CXO

Certifications aren't crucial to moving ahead

When it comes to career advancement, an IT manager's focus should be on boosting financial and project skill sets, not on tech certifications. Certs simply don't hold the same value for managers as they do for other IT pros.


Question
In the late 1990s, I'd had enough of my dead-end job, so I borrowed some money and took network administration classes full time for months. I had to quit my job to do so. Shortly after I finished, I got a job taking care of a network that paid double the salary of the job I quit. Since then I have doubled my salary again, and today I manage a large MIS department. I never did take the pesky tests to certify.

Now that the economy has taken a bad turn, I have had to lay off half my staff and am worried about my own future. Will having no certifications be the death of my career? I do have years of experience, and I have been thrown in the fire more than once, so I am confident that if I had to interview, I would do well. But would I get that first interview without any certifications on my resume?

Answer
Yours is a true IT success story and one that is typical of many current IT managers, because you started at the bottom and have worked your way well up the career ladder. However, you are at a disadvantage because you didn’t finish the course, so to speak, and take the tests. All is not lost, though, given the fact that you have been working as an MIS director for some time now.

I am going to give you some career advice that should help you further your career, but first let me give you some financial advice. Pare your expenses down to the bare minimum while you still have a job. (I will assume you’ll have to find another sometime.) Take the money you were spending on extras, such as health club memberships and premium cable, and save it. That way, you will be able to pay for job-related training or to sustain yourself through a few months of job hunting.

Now, let’s talk about the additional training that would be most effective for you at this point. Since you have been doing MIS management for at least three years, the majority of potential employers would not expect you to have current certifications. They will also assume that since you have been doing the job, you have all the necessary technical knowledge.

You may run into a company here or there that specifically requires certifications for its management team. Sometimes companies require these certifications because they think managers need to know as much as their staff, but that’s just not realistic in IT these days. You need to know enough to know if the work is doable, but you don’t need to know how to do it. That’s why you have a staff.

I have also seen it happen, once in a while, that a company requires a manager to be certified in key areas because the company keeps the staff on the lean side. They expect the managers to pitch in and help when projects get backed up. If you encounter this kind of company, stay well clear because this kind of behavior is a sign that the company is stingy to the bone.

Your career and any job search you may have to do in the next few months would substantially benefit from management skills training. At the top of my list for IT managers are any skills that have to do with getting a project done on time and on budget. So, project management, team building, and conflict management are on the list. You might even want to find time for a class or two in financial reporting for non-finance managers.

There are some certifications related to some of these areas, but mostly they are just concentrations of study.

Online resources
Here are a few online resources for getting started on certification programs and training:

You may also find some classes at your local community college, and some four-year colleges offer master’s degree level courses in these areas as well. You will not have to quit your day job to take any of this training. You will have to put in some hours during the weekends and at night. You might even be able to take some or all of the training online.

Make sure you put all these training classes on your resume even if they don’t lead to certification. Your resume needs to clearly communicate that you are a manager who knows how to get stuff done. This sounds like common sense because that’s what managers do, right? Well, no. Most managers just keep the fires burning at a low enough level that upper management doesn’t have to get involved. You need to be the best manager you can be, and the kind of training I’ve mentioned will help you achieve this goal.

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