Certification is a word that’s frequently used as if it means one specific thing and we all understand and agree on what that is. But the fact is that certification is a very general topic that can and is applied in many different ways in different situations. So, the next time you talk or think about certification, here are a few things to keep in mind.
How high are the stakes? There’s “Certification” (with a capital “C”) and there’s “certification” (with a small “c”). Will becoming certified be a life-changing event or something nice to happen? High-stakes certification refers to the importance of the outcome to the person attempting certification. If you must become certified or you will lose your job, it’s a high-stakes certification. If nobody will really notice but you’ll feel good, it’s not high stakes.
High security or low security? Certification that requires you to prove who you are and that closely monitors the certification testing process is high security certification. Certification that allows you to take a test without validating your identity or without knowing whether you are using unauthorized resources to answer the questions is low security. High security typically requires some kind of proctor, though there also can be highly secure and not-so-secure proctoring.
Industry, company or product? This is the one that people are most likely to make assumptions about based on what certification means in their world. If you’re in IT, chances are that “certification” means getting industrywide credentials to validate your knowledge and experience in a specific language, technology or type of product. If you are a physician, it allows you to practice in a specialty area like cardiology or internal medicine and is bestowed by a specialty board. But it also could be a certification that your company provides to employees completing a course or series of courses. Or that a company allows customers to attain to validate their expertise in installing or maintaining the company’s products.
Knowledge, skills or experience? Some certifications require you just to pass a written exam to become certified. These are knowledge-based. Some also require you to prove you have the skills to do something with the knowledge, while others require that you have a certain level of experience (such as five or more years in the industry). One isn’t better than the other. It depends on the field and what the certification is intended to mean.
Do you have a certificate or a certification? Most often you get a certificate for completing a class. Sometimes it just validates that you attended, and sometimes it indicates that you attended and were able to pass a test about what you learned. In higher education a certificate is given for completing a group of classes on a particular topic. It’s sort of a mini-diploma. Becoming certified typically means that you’ve passed an exam or series of exams on a body of knowledge that’s broader than an individual course, and it can sometimes require validation of skills and experience in the discipline. Certification often is time-limited and requires periodic testing or verification that you are keeping your knowledge and skills current through continuing education in the field.
Who can certify? Anybody who wants to. There’s nothing that keeps an agency, association, company or even an individual from becoming a certifying body. However, the higher the stakes the more important it is that the certifier is independent, credible and fair. Governmental agencies and trade/professional associations are typically seen as the most valid certifying bodies, but companies like Microsoft and Cisco have become authoritative and credible in their fields.
Why not certify your customers? Does it take some knowledge, skill and experience to install, administer or maintain the equipment, software or processes your company sells? Then why not offer certification? It can be a huge win-win. Professionals with deep experience in your product or service win because they’re recognized and credentialed for their knowledge and skills. The industry wins because there’s an objective standard for hiring and promoting. And you win because your authority and stature rise. And your product or service becomes stickier because more, higher quality professionals working with it increase the likelihood that customers get all of the benefits you designed in. This is your million dollar idea.
Can you expand this into a conversation about certification? We want to hear your experience, ideas, and questions.