Are you Certifiable?

As in instructor in my company’s PMP (Project Management Professional) boot camp, I’m sometimes asked why certifications are so important. I have more letters behind my last name than are actually IN my last name (which is kind of hard to do, if you think about it).Certifiable

Certifications are generally used to demonstrate knowledge, set a standard for practicioners and mInimize risk in hiring. All noble goals, but there are number of issues that creep in and work at cross-purposes from the original intent.

I’m generally not a fan of boot camps, even though I teach in one myself. I think a boot camp is a good place to prep for an exam….ONCE you know the material. If you’ve studied it for months, and you just need help preparing for the exam, great. If you’re just doing it to get the letters, less so. I’ve run into way to many ‘paper’ experts who can pass a test, but don’t have the real-world experience to succeed at the job. You end up having to screen candidates for actual skills, which ends up not saving any time by only interviewing ‘certified’ candidates.

What good are certifications, anyway? They can:

  • Show that a candidate meets a certain minimum standard
  • Show that they can achieve a difficult task (e.g., applying for, studying for and passing the cert).
  • Makes a candidate stand out compared to those who aren’t certified

What DON’T they do?

  • Distinguish between really strong candidates and those who can cram for a test.
  • Don’t show real-world experience
  • Guarantee that you’ll have a qualified candidate just because they’re certified

In the end, it’s sort of an arms race between changing technology, candidates and employers all trying to out-game the other.

In the IT world, the landscape changes so quickly, how do you distinguish one candidate from another? One way is through certification. It doesn’t guarantee that the candidate is qualified, but it helps narrow the field. You still have to have some way to vet the candidates’ skills. That usually means some form of behavioral interviewing or demonstration of their skills in action. So, I don’t know if you actually save any work by only interviewing certified people…..but it levels the playing field for people who make it through the door.

I know that the job of a hiring manager is daunting – I’ve done it long enough to know that a resume and/or a set of letters behind a name doesn’t necessarily make that person a better candidate for a job, but in the absence of any other indicator, it shows that they can go after a goal and achieve it.

That being said, having a certification is only one piece of the puzzle. You’ve got to have either direct or translatable experience in the target job field, and find some way to demonstrate those skills in a real-world environment. So, your technical people need to learn interviewing techniques. Wonder if there’s a certification for that?

What about YOUR experiences? Do you find certifications to be useful in screening candidates?


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