This feature first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Most people agree that certification is a proven way for an IT professional to validate skills and establish qualifications on résumés and job applications. While it is increasingly common for an interviewer to understand and appreciate a listed certification, too often, swamped in minutiae and poorly written résumés, they fail to recognize it for what it is. Instead of a stamp of proficiency, they see a cert as just another acronym and give it little thought.
Sometimes, however, it's not how you get hired that matters most. In many ways, the real value of a certification emerges after you're employed. It comes in the form of acknowledgement from peers, coworkers, and supervisors. Here are six ways that having a certification continues to provide benefits once you have the job.
Those we work with are more likely to value certifications because they have a sense of what goes into earning them. Certification requires sacrifice and commitment, and anyone who has been down that road appreciates the effort.
A good comparison is the difference between me and a trained concert pianist listening to a famous piece. I enjoy listening to Mozart's Rondo alla turca — sometimes I'll even bust a dance move or three — but no way can I really appreciate the effort and creativity it took to compose, nor the Turkish Janissary bands on which the piece is based.
It's likewise impossible for my enjoyment of the piece to even come close to that of a trained pianist who has actually performed it. I hear the music and feel a swelling of joy, while the pianist not only enjoys listening, but is able to appreciate all the nuances, style and interpretation that come from hours of practice, from study and investment over months, if not years.
Similarly, those who have IT certifications are appreciated most by those who have paid (or are paying) a similar price to improve their knowledge and skills.
New and current technologies
There is a lot of truth to the adage, "When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember that your original goal was to drain the swamp." It happens to all of us: We become wrapped up in the day-to-day responsibilities of our job and fail to read up on new developments and technologies in our field.
A certification is a great way to ensure that you are the company's subject matter expert, with the most current information. Everyone feels more secure and confident when a knowledgeable and trusted teammate has their back.
This is particularly true if the credential requires you to recertify every two or three years. Because certification bodies put a lot of effort into ensuring that their credentials include the latest developments and practices, you can be sure that your skill-set is up-to-date.
Promotions and greater responsibility
Climbing the IT ladder in any organization is hard work. Like the pianist in the example above — who doesn't stop after learning one song, but continues mastering more difficult and complex pieces — an IT professional constantly adding to her certification portfolio is going to be preferred by an employer.
Industry research has shown that employers view certified employees as being committed to knowing their jobs and willing to learn new things. Naturally, then, it's these employees who get tapped for more responsibility, faster promotions and larger accompanying pay raises.
Is it fair that certified employees are perceived this way? Perhaps not, but employers don't care about fairness — they want the job done, and therefore are constantly assessing and asking themselves: Who is better able to do the job, an uncertified employee (who may be skilled) or an employee whose skills and knowledge have been validated by a reputable third-party?
This same reasoning typically applies in the event that an employer is faced with layoffs. Who stays on with the company? All other qualifications being equal, a certification could be the deciding factor between whether you get a pink slip, or get to keep your job.
Being certified means you are automatically a member of a peer resource group. It doesn't matter whether your group is more than 1 million CompTIA A+ holders or the ultra-elite cadre of virtualization professionals with VMware's VCDX credential — of whom there are only 248 worldwide. You still have a certain standing and, even better, privileges. This peer group can be a valuable resource when you need advice tackling a tech problem, or guidance on advancing your career.
One convenient aspect of certifications is that they tend to follow a natural path of progression that builds on previous skill and knowledge levels. For example, if you're a Cisco Routing and Switching aficionado, then your path runs CCENT, CCNA, CCNP, and finally CCIE. There is no shot-in the-dark decision making. Just follow the path, and you always know what your next steps should be.
There is also the likelihood that an employer will attribute your excellence on the job partly to your certification. From there, it's a snap to suggest that you can be even more valuable with the next level of certification. With luck, you may even be able to talk your employer into paying for it.
Just as learning one foreign language makes it easier to learn additional languages, so too does one certification make it easier to earn another. Having been through the process once will make your second go-around easier. You know how to set and follow a study schedule, work with materials and understand the importance of practice.
Mastering something new, even if you are the only one who knows about it, is always cool. And it doesn't have to be a huge achievement. I have a coworker who is studying for the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification. It's not a rare or high-level certification — I hesitate to tell him that middle-schoolers routinely earn it — but he is genuinely excited and feels it will help his career.
He is a writer, so I'm sure it will be an asset — someone has to use those obscure functions of Word. (Full disclosure: I did call him the other day to ask how to create a macro in Excel.) There is a great deal of satisfaction that comes with setting a goal and achieving it. An IT certification is a significant accomplishment and, you have the right to feel good. Besides, an ego boost is always a good thing.