One of the questions I get asked most often is: Should I get a professional certification? As with most questions of this nature, the answer is, “It depends!” If you are thinking about pursuing an industry credential, it’s important to be clear about your reasons for doing so. What is your main motivation for considering it? Do you want to:
Gain Credibility: If you are early on in your career and want to establish yourself, getting a certification can provide a stamp of approval from an objective organization. Another situation where an industry credential can help you gain credibility is when you have a college degree in an unrelated field or if you don’t have a college degree. A certification is proof that you know what you’re doing. It provides external validation that you have the skills needed to succeed.
Increase Your Marketability: If you are in the job market or considering a change, certifications can give you an advantage during the hiring process and help you stand out in a competitive market. According to a survey by HR.com, “100 percent of respondents agreed that industry certifications are preferred during the hiring process, in both new hire and internal employee placement scenarios. Certifications provide status to those who have proven their knowledge and give employers a benchmark standard for measuring employee candidates.”
Employer Preference: Employers often list industry credentials as a "preferred" qualification on their jobs ads. Unless individuals are required by law to hold a credential in order to practice in a profession, employers often list industry credentials as a preference so they don't screen out too many candidates. However, being a voluntary credential holder will definitely help you stand out because you pursued a rigorous process to earn the credential of your own volition.
Increase Your Chances for a Promotion or Advancement: In this case, it helps to review job postings for the type of positions to which you aspire. Find some examples of your perfect future job. Do they require or prefer a master’s degree or specific certifications? If you’re hoping to take on a new role in your current organization, what types of credentials do people in those positions have? Check out their LinkedIn profiles, or buy them coffee and ask them what they think is needed to advance in your organization. If you are ready for the next step, getting a certification can provide visibility and help you stand out among your peers.
Personal Satisfaction and Professional Development: In the talent development world, we often hear the lament, “I’m so busy helping everyone else develop themselves that I don’t have time to develop myself!” One of the most common reasons individuals pursue a certification is to validate their knowledge and increase their confidence at work. If you are feeling a bit stale, setting a goal to achieve an industry certification can be just what you need to get your juices flowing. In addition, achieving a certification can give you greater confidence that you are a subject matter expert. Many ATD credential holders say that they valued the process of certification and the ability to connect with other professionals in the field.
Earn More Money: If your primary goal is to earn more money, keep in mind that the surest way to earn more in the talent development field is to move into a management role. According to the 2017 ATD survey, How Does Your Pay Stack Up?, “Salary depends on many factors, but span of control is one of the most important. The median salary for individual contributors was $70,000 to $79,999, while that for team leaders or above was $90,000 to $99,999.” So, if your goal is to earn more money, look at the credentials that employers are requiring for leadership positions and what credentials leaders in the field have most often. “In career fields that value certifications, they carry significant salary premium (as much as 18 percent in our sample),” according to the research report The Narrow Ladder: The Value of Industry Certifications in the Job Market.
Gain New Skills and Knowledge: If you are trying to build your knowledge in a specific area or stay up-to-date on technology, you may want to focus on a workshop or course that addresses the specific need. For example, if you need to learn more about using an e-learning platform, there are probably online courses you can take to get sufficient training. Remember that you need to use that knowledge if you’re going to cement your learning, so be sure to have a plan to put your newfound knowledge to work on the job.
Become an Independent Consultant: If this is your main motivation, it’s important to get a credential that carries weight in your industry. To be viewed as an expert, it helps to have a credential that others perceive as difficult to achieve; if everyone has the credential, it doesn’t make you stand out as much as if the credential is scarcer. Make sure any credential is from an organization that is credible and well-respected in your field.
So, if your goal is to gain professional credibility, earn more money, stand out in a competitive job market, or learn and grow in your profession, pursuing a certification may be right for you. If your next question is which credential is right for me, see the next blog post in this series for the answer.
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