Do Certifications Give Candidates a Special Distinction?

This is a very interesting topic. One that as a recruiter I have discovered people to be in one of two very different, but very firm camps. They either absolutely do matter and create a differentiator for candidates. Or they don’t. Period.

I’ll go ahead and give you my answer. While the decision whether to hire someone should be based on their total body of work and not letters at the end of their name, certifications can not hurt.

Bear in mind I am talking about certifications beyond the required education to do the task at hand. I am not talking about and MD who must go to school to be a doctor, of course that certification matters. I am talking about above and beyond that necessary schooling.

Since I’m in HR, lets take the PHR/SPHR/GPHR as an example. It is fairly common for HR professionals to seek one of these certifications. As it was presented to me when a former boss stated I needed to obtain one, “passing the certification demonstrates that you have the standardized knowledge that HR professionals should have.”

I kind of think I had it before, but I digress.

Still, especially in our profession this certification is now sought after by companies. It is uncommon to see a job posting for an HR role that does not ask for a certification.

The HR certifications are standardized and do represent the body of knowledge an HR professional should have. The price to obtain and maintain is not unreasonable but does ensure that an individual maintain their knowledge through a variety of different activities.

If you are an HR professional and you ask me if you should get a certification I will say yes. Not because I think it makes you a better HR person, but because it has become common place and companies now see it as a basic requirement.

On the flip side, there are certifications that may seem important but when put into perspective really do not matter at all. LinkedIn recent certification program is a prime example. Tim Sackett asked the question about whether that certification was a scam so I won’t rehash why it may not be worth your time. Read his post, it’s good.

So here’s the test.

If the certification truly covers the entire body of knowledge, is reasonable to maintain and it is known enough outside of the profession to be sought after by companies then it may be worth acquiring. If it doesn’t meet that criteria, then what can it really help?

I want to be clear about this however. [Tweet “Your time should be spent building a body of work that demonstrates what you have and can do.”] If a certification fits well into that, then it’s worth it. If it doesn’t, then focus your attention on places that do.

What do you think? Do certifications matter?

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3 thoughts on “Do Certifications Matter?

  1. I think you are right Sabrina. A certification is only useful if it encompasses the breadth of knowledge and is known outside the profession. Otherwise it is just something to brag about where people of the same profession gather.
    Here in the UK we have the CIPD for the main accreditation of HR pros but I know some senior professionals who have never been a member and have never been hampered by not having the piece of paper to say they know HR.

    • The same happens here James. People without HR certification seem to fair just fine in their profession, but it is nationally known and certainly doesn’t hurt to have it.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. All certificates at the end of the day are somewhat of a “scam”. However, it is proof that holding these certificates (PHR, SPHR, GPHR, PHD., BS, MBA, etc) all help in expanding the individuals ability quality of positions available. That does not mean compensation will increase in correlation with the money spent on each certificate.

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