“Do certifications matter?”.  I do get a chance to talk to a whole bunch of people and ask them about their thoughts and opinions on why they do seem to go ahead and get a certification and does it really add value to their resume…does it truly add that extra impetus to their existing set of skills.

I personally feel that it can go both ways depending on where you are in the career ladder.  Recently, I was having a business discussion with the head of Leadership & Training of a major conglomerate in the UAE.  He is an accomplished Leadership Coach himself among his other credentials.  We eventually started talking about his career next steps and he mentioned that he was taking a certification program towards becoming a board member. We discussed whether this makes sense from his career perspective which brought me to think about when is it appropriate to get a certification in one’s career.

If you think of your career stages as a pyramid where the very zenith is retirement, then there are some key stages where one requires that additional boost in terms of skill and knowledge development that is over and above one’s chosen field of education and training.  For most people, regardless of their levels of preparation, entering the workforce is very daunting.  It is a shift from a safe environment to the world of semi-unknown, of what to expect and how to be perceived (see previous blog article of image and perception management).  In particular the education system rarely prepares people for the irrational and political sides of an organization and every occupation involves not just working through logic and reason, but also working with other people and their feelings.  Major personal learnings begin at this point.  This brings me to certifications – a majority of people after a few years into their first jobs seek different kinds of skill development certifications – eg. SPHR, PR, PMP, PE, Six Sigma etc.  This is most natural and I highly recommend people take on these certifications early on in their careers. Such personal growth-seeking proactiveness is indeed looked upon in a very positive light and brings tremendous value to the individual’s development, resume and career prospects.

The next stage where certifications again appear on the horizon is the mid-career stage.  Most individuals, like in life go through a mid-career re-assessment of where they are in their professions and does it make sense to continue in that field or is it time to look at other options.  A lot of people in the technical or HR professions sometimes opt for an Executive or a Full-time MBA at this point which gives them a primer on management and possibly a different lease of professional life.  Now, does it make sense for a mid-level management consultant to go for an MBA? My opinion is No.  Simply because if this is what you are doing and are on a career path that follows through the various stages of a consulting firm, then ask yourself a question. Will having an MBA change anything if you continue with the same firm or another firm which does the same thing? If your answer is no, then there is absolutely no point in pursuing that path and wasting time, effort and your monetary assets.  But if you choose to go for that MBA with the ambition of changing your job or your career and branch out and do something completely different – then go ahead and invest in that MBA program. Similarly if pursuing a PMP certification when all you do is project management sometimes seem a waste of time and just states the obvious about you.  But, on the other hand if you are technical engineer and would like to, or have been working in a project management capacity, then it definitely makes sense from a long-term career perspective for you to have certain certifications that validate the deviation from your original chartered career path.

There is another kind of certifications that create a ripple in your resume. And I choose the word ‘ripple’ with purpose – because that’s what it does. Resume reviewers will glance at your resume, pause briefly to see that you have a certain kind of certification from an eminent university like Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge etc. and then move forward to the more substantive part of what you have accomplished in each job and what you can do for them.  That is to say, if you choose to do a summer course from a majorly recognized university/organization in the world and believe that by just that merit itself, it should appear that you have a degree or some sort of skill that is very marketable then again you are having a false illusion.  Having reviewed thousands of resumes, these certifications from major universities are sometimes just a ‘good to have’ but not a decision maker/breaker when hiring an individual.

Certifications at the end of the day bring about a growth in abilities and skills.  Before you go ahead and seek one make sure it has impact in terms of your career growth and development.  As you think through this process it’s not just growth and development within the organization you are currently in, but also think about the possibilities if you had to seek a job somewhere else and how this certification that you are thinking of pursuing, will make create a difference.

Please send me your thoughts and comments and let me know if you are thinking about taking that next step and how I can help.  Additionally, please send me any ideas on topics that you are interested in finding out more about.

Hope you all have a wonderful summer!