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Everything You Wanted to Know About Professional Certification, but Didn’t Know to Ask

APICS Senior Director, Professional Development

Tuesday January 8, 2019

Many individuals who already have an undergraduate degree may wonder why they should pursue a professional certificate. A degree, as important as it is, does not guarantee a future employer that you know how to apply this knowledge on the job. For example, medical students are not sent out into the profession after earning their bachelor’s degrees. They must complete additional years of medical school, clinical rotations, an internship and medical residency. And then they must obtain a license to practice medicine. The undergraduate education was a prerequisite, but the practical experience prepared them to become a licensed physician.

If the undergraduate degree gets you in the door when you are looking for a job, what will get you the job and keep you there? The answer: convincing a company that you can bring it value, that you know how to do the job, or that you have great potential to learn how to do the job quickly.

Your profession and the workplace will continue to change, and that requires you to adapt and change with it. … Technology, process improvement and automation, and globalization have all changed the workplace dramatically, from new competitors to new markets to new products and services as well as an increase in diversity within companies, suppliers and customers. Most significantly, companies are driving the need for us to continually upgrade our skills and knowledge as they compete in a more global, technologically intense business environment with an emphasis on frictionless service and faster delivery times.

You need to take action — no one else can do that for you. If the world is changing and you stand still, you will continually drop further behind. You need to actively keep learning just to stay in the same spot.

One way to keep learning is by earning and maintaining a professional certification.

What is a professional certification?

Professional certification is a type of credentialing that provides an independent assessment of the knowledge, skills or competencies required for competent performance of an occupational or professional role. Professional certification is intended to measure or enhance continued competence through recertification or renewal requirements.

Credentialing is a process whereby a third party with authoritative power establishes qualifications that assess a professional’s ability to meet predetermined and standardized criteria. Holding a credential is evidence that demonstrates an individual’s competency and capability in a given field. It also establishes to the community that the person is competent and properly trained to carry out his responsibilities.

Professional certifications are developed by nonprofit professional associations based on rigorous investigation of the competencies specific professionals need and the tasks they perform. The purpose is to validate the participant’s competency to a standardized body of knowledge. There is no legal requirement for a professional to earn the certification to practice in the profession and no regulatory oversight. Professional certifications are nongovernmental, voluntary employment qualifications.

Certifications often require some education or experience as prerequisites to taking a certification exam, but [they] do not require the candidate to take a specific course or use certain exam preparation materials to be eligible to take the exam. Candidates are free to prepare — or not — for a certification exam in any way they choose.

Competency is tested through psychometrically validated exams; this means a psychometrician (a statistician who specializes in assessment exams) and subject matter experts review each test question to determine that they are appropriate. Postnominal acronyms are awarded for successful exam completion, and certifications do require maintenance.

Although not required for participants, most professional associations offer exam preparation materials and classes. In most certification programs, the association has different entities preparing the exams and the courseware, and neither entity reviews the other’s work. Both look to the content outline prepared for that certification. The certification exam doesn’t test the courseware, and the courseware doesn’t teach to the exam.

Whose responsibility?

Looking to others to take responsibility for your career growth is looking for help in all the wrong places. Regardless of whether your organization provides resources and opportunities, it is what you do that matters.

Take the advice of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: “Don’t be a know-it-all; be a learn-it-all.”

This blog post is excerpted from Bob Collins’ booklet, “Develop Your Career with a Professional Certification,” from the Association for Talent Development’s TD at Work. Learn more about this topic and read the entire booklet here. 

Copyright ATD, 2018. Original material published by the Association for Talent Development. Posted by APICS license dated December 1, 2018.


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