As a new professional looking for your first job experience straight after graduation, you’ve probably heard that earning certain certifications can help you get a job. However, these tests are costly and time-consuming, and some people report that the certification did nothing to help them land the job of their dreams. Is it worth it for you?
Necessary vs. unnecessary certifications
In answering that question, you must first define whether or not the certification is necessary. For example, if you’re applying to be a truck driver and will be driving a semi-truck, you must have your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). There’s no way you can get the job without this license. Likewise, an entry-level nurse must pass the NCLEX exam, an accountant must get a CPA certification, and realtors must pass an exam to get their license in order to practice.
However, other certifications are more of a recommendation than a necessity for certain jobs. For instance, if you’re a web designer applying for a senior position at a design firm, you may consider getting your HTML Developer Certificate from the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3). It’s not absolutely necessary for the job, but you may prove yourself a more viable candidate with this certification under your belt.
Other times, employers won’t care what certifications you have, and they’ll only be interested in your portfolio. When it comes to unnecessary, but recommended certifications, you have to weigh the time and financial costs of getting them and decide if it’s worthwhile.
Certifications aren’t created equally
You should also understand that certifications carry different weights. Obviously, any necessary certifications will be most important. Other certifications should be weighed according to their value.
In most cases, you can tell that certification will mean more to an employer based on the credibility of the institution. Certifications from a well-respected university will be far more valuable than those from unknown community colleges, and the cost and time it takes to complete them will reflect that.
Typically, the most valued certifications are the higher-level, industry/position-specific. In the IT field, for example, Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certifications rank much higher than A+ certifications. That’s not to say that the lower tests should be dismissed, as they can be valuable in entry-level positions. Just know that employers will always be more impressed with advanced work.
Also, consider the value of the certification to you. When you’re required to study up on new tools, learn a hard skill, and demonstrate the knowledge you learned in order to pass, you’ll get more out of the experience than from those where you simply study and take a test. Even if this certification is not necessary, you may find that what you learned makes it entirely worth it, despite the cost and time commitment.
Consider the desired position
The need for certifications will largely depend on the position you’re applying for. Research the industry in-depth, looking at the available certifications and how to earn them.
Oftentimes, you can see what industry leaders expect from their applicants by simply reading through the job posting. They’ll say if they want you to be certified in Excel, general contracting, automotive service, or whatever your job calls for. They’ll also specify whether the certification is necessary or simply recommended.
You might also talk with industry professionals who can give you first-hand advice on the usefulness of such qualifications. They work in this market daily and will know better than anyone if it’s worth the time and money.
Certifications evolve rapidly
One vital consideration to make is the rapidity in which software and tech evolve. Oftentimes, certifications are only good for about five years because the fundamentals of the industry change as software advances. By the time you get the job, the knowledge gained from your certification may have already become outdated.
In some cases, you may simply retake a certification every five years to learn the new tech and ideas. Nurses, for example, have no choice but to get re-certified every five years to brush up on the latest in medical practices.
In others, the entire focus of the exam will be old hat within 10 years. In IT, for example, almost every skill has an expiration date. At one point, IT professionals were required to be certified in Thicknet and Thinnet Ethernet, something entry-level IT pros today have likely never heard of. Such a certification wouldn’t be worthwhile in the end.
Conclusion: Certifications can help if you’re wise
The bottom line is that certifications can help you get a job. They showcase a certain skill level that can beat out the biggest competition. They also help you build valuable skills that will prove the claims stated on your resume.
However, be smart about it. Don’t take a test just for the sake of an official piece of paper. Make sure it will actually advance your career, and it will be worth the time and money paid at the time. Consider your job carefully, and take industry recommendations as you decide.
About the author: Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship.