The IT Consultant community seems clearly divided into two camps when it comes to the value of certifications: the haves and the have-nots. The “haves” are folks with certifications, some with experience and others fresh out of school or certification boot camp. The “have-nots” are, for the most part, experienced consultants without the time or inclination to “prove” their level of skill.

TechRepublic community editor Paul Baldwin asked the question, “Do certifications offer consultants a benefit over noncertified consultants?” in a discussion post. The responses that followed seem to indicate that the answer is “It depends on your perspective.”

Regardless of which side consultants take in this debate, it seemed everyone who responded to this discussion has a passionate viewpoint on this controversial topic. We’ve gathered the best of the responses for you to peruse. If you feel like you need to be heard on this issue, you may join the discussion but be ready to defend your point of view!

I have it, and it’s done me no good
Member Anne Marigold is a multicertified professional who worked as a contractor for five years and now has a permanent position. She said she never found any of her certifications to have “the slightest benefit in terms of gaining jobs or promotions or increased pay. I may as well have saved my energies—and some of them were quite hard work!” she said.

Charliebruno, who earned his MCSD sixteen months ago, said it hasn’t “done much of anything” for his career. With 30 years in IT and extensive mainframe experience, he said his certification was just “window dressing.”

Certifications can make you more credible
TechRepublic polled its IT Consultant audience in June 2001 to find out how many technical certifications most members held. The vast majority held between one and four certifications (see Figure A).

Figure A

Member D. Brock said, “Certification can be a shorthand for indicating a commitment to knowing your trade.” Many companies require certifications along with experience because certifications are easier to verify than experience. “Anyone can put down that they were the network engineer for Joe’s Co. when Joe was their father’s best friend, and the company closed down years ago,” he explained.

TechRepublic member Joe Scholz is president of his own consulting firm, EIC Services, in Phoenix. After five years in the IT industry, he believes clients request certifications for “a ‘CYA’ reason.” He said that if a consultant is hired and fails, the fact that he or she is certified is a great excuse as to why they were hired. “If that same consultant were not certified, the hiring agent would probably be blamed for not hiring someone with certification,” Scholz said.

Certifications help you get your foot in the door
D. Brock said he recently decided to get his MCP and CCNA certifications. After he added them to his resume, a “funny thing happened,” he said. “I started to get more recruitment calls and for better money….” He said he thinks the certifications helped him get his foot in the door.

TechRepublic member Darrel Green said that certifications add legitimacy to your resume. “When you use your certification to back up your experience, you look credible—it looks intelligent,” he wrote.

While Green said he had no certifications, he did admit to some aspirations. He said he’s been doing MCSE and MCDBA work, has learned UNIX, Linux, and Citrix, and may bring it all together with a project management or Cisco certification.

Member Nybronxgal, who has no certifications, said that new clients usually inquire about her certification status. “It seems fine for potential clients when they receive word-of-mouth referrals, but gaining new clients is difficult,” she said. However, when she tells the potential clients that her rates would be higher if she were certified, “they seem to change their tune.”

Certifications offer value to the entire organization
Bstephens said certifications are valuable to the entire company, not just to the individual. As a company owner, he requires his new employees to pursue certifications to “provide the best service possible” to his clients. While he said there is no substitute for experience, he said the certification track usually “forces you to explore areas in which you do not have experience.”

Ron McDonald, who regularly hires consultants and full-time employees, said he values the paper candidates bring to the table. “I do realize they may not always be competent, but they at least understand theory.” McDonald said certifications are mandatory for consultants he hires, but that his company allows employees to “grow on the job.”

The benefit of remaining neutral
Member Rich Le Sesne brought an interesting twist to the certification discussion. He said that certifications are a “public formal affinity with a particular vendor or technology.” If you’re a management consultant supporting CIO-level executives, “this is definitely a hindrance,” he said.

“Good advisors to decision makers are expected to at least have a semblance that they are totally vendor- and technology-unbiased, so flashing or bragging about a certification will definitely hinder you. Project Management Institute (PMI) is the only exception to that rule that I’m aware of.”

Have you pursued a vendor-specific certification?

As a consultant, have you pursued vendor-specific certification, or have you avoided that route? Tell us: Is vendor-specific certification the best choice for consultants? Send us an e-mail or post your comments below.