Whether or not certifications have value is a back-and-forth argument that’s been going on since before Novell launched its CNE program in the 1990s. Developer David Bolton recently incited some discussion of his own when he wrote an article for Dice Insights entitled, “5 Reasons Certifications Aren’t Worth It.”
But there are lots of reasons why certification is worth it—most notably as a route to more pay, faster promotion, and higher job advancement.
Certifications Get You Noticed
As Javvad Malik writes in The CISSP Certification Handbook, a CISSP certification lifted him up from the lower rungs in information security, where he spent his days checking IDS logs, configuring firewalls, and managing privileged IDs. Once he had CISSP on his resume, however, he started landing interviews for higher-paying, more prestigious jobs. “With that certification,” wrote Malik, “doors were flung open and recruiters welcomed me with open arms.”
Malik isn’t alone; certifications are a good way of quickly announcing your skill set to the world at large, not to mention to the recruiters who don’t necessarily know the finer nuances of the technologies you’ve spent so many years mastering.
Certifications can add an 8 to 16 percent premium to your base pay, according to a survey from Foote Research Group published a few years ago. The type of certification, as well as the tech pro’s years of experience and other qualifications, will obviously have an effect on the size of the increase.
Considering the money and time necessary to land a certification, a sizable pay bump is all but required. Ed Tittel, author of an annual certification-evaluation guide offered on Pearson’s IT Certification website, told Dice Insights in late 2014 that a certification costing tens of thousands of dollars “had better… improve its holders’ income potential by at least one-third of those costs in yearly compensation increases.”
No One Ever Got Fired for Buying IBM
Back in the 1980s, if you had to decide which hardware to buy your company, the conventional wisdom (more of a cliché, actually) was that IBM represented your safest bet, given its pedigree and reputation.
In a similar fashion, when hiring managers invests time and money on a new hire, they want the assurance that the employee has the experience and education necessary to achieve the company’s objectives. Sure, the hiring manager could conduct a series of interviews to gauge the candidate’s know-how—but by insisting on certifications, employers can say they at least did their industry-approved due diligence.
Arvind Sarin, founder and CEO of Dallas-based mobile development firm Copper Mobile, said that, while he probably wouldn’t offer more money or benefits to someone who walked into his office with a certification, he believes certifications are invaluable when trying to secure an interview: “Certifications in many verticals can also be a good way to filter relevant profiles, but companies run the risk of leaving worthy candidates out.”
Even if employers are looking for more than just a certification, some HR departments won’t approach job candidates who don’t have one: Resume-tracking software scans for all the right certification-related abbreviations, and won’t act on a resume that lacks them.
Certifications Are Expensive
The expensiveness of certifications is a double-edged sword. Yes, they can cost you thousands of dollars in books, boot camps, and tests; and when they expire, you must re-certify. Industries have built massive profit centers around the certification process, and that’s frustrating for anyone who just wants to get ahead.
On the other hand, if you go through the process, it broadcasts to everyone that you have the drive and passion to master a technology and put it to use. When you’re looking for a job, that message is invaluable.
Certifications Only Prove One Thing
Malik’s supervisor, who worked his way up through the tech-industry ranks for 20 years without ever earning a certification, asked him how a career powered by certifications compares to one built primarily on real-life experience. Malik said anyone can pass a test given enough time to prepare for it; but that being said, certifications allow you to apply and interview for a role from a position of strength.
The answer of whether or not to certify is more nuanced than a simple yes or no. Take Sarin, for instance, who suggests companies look for employee traits that can be encouraged or cultivated beyond what they might learn as part of the test-taking process, even as they encourage employees to earn certifications while on the job.
What ultimately matters is if the candidate’s opinions about certifications align with those of the hiring manager. But with certification requirements not exactly going away, why not play it safe and take on the extra effort? If you guess wrong and skip getting the certification, you could lose out to the person who passed the test.