Have you ever wondered if earning a certification in addition to your college degree could help you get ahead in your career? A certification, which is conferred by a governing body, serves as confirmation that you have expertise and credibility on a specific subject — and for some, it can be a career booster.
Jeffrey Coa ’17, ’19, who works as an information security systems officer at Northrop Grumman Corporation in Maryland, has found that to be the case. Although he earned two undergraduate degrees in computer science, he also holds an impressive nine professional certifications. Why?
“[Earning a certification] shows a certain level of expertise in a particular area, as well as a commitment to continued learning,” he asserts.
Ann Martin, career advising specialist in UMUC’s Office of Career Services and Alumni Relations, agrees that certifications can be valuable. “A certification documents your knowledge,” she says. “It provides proof that you have acquired a certain level of knowledge and expertise.”
To get certified or not?
Just about every field has certifications, but that doesn’t mean they are right for everyone.
“I think the trick is knowing which ones are going to be beneficial,” advises Martin. “You want to be judicious and thoughtful about which ones you pursue.”
That means doing your research. Reach out to other professionals within your field or industry to see which certifications — if any — have been valuable to them in their careers. You can also study online job listings to see which certifications are either required or preferred for positions you aspire to hold. You will begin to see trends of what employers are looking for.
“Some certifications have become so important that they are actually mandated for various types of federal or military contracts,” notes Martin. “People without the required certification would not be eligible for hire no matter what academic credentials they possess.”
And when you do go through the extra effort and expense of getting certified, it may be rewarded by employers looking for the proof of expertise that certifications represent.
“For employees, it might mean more opportunities or a higher salary,” adds Martin. “For some, it may mean the difference between having a job and not having one.”
In some fields like IT, certifications are par for the course. Coa decided to pursue multiple certifications to prepare himself for career advancement and to give himself an advantage over the competition.
Martin agrees that Coa’s approach is a good course of action when certifications make sense for your professional goals and you’ve done your research about what employers want. “You want to be aware of what is important to your industry and prepare yourself for the types of opportunities you want,” she says.
Active professionals are often members of professional associations and industry organizations, and that’s exactly where you’ll find many certifications being offered. You can research their offerings on their websites to learn more about specific certifications.
“You might also want to do some basic research on onetonline.org, a career exploration website run by the U.S. Department of Labor,” says Martin.
When you are considering a certification, it’s important to research any additional upkeep your certification may have in the future. “You may have to join a professional association with a yearly maintenance fee, and it’s likely you have to take continuing education units,” Martin cautions. Because of this long-term commitment, “You want to be judicious and thoughtful about which certifications you pursue.”
For his part, Coa is pleased with the impact his certifications have had on his career mobility. He says that his degrees and job experience are pretty common, and it can be hard to stand out in the crowd of job candidates when your resumes are so similar. “Certifications distinguish you from the others, when all other criteria are equal,” he concludes.
Interested in pursuing a certificate but have some questions? Visit CareerQuest to speak with a UMUC career advising specialist or to explore UMUC’s career tools and resources, which are available to assist you in all stages of your career. To speak with UMUC’s Office of Career Services, please call 240-684-2720 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.