A Certification Will Help You Get A Better Job

In some circumstances, a professional certification can make all the difference between landing a job or not being considered at all. In others, it’s not really useful, and most hiring managers will look for experience or skills over a set of letters after your name. If you can’t tell, it’s not cut and dried, and the answer is a little complicated. Let’s cut through the fog and help you understand when certs are really valuable and when they’re just nice to have.

Some professional certifications require that you study hard and pass a test, others require that you have years of experience in a specific field before you can even apply to be considered. Before you decide that maybe getting a certification is your ticket to a career jump or a promotion, you need to determine whether or not the types of certifications that will get you ahead in your field are the ones that require skills, experience or just a few classes.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), this can also tell you how valuable that certification is to a potential employer. Some certs are very much “pay a fee to take a test and get your cert”, and those are probably the least valuable. Others require you to pay to join a professional society first, then prove you have the relevant experience to be considered for the cert, then you get to pay again to take the test. Those certifications, where you have to demonstrate not just that you’ve studied a topic but also that you have the knowledge and at least some experience to back it up are likely the most valuable.

Whether you’re surfing big job boards or company-specific openings, see if they state professional certifications along with the experience requirements. Many jobs — especially entry to middle-level ones — will list education as a substitute for experience, because the company wants someone with applicable knowledge on day one that they don’t necessarily have to train.

Even if there are few professional certifications in the field you’re interested in, there may be some certifications in the tools that field uses. They’re often less valuable (since some companies may use different technologies or tools than others for the same jobs), but they can still offer you a leg up over the competition. Look around at those job postings again and see what skills and technologies are often required for the job. Then head over to LinkedIn and search for that software package or that hardware vendor. There may be a group for professionals certified in that application or by a company for people certified in their hardware.