According to the findings of a 2011 CompTIA survey carried out among IT hiring managers, more than 60 percent of those interviewed stated that they valued certifications highly and regarded certified individuals as candidates with a high degree of expertise. On the other hand, the findings from a 2012 survey conducted by Foote Partners indicate that non-certified but experienced IT employees continued to be paid more bonuses than their certified but less or inexperienced counterparts.
So, is there a tussle between IT certifications and real-world experience? Are IT hiring managers really divided into two opposing camps? The answer is actually more complex than a plain “yes” or a “no.” A hiring manager has to look beyond a certificate and delve deeper than the years of experience mentioned on a resumé to judge the worth of a potential employee. Both IT certifications and real-world experience reflect the worth of a candidate, but of entirely different kinds. The following discussion will help clarify the last statement.
Certification Shows Knowledge. Experience Shows Application
An IT certification is definitely the most convincing evidence of an individual’s knowledge and expertise in a particular domain. So, when you hire a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP), you can be certain that he knows about and can manage Microsoft-powered systems. You can also be reasonably sure that he is well versed in the Apache technology (his certificate, however, might not mention this detail) because the Web services by Microsoft are built on this platform. Badges, stamps and grades are almost like numbers; they give you a reasonably accurate picture of a candidate’s knowledge base.
But you cannot read into anything too much. Likewise, an IT certification does not reflect an individual’s ability to apply his knowledge in a practical setting. For instance, the modern-day IT workplace is an intensely deadline-driven and stressful world. Employees are not only expected to display their knowledge but also come up with innovative solutions at the drop of a hat. Now, it is only “experience,” as stated on a resume, which can convince you whether a candidate will be up for the challenges of the job.
Certification Shows Capability. Experience Shows Perseverance
There is nothing like an IT certification to prove the capability of a candidate. After all, he has pored over text books and rummaged through systems to acquire skills and knowledge and has undergone and passed an examination that has amply tested his comprehension levels. What more proof would an IT hiring manager need to be convinced of his capabilities as an employee?
But hiring managers look for more than capability in a candidate. They want to recruit a person who will not only bring his skills and knowledge to a project but is also doggedly determined to steer the project till its end. Perseverance is the key to bringing any project to a successful end and is a trait that a certification examination can hardly test. “Experience” is also easier to verify and is ample proof of a candidate’s staying power. It is verification that this person enjoys this type of work and has not chosen to pursue another avenue. You cannot really say that about someone who has not put in the time in the trenches yet.
Certification Shows Focus. Experience Shows Adaptability
There is a reason why more than 90 percent of the hiring managers interviewed during the 2010 Microsoft Certified Professional Program Satisfaction Study said that they value IT certifications highly when screening candidates. With increasing pressure to clamp down on attrition and recruit employees who can play a part in the growth of their organization, hiring managers are constantly on the lookout for potential workers who are not only skilled and knowledgeable but also can be relied upon to remain focused on their jobs. Nothing shows more focus towards a particular trade than a certification. After all, acquiring the certification has involved much investment in terms of time, money, and effort on the part of the candidate; the candidate could have instead chosen to invest his energies and resources in garnering real-world experience, a college degree in something else, or a certificate in another subject.
The world of technology is an ever-changing place where tools and technologies alter forms constantly and as a result, methodologies become obsolete almost instantaneously. The most prized employee in such a situation is one who is not only knowledgeable but is also able to adapt to the demands of a dynamic world. The latter indicates a willingness to learn new skills and even transform himself to meet the requirements of a changed workplace. A candidate with real-world experience is obviously someone who has survived similar situations and that he has sailed through them. This is ample testimony to their adaptability.
The above discussion clearly shows that hiring managers cannot rely solely on IT certifications or experience when scouting for the right candidate to fill a position. This is because the ideal employee, that is one who can be instrumental in the growth of an organization, needs to be someone who has the knowledge and also the ability to apply his learning in the real world to solve problems and/or innovate. He is someone who is focused and also has the willingness to rise up to the challenges of an evolving workplace.
Covering Both Ends
The IT certifications vs. work experience debate has been raging on for many years within hiring managers’ circles. But a search for the right employee has convinced most that it is now futile to debate this issue. (If you need further convincing, read 5 Reasons to Get Certified, an article I wrote previously.) And with IT jobs on the rise across multiple sectors of the economy and hiring managers under increasing pressure to recruit fast and recruit right, experienced professionals with relevant certifications will be the most successful.