CXO

Certifications: The CIO perspective

Certifications are among the hottest topics around the water cooler. As a CIO, here's what you need to know to lead your management staff in the right direction when it comes to the certification craze.


“Training” is a sacred word these days. Anyone pursuing an IT career knows that relentless training and education can yield essential assets that will not only keep IT workers employed but ahead of the pack as well.

So how do they do that? By being current with the hot technologies.

But the real question for CIOs is how can you ensure that the people your managers are hiring and retaining are as current as they need to be? The ins and outs of the certification process are constantly changing, making it increasingly difficult for you to direct your staff in successful hiring and retaining procedures.

But while certifications morph and their values change, there are a few standards that you should share with your managers as you try to achieve that “fully-staffed” nirvana at your enterprise. Here’s what you need to know about job candidates, their credentials and the realities of using certs as a retaining mechanism.

Certification: A one-step ladder to success?
Despite the hard work and money that so many IT workers are putting into the certification process, the sobering reality is that a string of certifications behind a person’s name doesn’t guarantee them a job.

“I have never met anyone who got a job because he/she was certified,” said Dennis Scheil, chief technologist at Parsippany, NJ-based computer consulting company Delta College Corporate Services. “Certification is seldom the deciding factor for getting a job.”

Certification is simply a credential proving you know something, says Scheil. And, not all certifications carry the same weight.

Scheil should know. He used to run a training program for Delta College and boasts more certification-related acronyms after his name than most techies compile in a lifetime. Jokingly, he says he’s also tacked “CAC” after his name for “Certified Acronym Collector.”

The 45-year-old techie has obtained several certifications: MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer), MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer), CNE (Certified Novell Engineer), OS/2 Certification, CLSE (Certified Land Server Engineer), CNP (Certified Network Professional), and Citrix Certification.

“The CNE used to be hot,” says Scheil. “The CNE meant something five years ago,” Scheil said. “But then Novell watered down the exam to make it easier to pass so more people could be shoved through the system.”

Microsoft was accused of doing the same thing with the MCSE certification program.

“When companies like Microsoft roll out a new product like Windows NT or Windows 2000, one concern is having enough trained people who understand the software. The more certified people out there, the better it is for the software vendor,” Scheil said.

It’s conjecture whether Microsoft’s tests have been watered down. Still, Scheil endorses certification when coupled with experience.

“Certification plus work experience carries a powerful message to employers,” he said. “It’s proof you’re concerned about your professional development and you’re committed to the industry. It sounds trite, but it’s true.

“If you don’t have a lot of experience, preparing for the certification exam is going to make you work hard,” Scheil said. “It will force you to read and take classes. In the end, you’ll be more well-rounded and motivated to get some work experience.”

That’s the type of person your managers should be looking to hire. So as your managers pour over the resume pile, the initials behind applicants’ names should be recognized but not given more than their due. Without work experience, the certs won’t give you any guarantee that the person you’re hiring is going to make the most of the opportunity.
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The real cost of certification
If your business is considering paying for certification training as a retaining method or perk, be prepared to make an investment. While prices on certification vary dramatically, an MCSE program can cost between $5,000 and $12,000.

But be wary of bargains. Ensure that your managers remember why you’re making the investment in your IT staff’s skills. You want these employees to develop expertise with the systems, not just add a certification to their resumes.

“The low-cost training providers tend to use semi-qualified trainers who basically read you the training book for three or four weeks,” Scheil said.

Also be prepared for less obvious costs. These could include an employee’s time away from work for class or studying, the likely chance that that employee will want (and deserve) a raise upon cert completion, and the possibility that this employee might want to move on to “greener” pastures with that training under his or her belt.

If the retaining effort includes certification, make sure that this effort also extends to post-certification, so those employees can develop all the skill sets you need them to possess. That way you’ll reap as much reward from the cert process as your employees have.
How much weight does your company give certifications during the hiring process? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail to let us know.

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