) and other Cisco certifications
  • ‘Certified Information Systems Security Professional’ (CISSP)
  • Various Microsoft certifications, and others.

Depending on the specific type of role you are pursuing, one or more of those programs may be worth your time, effort, and resources.

An advanced degree, such as the MS in Information Security, is highly valued by employers because it provides all of the core knowledge needed for a career as an IT security consultant, a chief information officer, and many other IT careers. The degree also prepares students for the CISSP exam.

On the other hand, without listing specifics, I often see people pursue some continuing education or training that has no real credibility with employers. Sometimes it’s known that the certification doesn’t test for enough real practical skills to be useful. Sometimes the program is not known by enough people to make any kind of impression. Other times the program is not related closely enough to the work you are pursuing. For example, pursuing a Cisco certification if you are a programmer has no real value for most employers, yet many people do pursue similar unrelated programs.

So, how can you tell if it would be worthwhile to gain a new certification or not? Here are some ideas…

Check job descriptions! Review job descriptions from a number of companies of the types of roles you’d like to pursue. If a majority of those descriptions list a particular certification as a requirement, or preferred qualification, then it’s likely worthwhile.

What’s your target? If your target job is primarily focused on one specific skill, a certification in that skill is likely to be viewed positively. If, however, your target job covers a variety of functions, and no requirement for a specific certification is listed, it is less likely that additional training in one skill will be viewed as having great value.

Ask around! Talk to other people in your field. Get MANY opinions in order to form your own. Any one individual may express strong opinions about a certain degree or certification. However, your goal is to get an idea of what is the ‘conventional wisdom’ about certain programs. Use LinkedIn to find staff managers for those functions at various companies and call simply to ask their opinion. Contact people and ask something like…

Hello, Mr. ________, My name is __________, and I’m calling in the hope you may be able to give me a quick opinion based on your expertise. I’m pursuing job opportunities as a _________, and wanted to gage from a number of different employers how much a (degree or certification) in ________ might sway their perceived value of a job candidate. In your personal opinion, do you think pursuing that kind of program would make someone a more highly sought after candidate, or would it have little or no impact?”

See what you get! You might also ask on industry, or field related forums online in places like LinkedIn Groups or other field related sites.

You may find that, given the job experience you’ve already had, that additional certifications don’t add much value compared to the time and resources you may have to invest. You may find that the education you thought would be worthwhile isn’t valued much by the employers you are trying to target. On the other hand, you may find that gaining a certain ‘sheepskin’ may make a tremendous improvement in the response you get.

Do your research and ‘polling’ in advance to determine what makes sense for you!

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