Certification vs. Experience vs. Degree

Posted by Josh on August 8, 2012 in Review, Security |

Something that comes up often both when organizations are looking to hire a new IT professional as well as within the circle of IT pro’s themselves is how do certifications, experience and an IT related degree stack up against each other.   Long time IT folks tend to have the view that experience trumps and often makes up for lack of a certification or a degree,  while HR departments tend to focus in on having a degree and certification more than years of experience.

Let us look at each on an individual basis:

Certification – This is a huge benchmark for IT professionals, especially those affiliated with the Department of Defense, which requires specific certifications based on position and administrative privileges.  The basic idea behind certification is that a neutral third-party is validating that an individual has a specific set of skill or knowledge.  Employer’s love this because, to the HR departments, it can ease “vetting” an IT professional’s skills by non-IT managers.   Almost all major certifications now require either periodic re-examination or a specific number of “continuing educations” credits within a specific period normally linked to the re-examination period.   The major drawback to certifications is the abuse of the system by use of “brain dumps” by individuals who do not have the actual skills but simply memorize a list of likely questions on the exam to earn a passing score. 

Experience- IT professionals LOVE to see experience on resumes!  This is especially true when that experience listing is detailed and lists the various equipment, operating systems, network environment, and etcetera.   While this is great for the IT folks, it tends to read like a bunch of scrambled letters to those hiring officials that do not have an IT background.  When talking about experience, as with any profession, there is the possibility of individuals over-stating their actual experience with the hope that no one is going to be actually checking.  That is bad for everyone.  The Company does not hire the right person and the IT pro might end up in a job that is over their head.

Degree(s) – Degrees are a bit of a mixed bag.  “It depends” comes to mind as it really does vary based on the Major and even the school on how much they actually prepare you to work in the IT field.  Some schools are very intense on the “hands on” practical application while others focus mostly on the “theory” of IT.   Why do HR departments love seeing a degree?  Sometimes a degree either is a requirement by law or based on the level of responsibility.  I had a friend who was an HR manager tell me that for his company, they looked at a degree as a benchmark for long-term project management.  The individual had a goal that was a multi-year project requiring a large degree of autonomy to complete with a plethora of variables to overcome including group based work.   If they can earn a degree, odds are they can handle a project.


Putting it all together, a good mix of all three areas is what every IT professional and HR department should be striving and looking for.  An IT pro with several years in the industry, multiple certifications and at least one degree within the IT realm is a safe bet that they are not just someone with a “paper” or “brain dump” certification, have the skills to not only do the technical work, but also be able to communicate clearly with their peers, subordinates and leaders.

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