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When to Acquire Professional Job Certifications

Professional certification can be a kind of passport, identifying you as a citizen of a career field with all its rank and privileges. Professional certification (or credentialing) is one way to document your ownership of the skills you claim.

Not all professional credentials are worthy. A credential is worth the effort only if it has industry recognition and respect.

Crash course on certification

Differences in certification exist — terms of validation include registered, accredited, chartered, qualified, and diplomate, as well as certified. Whether the professional designation carries statutory clout or is voluntary, common elements include professional experience, often between two and ten years, sometimes reduced by education. Education standards are included, which may call for minimum levels of both academic and professional education.

Certification examinations are uninviting to many professionals; generally, they require time-consuming study and may include both experience-based knowledge acquired working in the field, and curriculum-based knowledge gained by assigned learning texts.

What’s certification worth?

Is certification worth your effort? Certification has strong appeal in your early career — say, the first 12 to 15 years — as a technique to control your earnings environment. But in business, certifications lose their luster at the vice-presidential level and above. Why? Certifications zero in on specific skills, while top managers are more concerned with the big picture.

For consulting, medicine, law, and technology careers, professional certifications never lose their punch, especially for those who hope to work internationally. Continuing education may be required to keep them updated and active.

The credential may be a license awarded by a state board, such as the familiar Certified Public Accountant (CPA), or a voluntary program sponsored by a professional organization, such as the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation awarded by the Public Relations Society of America.

Because a given professional certification may not carry stripes for your sleeve, much less stars for your shoulder, investigate first! Clues to look for include the following:

  • Do recruitment ads call for the professional designation? Do trade publications mention it? What do practitioners in your field advise?

  • As you change jobs more often, certification can be a kind of passport. It shows that you’re a player in your field’s global body of knowledge and that you have documented standards and achievements.

  • Certification can be very helpful if you become sidetracked into too narrow a specialty or stagnate in a company with antiquated technologies or find yourself boxed in by a hostile boss. The boss can still claim that you lack interpersonal abilities, but a professional designation leaves little room to say you’re short on job-related technical skills.

  • You may earn more money by going the certified route. A study of project managers reveals that those with a PMP (Project Management Professional) designation with seven years’ experience annually earn $7,000 more than non-certified project managers, a differential that adds up to serious money over the years.

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