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Certification Mistakes You Don't Have To Make, continued

Error: Failing To Ascertain A Certification's Practical Applications
A key part of selecting a certification is to research its practical value. Without doing this homework, you won't know the real-world value of the program. What the certification sponsor says may indicate that you've found the perfect match between your goals and a certification program, but that's only one part of the picture. And it's an understandably biased part.

On paper, the certification may appear to provide the perfect entree to that new technology you've been coveting. The curriculum looks sound, and your experience might even get an exam or two waived. But what do people who've been through it report? Has it helped them achieve what they intended? Did it fall short of what was promised? How do potential employers react to the certification? Do employers shrug their shoulders and say, "So what?" or nod approvingly?

The only way to answer these questions is to contact people who know something about the program and ask them. Potential sources include professionals who have earned the certification, career counselors, recruiters, and coworkers you trust. Seek them out online, through the certification sponsor, and/or through professional organizations you belong to. If your intention is to boost your position at your current place of employment, ask your boss what she thinks about it. Before committing to any certification program, gather as much independent information about it as you can. And continue until you're certain that the certification has practical value that is relevant to your expectations.

Error: Unrealistic Expectations
Speaking of expectations, what are yours? Do you anticipate that a significant career boost will result from gaining the certification of your choice? Are you planning on earning more money? Incrementing your level of expertise? Moving into a new specialty? Switching to a different (and better) job? If so, you've got lots of company.

All of these goals are, indeed, possible outcomes of certification. However, it's important to remember that certification isn't a guaranteed cure-all for what ails your career. If your boss is a jerk, getting certified won't change him. It may, however, enable you to find employment elsewhere with a boss who has more positive attributes. Or it might serve as an impetus to go independent and become your own boss. (Of course, if the boss is still a jerk, then what are you going to do?)

Similarly, the skills you add in the course of earning a network management certification will improve your ability to keep a large network up and running, but won't transform it into a stress-free job. And that network management certification won't do a thing for your Visual Basic programming bill rate or get you a date. So to avoid unnecessary disappointment, identify and assess your expectations first. Then line them up against what a particular certification has to offer.


It's What You Know
I think some computer professionals believe that these certifications alone will guarantee employment and command a high salary, overlooking the fact that the individual lacks significant work experience. This may be because of the salary surveys that say a person with 0 to 2 years experience with an MCSE, for example, can make $50,000. This is very attractive because that's without a four-year college degree. The Certified Novell Engineer certifications of past years showed that many people became certified engineers but lacked the basics of computer background and architecture, mainly hardware, and were unable to perform such basic tasks as component-level troubleshooting and repair. This has been a scar for computer certifications ever since.
Unfortunately, if you're sorely underqualified even though you're certified, that will probably come out in a painful interview with another engineer, or even worse, revealed on the job when you can't perform to expectations.
Cameron Brandon, MCSE, CNE, CNA, A+ Certified, MCPS/Internet Systems

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