CXO

Do certifications help IT consultants attract business?

If you think getting certified will bring in more IT consulting clients and convey that you're a subject matter expert, read why Chip Camden says it may be prudent to save your time and money.

 When you're looking for new business, you don't want anything to stand in your way. Best lay to rest in advance any objections your prospect might raise, and anything you can use to spruce up your resume has to help, right?

Many IT consultants look to technical certifications as a way to kill both birds with one stone. If you add four or five letters to your Web presence, you can just sit back and wait for the googlers to come flocking to give you their business. And any prospective client will assume that you have the goods since you passed the test(s). Let's examine these assumptions about the benefits of getting certifications.

Certifications as a marketing tool

It's difficult to collect data on whether certifications help IT pros land consulting gigs, but Gustavo Duarte recently analyzed job postings on Dice.com that mention specific vendor certifications. For most of the certifications he examined, less than one quarter of the relevant job postings mention certification. (The Certified Information Systems Security Professional, or CISSP, cert sticks out as an exception, but it's still in demand less than 40% of the time.)

Even if it's only a fraction of available business, why wouldn't you still want to attract that portion? Well, you have to weigh the potential costs. Not only will getting a certification take time and money, but it may even cost you some business. Depending on your type of work, there are lots of ways that a certification may be viewed as a negative by potential clients. Here are a few examples of how they may interpret your certification:

Certifications as a guarantee of knowledge

A prospective client might view your certs as a type of insurance; you must know what you're talking about in this area because the Almighty Vendor says you do. The degree to which that is true and relevant has a lot do with the subject matter and the test. For instance, perhaps the demand for the CISSP correlates to the importance of good basic security practices. According to Duarte, the test itself isn't hard enough to act as a good filter, and a large part of what is tested (regardless of the subject matter) is actually your ability to take standardized tests.

Even if a certification succeeds in screening for a certain base level of competency, how does that benefit a consultant? Isn't that like asking to see someone's high school diploma at their doctoral dissertation? If you're a consultant and you're not getting kicked off of every gig you take, a potential client should presume that you have a fairly thorough knowledge about your field. When you're meeting with a prospect, I recommend that you talk about the things you've created rather than all the things you should know by default.

Should IT consultants bother getting certs?

I'm not suggesting that you won't learn anything from getting certified; I always learn something from anything I study — even if it's a children's book. The real question is: Will certifications help you build your IT consulting business? The answer depends on the type of prospects you're seeking.

If a prospect requires certain certifications, you should consider the motivations behind their demands and ask yourself whether this client is a good match for your business.

What's your experience with certifications?

Certification is a hot topic among TechRepublic members, so let's hear from you. If you have certifications, which ones do you have, and do they help you attract new business? If not, why have you opted not to get certified?

Related TechRepublic resources

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About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

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