I recently read an article on careers and education which asked an interesting question – “do any of these [career certifications in a particular trade, skill or software program] make a real difference in a job application?”
On the surface this question had some great merit. My initial thoughts were, “Great question. Of course they do! People need advanced training and knowledge in order to operate at a high level.”
As I continued to read on a perplexing question of my own began to form which gave me an interesting perspective on the article I was reading. “Does this article, which talks about the importance of choosing the right professional certification, entirely miss the bigger picture?”
Survey says - Yes, I believe the article misses the bigger picture!
I’m a strong proponent character will always trump competency. Why? You can’t teach character, but you can teach competency all day long. Similar to application versus theory. Application [the ability to apply yourself] in my opinion is a much more vital characteristic for most professionals than theory [an academic or textbook understanding of something] alone. Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of engineers spanning pretty much every discipline there is in the world of product development and product manufacturing. To do this day I’ve yet to find one person who excelled in their career with a heavy doze of competency and theory yet was lost on the character and application side of things.
So what’s the point?
The article mentioned above fails to see the bigger picture. Yes, professional certifications such as CQE, EIT, PMP, PE, Six Sigma, Certified Auditor and Lean, all have their place. They give their newly found owners a badge of honor which can be used to gain new opportunities and win career advancements.
What a certification doesn’t help us with is being good at our job or keeping that job, for that matter. Technical certifications don’t teach you how to necessarily be a better professional, or human being for that matter. They don’t teach you how to communicate thoroughly and fully, and they certainly don’t teach you how to be a good team player, one that is flexible and capable of adapting to each situation.
The reason certifications can’t offer this is because that’s not their MO. Communication, thoughtfulness, being a team player, etc. these are all personality characteristics which can’t be studied from a textbook. One may surmise that these characteristics can be learned on the job or through a mentor, yet I will tell you in my experience you either have it or you don’t. Most people by the time they’ve become a young adult and landed in their profession did so with a personality and set of characteristics which were long set in stone. Changing them, well let’s just say walking on water might be an easier feat to pull off.
Key Take Away:
Before you consider getting a certification make sure go beyond asking yourself the standard questions of, “do any of these [certifications] make a real difference in a job application?” Ask yourself, “if I get this certification can I raise to the occasion professionally to really make it worth my time?” It’s a tough question to ask of oneself. Most won’t be able to do so, and answer honestly, yet those who can may find they save themselves in a position either saving a lot of money and time or taking hold of an opportunity to elevate oneself to the next level.
If you’ve done some reflection and still believe obtaining a certification is right for you and your profession seek out 2-3 professionals in your industry and specialty which have at least 20+ years in the business. Learn from them. Ask them what it takes to get to their level? What do they wish they had done differently? When they are hiring new employees, what are the key things they look for in the A+ candidate. Once you get done with your little industry Q&A you’ll have a better appreciation for what’s actually needed and what’s more of a nice to have.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.