Credentials: Worthless, Essential or Somewhere In Between? - Converging 360
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Credentials: Worthless, Essential or Somewhere In Between?

It is understandable and healthy to question the value of certifications.

  • Are they worth it?
  • Are they just money-making schemes for the certification creators?
  • Do hiring managers even care if you have a certification?

There is also a wider discussion around certifications in general that include ideas such as:

  • Being certified does not equate to experience or suitability to a role
  • People can be certified and “book-smart” but terrible at managing people
  • A crafts-person does not need credentials, their work shows their value

These are all valid points, and everyone should make up their own mind before deciding whether to pursue a credential.Are they worth it? Well, if they help you achieve something you want that has a greater value to you than the time and expense of achieving them, then yes. Personally, I moved from England to Canada in 2000 with PRINCE2 credentials I had obtained while working at IBM. Very few people in Canada back then knew about PRINCE2, and jobs that did ask for credentials wanted Project Management Professionals (PMP)®-certified project managers.

I decided I would get my PMP® credential, so I could better compete in a new marketplace. I bought a copy of Rita Mulcahy’s PMP® Exam Prep book, studied it for a few months and sat for the PMP® exam. I had been working in project management for over 10 years by then, and while the PMI process names were different than I was used to, the underlying theory was very similar.

So, for me, gaining the PMP® credential was useful. It helped me establish more credibility in a new marketplace. Had I stayed in the UK and leveraged my contacts and experience to find work, I likely would not have placed as high a value in continuing to gain further credentials.

I think this experience is universal. If you move locations or careers or plan to move to new job markets, then credentials are more useful. If you stay in one area and career, your contacts and experiences have a stronger influence.

I think everyone agrees that credentials do not guarantee competence or capability. We have driver’s tests, yet there are still terrible drivers on the roads. However, would we be better off without driver’s licenses? I think not. They do not guarantee competence or care, but they are a useful minimum threshold for entry on the road.

I think the same holds true for professional credentials. We should not view them as a measure or guarantee of competency or the right attitude. They are more of a basic yardstick that proves, at some point, the person demonstrated at least a rudimentary understanding of how things are supposed to work. What a person does with that knowledge and what other factors influence their behavior is more relevant but also harder to gauge.

Finally, there is the recruitment aspect. With the advent of the internet, jobs have become easier to advertise and easier to find. In addition, people tend to be more mobile in their careers and fewer people are staying at the same company for extended periods of time. This means more job openings and more people applying for them.

One thing to keep in mind: Hiring managers often sort through hundreds of applicants for each position, so the presence or absence of a credential can make the difference between making the interview shortlist or not. Once at the interview, hiring organizations generally focus on assessing fit, aptitude, and soft skills. Rarely do credentials come up in an interview, instead (much like a driver’s license) a PMP credential is a prerequisite for consideration, but not much more.

I think credentials help open more doors. It is then up to the individual to prove they are more suitable for the role than the other candidates. If you find your work mainly through word-of-mouth recommendations, you probably don’t need them. If, however you need to compete in an unfamiliar marketplace, they can be extremely valuable. Like most things in life, your mileage will vary, assess all the information you can find then decide what’s best for you.

“PMI” “Project Management Professional (PMP)®” “PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®” are registered trademarks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

Mike Griffiths

Mike is an award-winning project manager with a proven track record of delivering exceptional results. In addition to executing projects, Mike is a successful author who excels at training project managers. He contributed to the last four versions of the PMBOK® Guide, cowrote the PMBOK® software extension, and led the writing team for the new PMI Agile Practice Guide. He also helped create the PMI-ACP® certification and wrote RMC’s PMI-ACP® Exam Prep book.

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