Do You Need A Certification?

Determining if and when you need another certification is a personal question. Your answer will not be the same as another person's answer. This post shows you some important things to consider for this tough and sometimes nagging question.

We all have a need for achievement…and we all have a need to make a living. That seems to be a good place to start. Will certification satisfy those two needs.
But first, let’s take a short step back…

You must be some sort of an achiever, as you would otherwise not even be considering a certification! Even considering a certification indicates that you must have attained some level of education and professional success to date, right?

So, if you are an achiever, you need goals. High achievers experience a sort of “What’s next?” urge. I was once listening to a podcast on the way to work, and the host discussed the challenges and experiences of some of the astronauts who had walked on the moon. After years of preparation and intense focus and discipline, they reached their goals – only to return, in some cases, with a loss of purpose and direction. Some even had deep troubles, largely because they had suddenly become “goal-less”. They in essence had “lost” a goal by achieving their primary goal, and by not replacing it with another worthy goal.

So, you know you need goals, and you may have even experienced this feeling of “loss” when you achieved one…unless you just happened to have another goal in line to replace it!

But the million dollar question is, how do you determine if a particular goal is worth it, and, more specifically, if earning a professional certification is a valid goal. For you, it might be, “If I am to put my precious time, effort, and money into earning the PMP, the PMI-ACP (Agile Certified Professional)or any other related certification, will it be worth it? What will be the payoff for me?”

There is no magic answer, but here are some of my ideas, and those of bloggers and other folks on such sites as Tech Republic, HR blogs and industry associations, and even Payscale.com.

Prove Your Competence
A certification does not necessarily “prove” that you can do a job, but it does show a minimum, substantial level of understanding of the subject matter. That helps to “put you into the conversation”, where you can be conversational about the subject. It “legitimizes“ your membership in the community of candidates…showing that you are “a player”.

A certification also does more. According to some PMs, earning the PMP “establishes a common language among project managers and helps each other work within a common framework”.

One PMP said that, “The PMP adds to my credibility when interacting with other teams. It's a high value credential where many folks are titled 'program manager' but don't have the experience. They often seek advice and I'm able to mentor new managers."

It also demonstrates to your current and prospective employers that you are dedicated to excellence, committed to career growth, and are capable of performing at the highest level.
Another factor is that, like it or not, employers value predictability…and certifications increasingly enable them to have a degree of that predictability that they want.

Confidence
Any certification – some more than others – provides some level of prestige. In fact, one PMP commented that “…because the certification process through PMI® is so thorough and rigorous, completing the program is a great boost to your self-confidence.” Another PMP commented that, “…certification makes the PM career progression easier” and that it “fuels faster promotions”.

A person with the desire, goals, smarts, and work ethic to go for a certification has all those things over others, regardless of whether they even go for the certification!

New skill
One thing about learning a new skill is that it makes you feel fresh! You feel fresh, and you are fresh – like a new outfit! It’s “self-empowering”; it's something you can do to take charge of your career at any time.

Knowledge is always worthwhile. And it can lead to higher pay. It’s reported widely that demand for individuals with industry recognized credentials will continue to intensify. And organizations are likely to place even more value on certifications as a means of differentiating top job applicants.

But there’s an intangible, hard to quantify aspect of learning a new skill: It changes your perspective. It’s not just a linear thing! You get to see a new vista - and that alone can open opportunities you previously could not see.

Caveats
As with anything in life, there are no guarantees! That’s why it’s good be realistic and keep these caveats in mind.

  1. It may be that you just need a break. Someone without a certification might actually get that break. Life is not always fair…but anything you do to improve yourself can only improve your chances and work in your favor.
  2. Try to be strategic about it for your own situation, and make the best decision at the time. You can always adapt your strategy as you go.
  3. Certification in general is “book knowledge”; it doesn't prove that you have a historic track record of success. You will need to handle that gap yourself.
  4. One blogger says that “long-term career success depends on the person and not the credentials. People, not certifications, deliver projects.” Certifications, however, can open doors to those opportunities, help you to deliver those projects, and put you on the path to success!
  5. Another blogger says, “As experience builds through one's career, a PMP is less essential to secure a new position or advancement.” This is probably true in some situations, not true in others.
  6. Some certifications – particularly IT – have a lifecycle. Be aware, be careful. Verify requirements, and do a market analysis.

When you ask yourself "What’s next?", consider additional certifications. You might find that it is easier than you think to add another credential on top of the PMP and whatever else you might have, and that it is especially enticing when you can earn PDUs for the work at the same time! And while it might feel good to rest on your laurels for a bit, don’t linger on your success too long. Remember, it’s not where you are, or where you have been, that’s important; what’s important is where you are going. Keep that fresh and forward moving feeling going and set some new goals today, and consider tackling another career-enhancing certification.

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