By Mark Feffer
Employers like certifications for a lot of reasons: They document your expertise in a particular technology or business process, they demonstrate a commitment to IT, and they show that you take your professional development seriously.
These credentials are a big part of the IT job landscape: Some 84 percent of technology professionals in the U.S. and EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) believe technical training is either very or extremely valuable, according to a study undertaken by the IT networking organization Spiceworks for the training company New Horizons. Most believe that training can improve job opportunities and increase salaries.
At the same time, more than a third -- 39 percent -- said that their employers place limited to no value on training, and 54 percent said they would pay for at least some of their courses out of their own pockets.
Those costs aren't trivial. Course fees can range into the thousands of dollars, and many programs require a commitment of days or weeks.
Are certifications worth the time and expense? Unfortunately, the answer's not a simple yes or no. Much depends upon the skills you've got and the employer's needs.
Tech employers regularly complain about a "skills gap" that has them scrambling to find professionals for roles in big data, programming and development, and security. If you're looking to work with a technology that's in high demand, a certification certainly demonstrates your basic competency. And at a time when many professionals may be pursuing work in a hot area, the right credentials can set you apart from other candidates.
But often, employers place a premium on experience. While certifications show an understanding of a technology, having one doesn't automatically correlate to putting theory into practice. At the end of the day, many employers believe that nothing beats real world results when it comes to demonstrating your proficiency.
The decision of whether or not to pursue a certification, then, depends on a number of factors related to your career path, the technology, and the job market. Ask yourself:
Certifications can burnish your resume and help prove your skills. But before committing to the time and expense of earning a credential, be sure you understand how employers view it, and just how much it can help you succeed along your desired career path.
Mark Feffer has written, edited, and produced hundreds of articles on careers, personal finance and technology for leading business and career sites. He is currently writing for JobsinME.com, JobsinRI.com, JobsinVT.com and JobsinNH.com, the top local resources for job seekers, employers, and recruiters in New England.