Are Professional Certifications Worth It?
This is a very common question that comes up in the mind of any young professional.
The simple answer is: The right certifications are worth it. Here’s how you make that determination.
That said, the long answer is ‘it depends’, but in most cases a certification could mean the difference between being considered for a job, or your resume joining the rejects pile. In other cases, it can mean the difference between edging out a similar applicant to get a prized job. Most, if not all applicants apply for jobs with educational qualifications, professional experience and certifications.
Certifications cost money, but you need to look at an appropriate certification as an investment that can get you your first job, and potentially accelerate your career growth. A good certification usually requires time for preparation, money and some form of professional experience. There are two things to consider when assessing if a credential is appropriate for you:
1. Does your target job require this certification?
There are three great sources you can use to find this out.
1. Job Descriptions
Use websites like Indeed, Glassdoor and other job boards to see what certifications companies list as a requirement for the target job you want. For some entry level jobs and most mid-level jobs, some form of professional certifications will be mandatory or at least recommended. If there’s a pattern emerging (the certification appears as a prerequisite on multiple job boards and job profiles), you know that it’s a good certification for you.
2. LinkedIn Profiles & Groups
Most LinkedIn groups will have members in related designations. While this is not as targeted as the previous method to find the right certification for you, its a good way to find out what kind of roles and certifications you could be expected to have as a part of the workforce. The information you find in these groups can help in many other ways too.
3. Mentor Advice
If you know someone in the workforce who can give you the advice you need, there’s nothing better. This can even be a professor that you liked studying under in the past, or a friend who is a few years ahead of you. With the information they give you, focus on getting the certification that can most impact your job opportunities right now.
2. Does this certification fit in to your medium/long term career plan?
If you decide on getting a certification, make sure that it is something you are able to build on. Some certifications are provided in levels, which can either be a series of examinations or increasing professional experience.
For example, for most non-computer engineering related jobs in the United States, a PE (Professional Engineer) license is highly desirable. This certification requires a few years of work experience, references from current PEs and for you to qualify as an Engineer in Training (EIT) through the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. Although you cannot take the PE exam as a fresh graduate, an EIT certification is desirable and will help you get started on the road to getting your PE.
Another example: For most project management jobs, the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is almost mandatory. The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) is the junior version of the certification and is a stepping stone to a career in project management.
The most valuable certifications are those that are the hardest to get. The certifications that require you to study for a week and write a test to get certified aren’t really the best, but in some cases they can help you get a foot in the door. The least valuable certifications are the ones that require just a fee to get (yes, these exist). Don’t waste your money on them. If you’re currently working in the same industry, try to see if your employer will pay for your certification.
- Try obtaining basic certifications that are commonly required by companies. Use information from online job postings and other professionals to find out which certification can give you the boost you need in the job marketplace.
- Choose certifications you can later build on into advanced certifications. Most certifications can be used to branch off into different directions later, so use them as flexible stepping stones.
- Do not get certifications that are not going to help you with your career goals. It seems pretty obvious but I have seen a list of certifications on resumes that do not relate to the job being applied for. If you have some of these certifications, I would even recommend leaving them out of your resume.