To Certify or Not to Certify

Appointment and certification of Virginia surveyor Robert Todd

That is the question.

Over the years, I’ve had discussions (sometimes debates) with many about the value of certifications. The opinions I’ve heard vary widely. On one hand, I hear, “Certifications are not worth the paper they’re printed on.” (And we don’t even print certifications on paper anymore.) On another, I hear, “Certifications are a good way to level up in your career and get better opportunities.” What’s the right answer? It depends. Certifications are worth what they’re worth to you depending on the certification and situation. (Geez, Jeff. That’s such a non-answer.)

To determine the value of a certification, let’s first look at the definition of “certify” according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary site.

certify: to attest authoritatively.

So, basically, a certification provides assurance or vouches for the validity of something – most directly, that the person with the certification met the criteria to get the certification. Nothing more, nothing less.

The certification criteria determine the inherent value of the certification. The more you value the criteria for obtaining the certification, the more valuable the certification is to you. For example, becoming a Certified ScrumMaster requires someone to attend a two-day training class taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer and complete a 50-question test within one hour with at least 37 correct. One of the criteria for becoming a Certified Business Analysis Professional is 7,500 hours of real-world business analysis work. The criteria for these certifications have different value to me, therefore, so do the certifications.

A certification is also valuable for what it can get the person or organization who has it. For example, federal agencies often require project managers, both federal employees and contractors, to have the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification – someone can’t get that job without a PMP certification. AWS requires corporate partners to have employees with certifications to earn competencies, which come with certain benefits from AWS and create differentiation for the partner. What I can get with certifications has different value to me, therefore, so do the certifications.

A certification also sends messages about the person or organization who has it. For example, almost all of my company’s employees have an Agile-related certification. In some cases, we put these statistics in proposals because they say something about our commitment to agility, which is valuable when the client is looking for corporate commitment to that mindset and those ways of working. We also talk about these statistics during the recruiting process because many candidates want the opportunity to work in an environment with agility. The messages related to the certifications have different value to me, therefore, so do the certifications.

Which brings me back to my “it depends” answer on the value of certifications. Stated more eloquently and to paraphrase Shakespeare again, “Certifications are neither good nor bad; but value makes them so.”

What do you think about certifications? How do you value them? Let the debate begin continue.

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