Deciding Whether a Certification is Worth It

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Are you deciding whether to pursue certifications in a specific technology? As you explore your options, you’ll need to decide whether a particular certification is even worth your time. There are certifications that are highly regarded within the tech industry—and others that aren’t. But that doesn’t make it easy to determine which certifications will actually benefit your career.

The most important aspect is whether job recruiters and hiring managers will treat a certification as relevant. With that in mind, we’re going to provide some rules of thumb to help you decide whether the certification you’re considering is worth the money and effort:

The First Factor

First, sit down and determine whether the certification under consideration is for a specific product or a general technology. For specific products, the decision is often a no-brainer: if the company that created the product offers a certification to go with it, that certification is probably worth obtaining if you want to be seen as an expert in that product.

Certifications for specific products are often challenging to obtain, as anyone who’s ever prepped for an Amazon Web Services (AWS) certification will tell you. Nonetheless, doing so will increase your worth in the eyes of recruiters and hiring managers looking for tech professionals who know that particular technology inside and out.

Independent companies might also offer training and certifications for branded products, but there’s always the question of whether employers will view those certifications on the same level as those offered by the companies that built the products. (There is a caveat in this case: a handful of reputable, independent companies offer well-regarded training for Microsoft certifications.)

Do some homework on the company offering the course or certification. See if they’re listed as a partner of the company that makes the product, and verify the partnership via the manufacturer’s website. Also, find out just how much time and effort you need to put into getting the certification. If a company claims to offer Oracle database certifications, for example, find out:

  • Whether the company offering the certification is listed by Oracle as an official partner.
  • How much time is required to obtain the certification.
  • Whether there’s a “funnel” or roadmap leading from the company’s certification to Oracle’s own certifications.

So you can probably see what to avoid:

  • Certifications that are neither produced by the product’s manufacturer, nor tied to courses by reputable companies.
  • Instruction “courses” that are really just watching a couple of videos or taking a few simple tests, as opposed to engaging in coursework that totals 40 hours (at least).

Costs and Speed

Is there a cost associated with the certification? If the certification is free, it is most likely not reputable; like it or not, legitimate companies make a lot of money off certifications, and justify the costs by suggesting the high sticker price compels students to devote a lot of time and effort to studying and actually improving their skills.

But even if there’s a big price tag, that doesn’t automatically mean the certification is an established one, either. Check out the company’s listing in the Better Business Bureau, and/or search online for consumer reviews. If it’s not reputable, chances are you’ll discover that with just a bit of research.

Another good indicator is how quickly the certification can be obtained, and whether it can be completed anonymously. If it’s quick and can be done anonymously, it’s likely meaningless. I’ve taken a few of these; one was a JavaScript test, and at least one “correct” answer was not correct at all (I verified that against the official ECMAScript specification, to which JavaScript is expected to conform). The test was quick and easy, and in no way required that I prove my identity. Between that and the invalid questions, the “certification” I received at the end was useless.

Err on the Side of Caution

But all of this leads to a final question: are there any legitimate certifications for certain technologies? The answer, unfortunately, is “no.” It’s very possible that hiring managers and companies simply won’t recognize or acknowledge some of the certifications you see online for emerging technologies.

When doing your research, make sure to check job listings for mentions of a particular certification; that will show whether hiring managers have collectively decided that a certification is important for a position. Training sites and online courses such as Udemy can also help with this: if you find lots of courses in how to pass a certification, that’s a positive sign of its legitimacy.

As with most things in life, err on the side of caution, and be initially skeptical of any and all certifications. Before deciding to pursue a particular certification, make sure you learn the necessary skills. Practice, gain experience, take courses, and then, when you truly do reach a point where you think you can earn a certification, go for it. With a lot of effort, you can establish yourself as a recognized pro in your field.

Image Credit: Radu Bercan/Shutterstock.com

Comments

2 Responses to “Deciding Whether a Certification is Worth It”

February 09, 2017 at 7:38 am, Robert O. said:

I am an accomplished controls systems engineer in the petroleum, chemical, and paper industries. What certification do most companies look for in the robotics manufacturing engineering industries? I want to enjoy what I do and be challenged for the rest of my career.

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February 10, 2017 at 4:24 pm, Roger Hill said:

I am completely puzzled by the statement “are there any legitimate certifications for certain technologies? The answer, unfortunately, is “no.”” ???

Your answer really should be “Yes, dependent upon the technology subject and area, which one has to know” …i.e. for networking Cisco certs are highly valued, for Linux, Redhat certs are valued, for Hadoop, Cloudera, Hortonworks, and MapR

I’d argue against that statement, in my experience, even some company ‘require XYZ Certification’ before as a pre-requisite for certain job positions.

– Roger

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