A literal alphabet soup of certifications exist and those that offer them are pushing hard for your attention. Everyone will agree that staying up to date in the uber-fast changing technological world is of vital importance as companies and individuals look to set themselves apart from the competition. Gaining and maintaining certifications is one of the most common ways this is accomplished. But how do you determine which one(s) you should target, if any? How do you know they are the “right” one? Before starting any educational track you should be answering these three questions to ensure you are moving in the right direction.
Is it relevant?
t is easy to get caught up in the new and shiny technology. There is an excitement when new products hit the market and we can get blinded by the luster of “what could be”. We envision ourselves being on the forefront of a revolution that will change the world for the better and we want to be the one that people will be lining up for to take advantage of our knowledge. But be aware - being first is not always best. Before jumping on any technology bandwagon you first need to step back and take a realistic look at its viability within the existing technological world. How is it being rolled out? How well will it integrate? Does it have a solid support structure? Once we take off the rose colored glasses we can truly see the product for what it is. If, in that real perspective we start to have doubts, it is OK to pass on certification. If the product is built to last, the opportunity to gain additional knowledge will always be there.
Does it align?
If you determine that the technology is a relevant area for certification, the next question you need to ask yourself is whether or not it aligns to both the vision of where the company is heading, as well as whether it aligns to how you are looking to brand yourself. Let’s discuss each briefly.
When looking at a possible course of study you should make sure that you are working with your leader to truly understand the short and long term focus for the company. Once you know this, you can then agree on a course of education as part of your overall development. If the certification does not fit in with the technology that the company sees as vital to its growth and profitability, you may want to focus your efforts in other areas. In these situations, if you continue, you will most likely find little organizational support (time and money) for your endeavor, thus making it harder to complete.
The other side of the coin is determining how you want to brand yourself. What do you want to be known for? Where does your passion lie? Just because a certification may align at the organizational level, it does not mean it will be the right fit for you, and vice versa. In these situations you must again have candid conversations with your leader about what direction makes the most sense. These situations may require collaboration and compromise but in the end, if you do not truly believe a program will get you to where you want to be, why move down that path?
Do you have the time?
The last consideration to take into account is the time investment that is needed to achieve and then maintain the certification. You must be sure that you not only have the time to commit to the necessary learning to get yourself ready to achieve the certification, but ample availability to keep your knowledge and skills up to date in order to maintain it. If you have determined that it is relevant, aligned with the corporate vision and personal brand, then you need to dedicate to it. Trying to rush through study materials or grab the earliest test window will do more harm than good. So be honest with yourself. Be honest with your leader. Look at your professional and personal calendars, create a realistic timeline, and work your plan from there. You will find less pressure and stress and achieve a much greater level of success.
In this ultra-competitive world we must learn and grow if we want to continue to add value to our organizations. In that vein, there is a significant value to individuals in obtain industry certifications. But before heading off into the certification wilderness, make sure you are taking a hard look at the “where”, “why”, and “how” of the process. This will allow you to be sure that the strings of letters you are adding to your business cards carry the weight you want and need them to.