This feature first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
I worked hard for that certification last year. What is that you say? Three years ago? No, it was early last year — right? Please tell me it hasn't been three years since I passed that awful exam. It can't be time to renew that certification already. No!
If this is a conversation you've had in the mirror, then you are one of many who has confronted a familiar decision. Is it best to renew a certification, or let it expire? But how do you make that decision?
Take CompTIA certifications, for example. CompTIA certs are among the most recognized IT certifications around the globe. And until 2010, they were all permanent certifications — that is, GFL (Good For Life).
In 2009, CompTIA made a major decision to alter its long-standing GFL policy. The CompTIA certification renewal policy now states that those who earned certs such as A+, Network+ and Security+ before the end of 2010 will remain certified for life (GFL). Everyone who boarded the certification express after 2010, however, must now renew their CompTIA certification every three years.
Many other certification sponsors have done the same in recent years: If you want to remain certified, then you need to retake — and pass — the applicable exam on a rotating schedule. (The three-year timeline that CompTIA uses is widely shared.)
Weigh the positives — and negatives
Given that every person's career path is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all magic formula to determine whether or not to renew a certification. The decision is yours, and yours alone, to make. It's worth considering the following pros and cons, however, as you come to your decision:
Recertification Consideration: Cost
Pros: Cost is not a factor if your employer will pay for recertification, including study materials. You may even be able to request paid time off to study for — and later take — the exam. Be sure to check your employer's retake funding policy in case you fail your first exam attempt.
Cons: Some employers will require that you commit to staying employed with them for at least two years after earning (or renewing) a certification. If you are using the employer's funds to get certified so that you can look for greener pastures, then be sure to read the fine print on the reimbursement policy.
If you must foot the bill with personal funds, then you need to consider your ROI (return on your investment). If you make your living as a Cisco instructor, for instance, then renewing your Cisco certification is a no-brainer. If you are that same Cisco instructor, however, then you may feel that your career path will no longer benefit from renewing, say, your CompTIA A+ certification.
Recertification Consideration: Prestige and Ego
Pros: If you are in a position to benefit from holding multiple certifications, or if it is personally meaningful to keep your employment profile as high as possible, then you will want to recertify all of your current certifications as they come due. If this is your situation, then you should probably add at least one new certification to your résumé each year while maintaining your former certs as well. If you suspect you will be job searching after the expiration date of a cert, then you may want to recertify so that you can keep that cert on your résumé, which will qualify you for more job opportunities.
Cons: Certification exams change frequently, and the cert exam that you passed three years ago may be more difficult for you to pass the next time around. Bear in mind that you will potentially require updated study materials, as well as the time to review them.
Recertification Consideration: Investment in Your Future
Pros: The economy can be fickle, and the desirability of one certification over another can turn on a dime. If you want to cover all of your bases, in case you find yourself job hunting, then you may want to keep all of your certifications current and probably add a sprinkle of new ones to your résumé.
Cons: If you're close to retirement or if you plan to stay with your current employer for more than five years — assuming your employer does not require the certification in question — then you can hedge your bets by opting not to renew that cert. While some certification sponsors are stricter about revoking expired credentials than others, the worst that can happen is that you have to retake an at least somewhat familiar exam — should the expired cert become valuable to you again.
Recertification Consideration: Versatility of Your Resume
Pros: If you don't have many certs, then you will want to keep current the ones that you do have, as you add more. If your résumé is loaded with networking certifications, for instance, and you have very few programming certs, then you can add versatility to your résumé by keeping your networking certs current as you study for other types of certifications to show off your expertise across a few disciplines.
Cons: What you call a versatile résumé may sometimes be viewed by a prospective employer as indecisiveness about a career path. To be honest, this is rare. If your employer is Oracle or Cisco, then of course the company would want to see more of its certs on your résumé. However, most of us don't work for Oracle or Cisco.
Perhaps networking is your thing, and you know that you would be miserable doing anything else. In that case, you could opt to renew your networking certs and none of the others, but you are risking the all-eggs-in-one-basket scenario, which would not be flexible in a broken economy.
Recertification Consideration: Not Having Expired Certs on Your Resume
Pros: Listing an expired credential shows that you were once certified in this area and, by inference, that knowledge has not been entirely lost. Be sure to include the date of your certification so that the well-educated résumé reader will know that you are acknowledging that the certification is no longer current.
Cons: Some employers may see this as demonstrating an inability or unwillingness to stay current. Be careful placing out-of-date certifications on a résumé when applying for a position at an IT firm. If you are applying for a job in an area outside the realm of IT, then showing an expired certification simply states your former expertise in this area which may garner the interest of the potential employer.
What do you want?
There may be other criteria important to you that haven't been covered here — this confirms that the choice is highly individualized. Regardless of what decision you make, you are not wrong. You weigh the pros and cons at the time, make your decision, and you move on.
If later you find that you wish you'd made a different decision, the world has not ended. Simply take the most current version of that exam, and you're back in the game. The fact that you passed the exam once indicates that it shouldn't be as difficult to prepare for subsequent exams on similar material.
After all, you're smarter and more experienced than when you first took that exam, right? Just remember to watch that calendar. Time can (and does) fly between recertification dates.