When is a certification of value?

There is an ongoing debate about which certifications are of value, and even is some are of no value at all. There is no single right or wrong answer here, and it pays to take the big picture view of this controversial topic. This post looks at some definite considerations and situations where you should or should not pursue a certification.

There are a whole lot of considerations around the issue of the value of a certification to you. I have boiled it down to six key considerations:

  1. Credibility of the certification
  2. Popularity
  3. Relevance to what you do or want to do
  4. Alignment with your natural skills
  5. Market and timing
  6. Cost

Here's a deeper look into each of these.

Credibility of the certification
This may be the most debatable of all of the points, as often "credibility" is "in the eyes of the beholder". So, some will hold a certification in very high regard, and someone else will think nothing of it, or in extreme cases may even consider it a negative! The real answers is that you should feel that you are going to learn something for the time invested, and that you feel good about this as a use of your time. If it passes this simple test, you should be good from a credibility standpoint.

Popularity refers to the number of people that have this certification, or the amount of awareness of it. If people recognize it, know within reason what it standards for, and think favorably of it, then it's fair to say it passes the "popularity" test.

Relevance to what you do or want to do
The certification needs to relate in some tangible, demonstrable way to what you do or want to do. It must connect somehow with your current background by enhancing it in some way. If it is completely unrelated to your background, it is likely the certification will not do a whole lot for you, unless it is a very special situation.

Alignment with your natural skills
You will be able to best leverage certifications that speak in some way to your natural skills. If you are a technical person and think it a natural for your to go for your PMP, but you do not have any apparent tendency to manage, it will probably be of limited value. You are better off picking certifications that speak to some natural talent you have, as this will increase your chances of success.

Market and timing
There must be a market reason you are considering the certification. Perhaps it will enahcne your resume or imporve your job prospects. Or maybe it will enhance your career prspects by imporving your qulaifications for a larger range of actities. On one hand, you don't want to be chasing the market too heavily, as you are never really certain aobut the market, but you should try to favor the trends.

Cost is a consideration that includes but goes beyond money. Costs include time, mental and physical effort, commuting or travel, and, of course, the monetary cost. Analyze the cost/benefit to feel comfortable that it's worth the effort.

Here are some examples of some certification endeavor that seem to be well worth it:

  1. You have a PMP are moving from the US to a European company. You know that PRINCE2 is highly regarded in Europe, and even though it is easier to earn than the PMP, it is still more popular there. You also know that many of the people you will be working with are PRINCE2 certified. The cost is probably low, especially since you can probably get some minimally expensive training, earn PDUs at the same time, and be self-sufficient and learn independently. You may be able to make a good care to pursue the PRINCE2 certification.
  2. Let's say that you are a PMP and work, as an employee or consultant, within an organization that has decided to implement ITIL best practices. It will be important for you to understand ITIL well and demonstrate a commitment to learning things that will help them support their intended environment. In this case, it may be advantageous to acquire the ITIL Foundation certification, on top of your PMP.
  3. A Professional Engineer (PE) may have solid engineering skills but wants to get more PM background. He/she really likes engineering and technical work, and prefers it over management work, but is being told by various people that in order to advance, they should get the PMP certification. In this case it may not be a good idea to go for the PMP. If you don't really feel inclined to work in a management role, you may be better off focusing on credentials and education that related to your technical skills.

I hope this provides some perspective on important considerations to think about when you are looking into certifications and planning your career moves.
John Reiling