Will a certification “do something” for me?

If you’re asking this question you’re thinking about skill certification, and education in general, incorrectly.  Certifications and college degrees do not “do something” for you on their own.  Your professional education is just one aspect of your overall portfolio, and you should be working towards improving all aspects regularly.

When an HR professional or hiring manager looks at your resumè, they are looking for very specific things.  Your resumè must anticipate what the employer is looking for and address it.  Every job is different, but here are some items that HR managers typically look at.

  1. Qualifications – The first thing employers want to know is if you’re qualified for the job task they are hiring for.  After all, there’s no sense in interviewing someone if they can’t reasonably perform the tasks of the job.  Qualification review is usually broken down into two areas:

    1. Experience – Have you ever done this job before?  If so, for how long?  Employers want to see that you’ve done a similar job before and that you were successful in that job.  The best place to showcase this is either in a small write-up under your job history or on the resumés cover page.

    2. Education – Today’s job market is competitive.  While many jobs may not require a degree or certification, those that have them will have a strong advantage over someone who doesn’t.  Employers want to hire the best, and education is one of the best ways to separate the skilled from the unskilled.

  2. Fit – If you make it past the initial qualification review, the hiring manager will then look to see if you fit within the organization.  What does this mean?  It varies for every company, but they’ll look to see if your personality and work ethic match the company culture.  This is why employers ask questions like “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” and “Tell me about your last job.”  What they are really trying to determine is how you’ll act and perform once employed by them.  Job-fit is a little harder to prepare for because every organization is different.  Some of the things companies look at include:

    1. Dependability – Will you show up for work on a regular basis?  Will you work hard at the position you’re hired for?  Employers want to know they are hiring someone who is motivated and willing to do what is necessary to complete tasks on time and on budget.

    2. Teamwork – You’ll need to work with other people and departments in almost every job.  These may be external customers or internal stakeholders.  Either way, your ability to work with others on a team is vital.

    3. Confident, but willing to listen & learn – Confidence during your interview lets employers know you believe in yourself.  This is your one opportunity to show the hiring manager you have the confidence to get the job done.  The difference between confidence and arrogance is the ability to listen and learn.  Are you open to constructive criticism, or do you get defensive?

    4. Honest – This is a big one because honesty is critical to the success of an organization.  It reflects on your ethical decision making.  It is difficult to measure, which is why managers look closely for inconsistencies in your work history and experience.

  3. Tailored resumé – Did you submit the same resumé to 25 different companies?  Don’t be surprised when you don’t receive a callback.  Employers want to know you took the time to understand the job you’re applying for and are interested in the position.  These means going through the job listing and addressing the specific job requirements.  Use the same wording from the job posting on your resumè because those are the exact skills the company is looking for.  Think of the job posting as a roadmap.

  4. What are you like outside of work – This is an important element that many people often overlook.  How you act outside of work may be just as important as how you carry yourself in the office.  Many managers now look at your social media profile as part of the hiring process.  They will also look to see if you volunteer or do extracurricular activities outside of work.  This all comes back to the “fit” we discussed earlier.

Certifications and college degrees can only do something for you if you’re actively improving your complete employment portfolio.  The people who have the best understanding of this will be the most successful when it comes to finding new opportunities.