Certifications – Don’t blame them! Change the hiring process.

Before I begin with this post, it should be obviously known that I hold a number of certifications.  However, I do feel that I can write this article without any bias.  However, take from this what you want.

For the past few months now, I’ve seen a constant, if not increasing, number of anti-certification and anti-certification body posts, tweets, etc.  This has come from a wide variety of various individuals, to (if memory serves me correct) even some articles on IT related websites.  However, one thing that you almost, if not always, see in common with these certification rants is that no other alternative is provided.

So what’s the point of IT certifications?  The reason we have certifications is to try to provide some sort of standardized method of testing individuals and demonstrating the level of knowledge that an individual has.  While IT professionals can use certifications as a method of ranking one’s knowledge of different concepts, IT professionals, seeing as they work in the field themselves, are generally capable of judging another person’s level of knowledge through interaction with one another, typically better than any certification can.

So what about those that don’t work in IT?  IT “outsiders” typically don’t have the same skill set as those that work in IT, therefore, they are usually unable to make a judgement on the level of knowledge required for a position in relation to a potential job candidate.  As a result, the certifications an individual holds is what is typically turned to in the early stages of an interview.

The complaints that I have seen lately stem from the fact how certain certifications are useless, how a certification doesn’t mean that an individual knows anything, or how anyone can learn something to pass a test.

All of these are valid points.

I am in no way arguing against these points.  However, if there is a failure within the hiring process while also using certifications as a metric, I would argue that the bigger problem is in your candidate vetting process.  Almost all HR/Recruiting departments (except for those that specialize in IT recruiting) need some sort of metric to measure a candidate to determine if they are worth passing on to a hiring manager.  IT professionals cannot expect any recruiter to be able to make a solid judgement of the level of knowledge that a job candidate has.  Recruiters simply do not have the background that IT professionals do, so it is not realistically possible for a recruiter to pass judgement.

This is where certifications come in.  Recruiters rely on the hiring manager to provide some sort of base requirements for jobs.  A hiring manager can provide certifications as a way to establish some base level of knowledge that a recruiter can use.  However, this should quite obviously not be the only roadblock simply because (as pointed out earlier) almost anyone can learn to pass a test.  At this point, a technical interview should be performed to assess a candidates true level of knowledge and experience.  This should be the most important part of the candidate vetting process, as this will be the only time to get the best picture of what a potential hire knows before bringing them on and working full time with them.

Another point might be that people “hate” certifications so much that they will purposefully not be tested for any of them (or any specific ones), and then valid candidates could be “skipped over”.  While this cannot obviously backed up with fact, I believe the number of candidates that fall into this category is far smaller than the number of candidates who may still dislike certifications, but still obtained some as a result of job requirements.  Those that do not obtain certifications due to their lack of respect for certs knowingly limit themselves for career opportunities, and I think this is almost a disservice to that individual.

In all the anti-certification posts that I have seen, I have yet to see anyone provide another usable metric that can be used by non-IT people to attempt to measure where a candidate stands in what they know.  To declare a problem, and not provide a solution, not even an idea, is not an answer.  Anyone can say any system is broken/flawed, a lot of systems far beyond the realm of IT are, but they just might be the best system out there at the moment.  Just claiming something doesn’t work provides a service to no one.

I’m challenging the anti-certification crowd to step up and provide the industry with a viable alternative.  I agree the certification route isn’t perfect, but it’s the best thing we have out there at the moment, which is why you won’t see any anti-certification posts come from me.  Provide the industry with a better, realistic, alternative than certifications, and I will be among the first to hop on that bandwagon.

However, I’m still waiting.

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