The value of qualifications

I had an epiphany the other day.

I have always been someone that believed that real world experience was far more valuable than academic training and certification. If I was ever put in the position of hiring someone, I told myself that I would pick someone who "has done" over someone who has been "trained to do".

This philosophy has also defined my opinion of I.T. certifications. It hasn't stopped me getting them, but I have always felt that, at the end of the day, these certifications tend to be fairly artificial representations of my skill set.

Then I was given the opportunity to see things from the employers point of view, and the real value of certifications and qualifications was made clear.

No manager worth their salt really believes that a I.T. certification or qualification means that an applicant is unconditionally skilled to do the job. I think we have all come across MCSEs who don't know which end of the network cable to plug in or university I.T. graduates that have never installed an operating system. I think we have also all seen people who lack any kind of formal qualifications who can take one look at a computer, network or block of code and tell you straight away how to fix or use it.

The real value of certifications is that the people screening your application or considering you for a job can use them to justify a favourable decision made for you.

The truth is that it is incredibly difficult to judge someone in an hour long interview. It takes a good deal of skill and experience to be able to identify a good candidate for a position, and most recruiters and managers will fake that skill by filtering out anyone who doesn't match a limited set of criteria. Certifications are a very easy criteria to set.

Then, when faced with having to make a decision from a pool of acceptable candidates, trivial differences like "he has one more year experience", "she has this qualification" and "his last employer wasn't as bubbly on the phone as her last employer" make all the difference. Because at this point in the recruiting process decision fatigue has set in, and how suitable you are for the job is now irrelevant. It all comes down to how easy it is for someone to justify the decision to hire you.

Experience you either have or don't have. You can pick your best references, but you can't control what they will say. But, especially in I.T., you can get a number of certifications from some well recognised companies. And I would recommend doing so, because while they may not teach you anything, and while they may not increase you skill set, they will make your job application just that little bit easier to justify to someone who has been staring at resumes and interviewing all day, who is tired and wants to go home, and who just needs to make a decision that they can justify to their bosses.


Anonymous said…
Hey matt, what would you beleive to be the absolute best company to get certifications from?
Unknown said…
I was once told by an experienced system admin that one of the reasons why she got an RHCE was so recruiters would start looking at her resume. It didn't mean she was suddenly better at her job or had gained some new skills, but recruiters who had no IT knowledge themselves knew what an RHCE was.

So the best qualifications to have are those that are recognized by a recruiter or employer, which in IT means the big names like Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, Red Hat etc.
Anonymous said…
Here's an idea for IT companies.... Ready? How about actually *testing* applicants. The game industry does this as a standard practice.
Unknown said…
Something to keep in mind when looking for IT industry positions is that a lot of the screening is done by HR drones who have absolutely no understanding of the concepts that they're talking about. A certification is something that the IT team can point to and say "A person with these sets of letters on their resume is worth talking to". It won't, in my experience, get you a job, but it will get you an interview.

As an employer, I'm also often required to maintain a certain stable of certs in order to meet vendor requirements. Someone with an MCITP has great value to me beyond just their technical skills because it means another Microsoft competency, which means more software license grants for internal use, more access to troubleshooting resources, etc. Someone with a VCP is similarly well-positioned.

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