One of the driving forces for many IT professionals when seeking certification is the perceived possibility of a payoff at the end of the credentialing process. IT professionals frequently look to certifications to increase their earning potential, open doors on the job market, or move careers to the next level. Before spending the time, effort, and money to earn any certification, IT professionals want to be sure that their target credential will be sufficiently rewarding to justify their blood, sweat, and tears.
The question of whether employers value certifications—particularly over experience—is an item of constant concern and ferocious debate. Some professionals take the position that experience trumps certifications; other professionals believe just as strongly that certifications are intrinsically valuable and that they offer a bigger payoff than on-the-job experience can deliver. Regardless of where you might stand on this issue, certifications are here to stay. Many prospective employers not only actively seek certified candidates but also require specific certifications as a condition of employment (particularly when employers in turn are required to meet vendor requirements to maintain minimum numbers of certified staff to participate in various partner programs).
Certification programs, and their credential holders, can be extremely attractive to prospective employers for numerous reasons:
- New employees: Because of the consistency that certification programs bring to the credential process, employers have a reasonable level of assurance regarding the quality of skills and level of expertise found in such credential holders. Most certification programs include clearly defined program goals and standards that describe what credential holders should be able to do and what skills and knowledge they must possess upon earning the certification. These programs also define assessment criteria, such as passing at least one written exam, where some IT certifications require multiple exams to earn a credential. Sometimes, lab exams are also required to ensure that candidates can translate “head” knowledge into direct practical application. Certification programs ensure that candidates have the requisite knowledge and possess the technical skills necessary to meet the goals and quality standards associated with the certification program.
- Existing employees: Certifications programs also benefit employers in terms of addressing skill gaps among existing staff. For example, it’s not uncommon for internal IT organizations to find themselves in a position where entire departments get reorganized and staff gets assigned to new projects. Or perhaps one company merges with another entity, creating new areas of responsibility. Managers may suddenly find themselves scrambling to find qualified individuals from within a current pool of employees. Certification programs can be one way to address critical knowledge and skill gaps quickly through hurry-up training for in-house staff when hiring from the outside or obtaining other resources internally is not a viable option. Certification training programs provide existing employees with key critical skills and enable them to get up to speed quickly on new technologies.
- Ongoing training: Certification programs are a great way for employers to ensure that employees’ skills don’t become dated and go stale. Many certification programs require continuing education credits to maintain their credentials. Other programs only remain current until the next major product release, at which time credential holders must recertify on the new platform. Once a certification is earned, many credential holders are reluctant to lose their place and will gladly take the actions necessary to recertify. By recertifying, employers are assured that the skills of their employees remain fresh, and that they’re able to meet the challenges of new and emerging technologies.
- HR considerations: Most companies, particularly large companies, have well-defined, well-organized human resources (HR) departments. These departments are integrally involved in all aspects of the hiring process. In fact, it’s not uncommon in some large companies for the HR department to handle the entire hiring process, including prospective candidate interviews.
A hiring manager might be in the unenviable position of never speaking to a selected candidate until the new employee reports to work! When it comes to IT subject matters, most HR personnel have little experience or special IT training. This leaves hiring managers scrambling to find ways to ensure that candidates selected by HR possess the necessary technical skills and have an understanding of the key concepts, skills, and technologies required by the position.
One of the tools available to hiring managers in such circumstances is requiring that selected candidates possess certain certifications. Clearly defined job descriptions coupled with targeted certifications can greatly increase the likelihood that IT-challenged HR staff members will select a qualified candidate who’ll be of real help in the work environment. Certification processes also help HR select candidates in other ways. Establishing a clear baseline of minimum knowledge and skills a successful candidate must possess can protect a company from allegations of hiring impropriety or discrimination. Certification requirements assist in establishing hiring baselines.
Certifications bring many benefits to employers. They ensure consistency of training, technical skills, knowledge, and expertise. When upgrading to new product versions, or adding new technologies, some employers view the certification process so essential that training and certification for employees is included as a part of the purchase package. Such programs speak to the quality of the IT professionals performing the work.
Of course, IT certifications alone can’t guarantee that a prospective candidate is a “right” fit for the position or that they’ll be a success. In addition to hard skills (technical skills and knowledge), employers also look at experience levels and soft skills (communication skills, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, ability to work within teams, and so forth) when selecting candidates. However, because of the standards related to quality of skills and knowledge that certifications provide, credentialed IT professionals are likely to continue to be preferred by prospective employers. IT professionals, who possess both certifications and experience, are likely to find that they are highly marketable, which is a great position in today’s competitive economic climate.