“It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” That old cliché may hold true in some circles, but in an increasingly competitive world, what you know still counts—a lot. When it comes to finding good jobs or promotions with an existing employer, proving that you’ve mastered specific skills can be an essential step.
That’s where certifications come in. When awarded by a reputable organization, these credentials show that you have mastered specific skills or knowledge. In fact, the combination of a college degree and one or more specific certifications can prove to be a great asset.
For example, almost every college student can perform basic computer tasks. But what if you’re able to show a potential employer that you’re skilled in specific areas such as using spreadsheets or other office applications? With certification as a Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS), you can offer proof of your skill. To become certified, you go to a designated testing center, take exams in one or more areas of the Microsoft office suite, and if you achieve the desired score, you’ll earn a certification recognized everywhere.
Some career areas have long included special certifications or licensures as standard for entering the field. Teaching and nursing (along with many other health professions) are among the most well known. For others, certifications are not always required but are preferred by many employers for entry-level employment (in welding, for instance). Or they may provide experienced employees with an avenue for advancement, as with human resource or fundraising professionals.
Certifications can also help you stand out when employers are looking at applicants with similar credentials. If someone else has a bachelor’s degree and you hold the same degree plus a certification or two, you may be more likely to land an interview.
How do you add certifications to your résumé? The first step is finding out what is available to you. Talk to professors. Check out your college’s career center. If the school has a testing center, determine what exams are available to you. Some will involve testing you on knowledge you have gained in your college studies. Others may require a separate training program that must be completed before testing.
You can find plenty of info about these credentials online too. Websites maintained by professional organizations related to your field of study may be your best bet. Keep in mind that certifications cover literally thousands of skill sets in areas across the employment spectrum. Whatever your educational background, especially in areas involving technical expertise, chances are that gaining some type of certification is a possibility.
One challenge with certifications is the cost. Even with nonprofit organizations, costs must be covered to underwrite the testing process. If this presents a problem, see if your college offers any financial support for students taking certification exams. Even if not, keep in mind that the potential payoff can far exceed any expense involved. These benefits may range from helping you land a great job to qualifying you for a salary increase once employed.
For some certifications, the requirements are extensive enough (requiring job experience as well as educational preparation) that they represent a future goal rather than an immediate possibility. But they can be great items to add to your long-range plans.
Others can be achieved in the short-term. Are you fluent in a foreign language? Qualified to administer first aid? Skilled in a specific information technology (IT) field? Really think about your skills and interests. Once you gain knowledge that can be applied in the workplace, documenting it through the certification process may be a no-brainer.