When recertification makes sense, and when it doesn't
Posted on
December 7, 2023
When is it the right time for recertification?

Toward the end of each calendar year, many folks in IT are looking at the potential expiration of one or more of their certifications. This leads to a question that almost everyone in IT considers sooner or later: Should I renew my certification? Or should I move on?

Certification providers want you to re-up: Typically they maintain an FAQ file that is updated periodically to announce the latest recertification requirements. This way, expectations are set and planning on the part of the test taker can begin.

I recently participated in an industry call with certification and credentialing owners during which the entire focus was on recertification. Different programs have different needs, but one thing is certain: Creating a valued credential and keeping participants engaged with the credential provider is a driving force.

Rewarding good behavior is also something every program owner looks at. Everyone is open to suggestions on what the rewards could be — and having certification holders play a role here is ideal. If you have a certification, then your input matters. What would convince you to keep your certification current? Contact the certification provider and let them know!

For the credential holder

Recertification doesn't always makes sense: Certification providers can and do retire credentials. This means that employers looking to verify your credential would be unable to do so. You can still post it on your social media profile, or in your e-mail signature, but your certification will no longer be verifiable.

On the other hand, many certifications are date stamped. If you never recertify, then your credential "ages." If you have a credential with a date stamp from several years ago, then it might give the impression of being outdated — thereby implying that your skills and knowledge are similarly outdated.

For a technical audience, passing a world-class exam is quite an achievement. It can help the credential holder gain a promotion and opens doors to career advancement. It might mean the difference between keeping your job and being one of the individuals let go during a downturn. If your credential isn't current, however, then much of that prestige can fade.

I am a true believer in scenario-based certification exams, which include questions that require critical thinking. Passing a scenario-based exam reflects well on your skills and knowledge. Products and technology change rapidly, of course, and it is important to keep up with the changes. Regular recertification via scenario-based exams is a great way to keep your overall skills and knowledge current.

For the certification provider

When is it the right time for recertification?

Recertification typically involves either passing the latest version of the certification exam, or completing continuing education credits by taking classes, attending workshops, and so forth. There are, however, other options that have been considered.

Many programs have discussed delta exams: These are short exams that only cover material that has changed since the last time that a credential was updated. Generally speaking, however, the overhead and the effort are not worth it. A better investment would be simply overhauling the entire exam. I would caution any certification provider against using delta exams; I have never encountered a delta that I thought was worthwhile.

Requiring certification holders to pass a general exam once every two to three years that triggers recertification of all credentials from the same program is common. Similarly, passing the highest-level certification offered by a provider often updates the status of any lower-level credentials from the same provider.

Loose ends

Not every IT certification is held by a technical professional.

If you are in sales and have an easy threshold to gain a credential, then expect your credential to be date-stamped and require some action every year. Hopefully this means something minor such as attending a session at a company conference.

If you are an end-user, usually just passing an exam once is good enough. If it is all about getting the next job, then maybe passing the latest test is in your best interest. Ask for discounts for recertification — most programs do this anyway, but it never hurts to ask. If the tests are open-book and unproctored, then yearly retakes might be worthwhile for an end-user.

One interesting thing is that people in the tech world usually know whether your credential is still meaningful even if you've never recertified — and whether it isn't. Trust your gut on whether to recertify. Good luck!

About the Author

Peter Manijak is a training and certification consultant and served as Certification Chair for CEdMA (Computer Education Management Association) for more than six years. He now sits on the CEdMA Europe Board of Directors. An innovator and pioneer of IT certification, Peter specializes in building and managing world-class certification programs and training organizations. Certification regimes he has led include those affiliated with EMC, Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), Hitachi Data Systems, Acquia, Magento and Ceridian. Peter has been awarded CEdMA Certification Chair - Emeritus status and is a regular contributor to Certification Magazine.



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