It comes as no surprise to learn that HR people use IT certifications to choose between candidates when hiring, but in some organisations it can also inhibit career advancement.
"I think they limit themselves in terms of career progression, payment, and promotion," says David Hanrahan, general manager of Microsoft solutions at Dimension Data told me recently.
"It becomes a challenge to continue to promote someone who has a lot of experience and hasn't put in the hours and time that the rest of the people coming up through the business have to maintain their certification. It creates a level of disparity," he said.
Even if you have certifications, it is important to keep them up to date, especially as certifications change with the industry and increasingly move up the stack.
"TCP/IP, DNS and DHCP used to be part of the core networking exam and we would ask people [about them] in great detail [...] now we'll ask one or two questions to make sure they understand its implications, and move on." said Hanrahan. "We think certification is far more relevant in new and emerging technology areas, than traditional software and networking areas."
Getting onto the shortlist
The stronger your resume, the better your chances to get through the first round of interviews — it makes sense, but it was sobering to hear Hanrahan speak to the extent that certifications can make or break a shortlist selection.
"It's a differentiator — and we have to start to look for every differentiator we can when we are trying to get the best possible candidate" he said.
Hanrahan says that certification is a short-listing component, it's not going to be the hiring criteria; but it does actually make the job of hiring easier to use a baseline of industry-standard competencies.
If you are an industry veteran that has never taken the plunge into exams, you're not out of the hiring race, but to companies like Dimension Data, you will be starting from a handicap. "With the number of people in the market applying for jobs and particularly since we are targeted by people who want to come and work for us, we have a strong depth of candidates to choose from: they are at a disadvantage," he said.
I have to say that I am guilty of being one of the "I'll take experience over certification any day" crowd, and never thought much of the general training courses. Being a certified software developer is never a sign that you are efficient, capable or intelligent — it's merely a sign that you can pass a test and cared enough to do so.
However, when you hit the realms of a level 5 certified Oracle DB administrator with a +2 Staff of 15 years' knowledge, that's when you know that this person knows a thing or eight about databases.
Hanrahan makes a very good point when he talks about using certifications for short-listing and mentioned that without qualifications, it is possible to miss out on how technically knowledgeable a candidate maybe in the first round of interviews.
I imagine the choice between an uncertified developer with 12 years experience and a developer of 9 years that has taken the time to get a couple certifications under their belt is a difficult one. Little wonder that Hanrahan places such a pragmatic emphasis on training.
That said though, I've worked with some really bad CCNAs that couldn't route their way out of a load balancer; but also some very good ones. When looking for that next job, you'll want every edge to standout and a course maybe that one thing that puts you over the top and gets you hired.