Are Certifications Worth It?

Written by lewsauder

November 6, 2020

Are Certifications Worth It?

In the current competitive job market, job candidates are working hard to develop ways to make them stand out among competing candidates.

One way to do that is through certifications. The first one that comes to mind for Project management is the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. There are also Scrum and ITIL certifications and many others.

Obtaining a certification is not always an easy route. It often requires expensive training and extensive preparation time. There is also a fee to take the test. Some people question whether it is worth the effort. It’s not always a clear decision. It depends greatly on your career objective. I’ll discuss the pros and cons and hopefully help you make a decision that works best for your personal situation.

Pros of a Certification

Resume enhancer. The number one reason to get a certification is that it gets noticed on your resume. Many job descriptions specify that a certification is either required, or is at least “a plus.” If it is required, the hiring organization may use it to weed out resumes without the certification. For job descriptions that list it as a plus, it is exactly that. If you have similar experience and education as someone else that is applying, your certification may get you the interview before your competitor.

Software-driven Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) scan for specific key words in submitted resumes. If a company is looking for a certification, rest assured that that is one of the keywords that are being searched. Without that certification, you may get rejected before a human eye is even given a chance.

Proves a base level of knowledge: The whole purpose of a certification is to verify that you have a certain level of knowledge. It is usually a difficult test that requires significant preparation. Some certifications require a minimum of experience and a minimum number of hours of preparatory training. All certifications at least require some form of advanced study. Passing the certification test confirms that you have that level of knowledge.

You learn in the process. You may think you are pretty good at what you do and have the skills to be certified. The hours of training and studying always educate you further and advance your knowledge of the topic. You may broaden your knowledge in new areas, or deepen your knowledge in areas you are already familiar with.

Credibility: Whether you are looking to find a new job or not, your professional credibility will grow. Adding that certification to your LinkedIn profile will change the way your peers and superiors see you. It will also change the way you see yourself. It can improve your confidence and possibly even give you bigger responsibilities in your current job.

It’s easier than a degree: Aside from a certification, another credential that employers use to weed candidates out is a college degree. If you don’t have a degree, it could take anywhere from two to four years, depending on the degree you need. This is a significant commitment of time and money. It requires considerable soul searching to compare the cost and benefits to determine whether it is worth it.

In comparison, a certification can be acquired in a matter of weeks. Additionally, the financial commitment is much lower. It is a faster, easier, and cheaper way to expand on your credentials.

Cons of a Certification

It does not prove capabilities: One of the key arguments I have heard against certifications is that it only proves that you can take a test. Many of the training programs “teach to the test.” In other words, they prepare you for the questions you will see on the test, rather than train you on the subject matter you are working to master. Similarly, there are books specifically written to prepare you for the test, providing tips on how to answer multiple choice questions and when to skip a question if you’ve spent too much time on it.

These approaches may help you to pass the certification test. But they tend to defeat the objective of proving that you are knowledgeable of the subject matter. Some people are better at taking timed tests than others. Some view a certification as proof that you simply successfully passed a test.

Certifications are expensive: There is usually a fee simply to take a certification test. Many certifications require a minimum number of hours of preparatory training. Depending on the hours required, this can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand. The training time and independent study hours are an additional cost. People seeking any certification should consider the total cost in dollars and time spent to determine whether it will reap the appropriate benefits.

It does not guarantee a job: As I mentioned earlier, certifications are often stated as a plus rather than a minimum requirement for a job. In these cases, it is only an advantage if you have enough credentials to be considered. To that end, certifications are only supplementary to other more critical requirements. If a job description lists specific educational and skills experience, a certification is not significant to take the place of those higher-level credentials.

Additionally, not every hiring manager is sold on the credibility of certifications. You might still get the job, but you needlessly spent valuable resources on the certification.

One final point about this; I once met a peer at a professional dinner. He was in the job marked and gave me a personal business card. This card listed at least five professional certifications. It immediately made me think that he was more focused on collecting certifications than getting real work done. This could similarly turn off a certification-averse manager.

Not all certifications are created equal: If you are considering a professional certification, make sure to do your research. First, ensure that the certification is in demand. Perhaps you find a job description that specifies a certification and you want that job badly enough to get certified. Keep in mind that by the time you prepare and take the test, this job may no longer be available. Make sure that it is in high enough demand that many organizations desire it.

Once you determine that the certification is in high demand, verify the legitimacy of the training and testing organizations. You can pay thousands of dollars on training, only to find that they are not sanctioned by the testing organization. Similarly, verify the legitimacy of the testing organization. Make sure that the certification is recognized as an industry-accepted testing organization.


Certifications can be an excellent way to boost your career. They can increase your knowledge base and enhance your resume. A certification can help you get a new job, whether with another company or a promotion within your current organization.

Like everything in life though, there is no guarantee. You can spend significant time and money on something that provides little benefit. Even if it provides a minimal benefit, you might have been better off working on honing your skills in some other area.

The key is to determine whether it will benefit your career. If there is noteworthy certification demand for positions that you aspire to, it is certainly worth considering. If you have appropriate experience to hold those positions, and the certification will help you stand out, it is another plus. Finally, consider the cost in time and money that it will take to acquire the certification. If the potential benefit is greater than that cost, it might just be worth going for it.

What certifications are you considering?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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