3 Big Mistakes with Tech Certifications


Certifications can help a tech professional on the hunt for a new job stand out in a sea of qualified candidates. And it’s not just about getting hired: recent studies have shown that certifications in security, development, and other fields can translate into substantial pay premiums for current employees.

But not all certifications are created equal, and not all common assumptions about the power of certified skills are correct. Here are three mistakes that tech pros sometimes make when dealing with their certifications, and how to avoid them:

Certification Inflation Will Wreck You

Every tech worker who has spent time on the job market knows that many companies rely on automated systems, which scan for keywords, to select the most promising applications and résumés. That awareness has led to the rise of an unfortunate but all-too-common phenomenon: skills inflation. Simply put, people will insert abilities and experiences into their résumés that they simply don’t have, in order to land a face-to-face interview with an actual human being.

Does this method succeed? According to a recent survey of 300 IT leaders by TEKsystems, 49 percent of employers actually verify their workers’ certifications; another 25 percent only do so “sometimes.”

That means a job candidate could, in theory, get away with listing certifications they don’t have, at least during the hiring and onboarding process. But over the long term, it’ll become clear that the candidate doesn’t have the skills necessary to do the actual job—and then the real trouble will start.

Fortunately, that same TEKsystems survey found that 52 percent of tech pros “always or often” accurately reported their certifications on their résumé; another 41 percent did so “sometimes.” So it’s clear that an overwhelming number of workers know that listing the right certifications is important.

Thinking Your Employer Won’t Pay for It

The costs related to earning a new certification can prove quite high. Training courses can cost thousands of dollars, while tests will set you back a few hundred. The sheer size of the potential bill dissuades many tech pros from pursuing certifications that could make a difference in their career.

Many tech companies, however, are happy to shoulder the cost of their employees’ classes and tests. Some 65 percent of tech leaders surveyed by TEKsystems agreed that employers should pay for technical certifications, while only 19 percent thought that employees should take less compensation in exchange for subsidized certification.

In other words, it absolutely can’t hurt to ask your employer if they’d be willing to pay for at least part of your certification training; the worst thing they can say is “no,” and chances are good they’ll make a deal with you.

Not Maintaining Your Skills

You did the courses. You took the test. You earned your certification. Congrats! Now comes the hard part: maintaining your skills.

Keeping your skills up-to-date matters, of course, if you want to keep scoring promotions. But it’s also about personal development: so long as you keep abreast of what’s happening in your particular industry, you can better do your job (and advance your career). And after all the blood, sweat and tears of learning the technology behind a particular certification, why let that knowledge fade?

Just as a reminder, Robert Half Technology’s latest salary guide for tech pros (registration required) suggested that the following certifications are the most sought-after by the nation’s CIOs:

  • ASP
  • C#
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • CompTIA A+
  • Java
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • MySQL
  • .NET

Other studies by Foote Partners LLC and others have shown that employers especially prize information and cybersecurity certifications. But whatever decisions you make on your certifications journey, keep in mind that all your hard work will almost certainly pay off—both literally and metaphorically.

3 Responses to “3 Big Mistakes with Tech Certifications”

  1. Certifications will set you back a couple hundred dollars? I can’t think of a single certification that will only cost a couple hundred dollars. They all seem to require that you recertify every two or three years for another couple hundred dollars. So assuming the initial certification costs $300, and each time you have to recertify is half that and you stay in the industry about 20 years, each certificate costs roughly $1,800 for the tests alone. And that’s just for one certification. The costs associated with certifications quickly escalate as you try to maintain multiple certifications. You better hope your employer will pay for the tests, because with the minimum amount you have to meet to write off the cost as a business expense on your taxes, it’s an expense that will come out of your pocket.

  2. The big cert scam as the previous poster mentioned. A whole new industry formed to get your money. I saw a previous article for PMP’s. I’ve been running projects long before PMI was formed. WHAT? You mean you won’t hire me because I don’t have my PMP. What a joke! And the other joke is explaining this to a so called 20 yr old talent recruiter. Good grief..

    • Pakvi Roti

      Unfortunately the people making hiring decisions have decided that a PMP is required regardless of years experience. As for these know nothing recruiters, they’re a bane. They’re usually the ones behind the Unicorn job descriptions. And don’t get me started on the Indian recruiters with impenetrable accents and bad manners.