Dear Lifehacker, I'm in a bit of a pickle about where I want my IT career to go. I currently work full-time for an IT company, but I haven't got any certifications or diplomas in anything yet. Would be a good idea to drop down to part time next year and go out and get a diploma in IT or management? Thanks, Confused Worker
Diploma picture from Shutterstock
This is something that's certainly worth considering, but you shouldn't think of it as the be-all and end-all either. As we've mentioned in the past, the importance of certification depends entirely on the situation.
In some circumstances, a professional certification can make all the difference between landing a job or not being considered at all. In others, the hiring manager will be a lot more interested in your practical experience and proven ability. In other words, while a certification won't hurt your chances, it wont guarantee success either.
Naturally, some certifications are also more valuable than others. If the cert requires nothing more than paying a fee and taking a quick test, it's probably aimed at newbies and is unlikely to be held in high esteem among prospective employers. (That said, a low level certification can still be a good way to get you a foot in the door if you're starting near the bottom.) On the other end of the spectrum, some certifications require the applicant to have lots of experience under their belt before they'll even be considered.
Your best bet is to do a part-time certification and see if it suits you -- but first you need to do your research.
Our US colleague Alan Henry offers the following advice on choosing the right certification:
It’s those higher-level, industry and position-specific certifications that are the most valuable, and while the lower level ones shouldn’t be dismissed, they don’t make you stand out as much as they may have a few years ago. Will an A+ or a Net+ help you get the edge over someone else? Maybe, but someone else with experience or knowledge they can demonstrate in an interview can easily edge out someone with little more than a cert to their name.
On the higher end though, some companies won’t even consider a security professional that doesn’t have a CISSP or a project manager without a PMP, so if you don’t have it (or the experience required to get it), you’re out of luck. That’s the big takeaway here. The value of certifications goes up with the difficulty and experience required to get them.
We'd start off by broaching the topic with management -- ask if they'll allow you to drop down to part-time and find out what particular skills they think are worth developing. If you're lucky, the company may even cover your costs (although you'll then be obliged to stick around after receiving your certifications).
It's also a good idea to check out the online profiles of people in positions you’d like to aim for. What certifications do they have? Likewise, take the time to peruse job listings to see what type of professional certifications are required.
LinkedIn is another great resource when it comes to choosing a cert: join the industry and company groups that you're interested in and start firing questions. The more real-world feedback you get, the better informed your decision will be.
If any readers have additional advice of their own, please let CW know in the comments section below!
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