Combat resume and certification inflation

Resume inflation is rampant. Even worse, hardly anyone's confirming that employees have earned the IT certifications they claim to hold. Fortunately, you can help. Learn how in this week's IT Certification Corner.

A recent Certification Magazine article by Martin Bean suggests that only 2 to 5 percent of IT certifications are verified. In other words, while IT professionals like you regularly invest hundreds of hours and often thousands of dollars to earn certification, no one’s confirming that certifications are actually earned. Nothing is stopping a candidate, such as the one who will compete with you for your next job, from fraudulently listing an extra MCSE or CCNP on his or her resume.

Take no comfort from the common mistake industry professionals make when they tell themselves, “Oh, those who lie on their resumes will reveal themselves soon enough by making mistakes.” You’ll still have lost out on the position. The financial value of your credential will be lessened. These wannabes, as Bean calls them, will have adversely affected your reputation as a certified professional.

Nobody is checking credentials
No one has ever verified my official Microsoft or CompTIA IDs. Nor has anyone ever asked to view my actual exam reports or transcripts.

Granted, any enterprising IT professional could easily counterfeit the paper certifications vendors provide. Still, it would be nice to be asked. I expect my employers and publisher never wanted to anger me by asking for proof, thereby suggesting I might be lying. Unfortunately, recent news reveals resume inflation is a very real issue.

When a respected university like Notre Dame experiences such an embarrassing resume inflation fiasco, as it did in December 2001, you know the problem is epidemic. I found myself asking how a coach could win the most prestigious post in college football with a fake resume. What I discovered is that Notre Dame is, by no stretch, the only victim.

The problem is rampant
In a Washington Post article at the end of December, Kenneth Bredemeier noted that other prominent figures, including a U.S. senator, have inflated their accomplishments. The article said that Charles Ford, author of Lies! Lies!! Lies!!! The Psychology of Deceit, believes that "'at least a third' of job candidates embellish their resumes."

If highly prominent figures are falsifying resumes, it’s a sure bet in my mind that scores of unknown IT professionals are too. Every time an individual falsely claims an IT certification, those who are certified pay the price.

Certifications demonstrate that an individual has proven that he or she has the skills and expertise necessary to pass an organization- or vendor-sponsored examination. Such exams typically test fundamentals, but in some cases, they also require advanced skills.

Whenever uncertified employees or candidates claim an accreditation and make mistakes on the job, regardless of the nature of the error, the value of the certification will be lessened in the minds of employers and colleagues. And employers who see less value in a certification will be less inclined to pay higher salaries to those professionals with the certification. Thus, individuals who falsely claim accreditation are the certified IT professional’s enemy.

Whistleblowers and tattletales may not be very well respected, but exposing individuals who make fraudulent certification claims is a justifiable selfish act. It’s self-preservation for those who have made the investment in certification.

Preventive measures
What can you do to help? When you hire a candidate claiming to have an IT certification, ask to see a transcript. Make a copy and include it in the individual’s personnel file. When you apply for a new position, include a copy of your certification transcript with your resume and cover letter. When you accept a new position or earn a new certification, make sure that your employer receives a copy of the updated transcript.

While they aren’t foolproof methods for helping preserve the value of IT certifications, these steps will remind others to check transcripts. Plus, it’s much more likely frauds will be exposed as a result of even these rudimentary steps.

Eckel’s take
Your resume should be bulletproof. Leave no room for misinterpretation.

Take my resume as an example. I’m a Windows 2000 MCP. I don’t want anyone to see my MCP+I and MCSE on Windows NT 4.0 certifications and believe they’re Windows 2000 accreditations. My resume individually lists each exam I’ve taken to ensure that there’s no misunderstanding.

New MCP logo usage guidelines are already in effect, but there’s still some uncertainty involving text statements, such as those you’ll find in bylines and e-mail signatures. Watch for an IT Certification Corner that tackles correct text statements in the near future.

Meanwhile, there’s no justifiable defense for an individual making false certification claims on a resume, job application, or anywhere else. Either you’ve earned a certification or you haven’t. Those who falsely claim certification deserve what they get—which should be nothing.

What do you think about this problem?
We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Post a comment or a question about this article.


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