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Career Advancement through Certification Programs


Certification programs are often lumped in with higher education options but a certificate is not an academic degree. A certificate is professional qualification, proof that individuals are knowledgeable and proficient in a specialized skill, trade, or profession according to standardized requirements. Standards are regulated by accredited professional organizations or associations. In some professions, certification is required for employment, similar to licensure. Licensure, however, is a legal requirement for certain professions and is regulated by the government via state agencies, primarily to ensure public safety. Registration is another form of regulation, requiring professionals to file and comply with regulatory agencies.

In many professions, certification isn't required but voluntary, a career tool, one that defines and affirms your abilities, one that allows you portability in the field, and one that can lend you a competitive edge in the workplace. Expertise and experience can be subjective, relative to the places you have worked and how your jobs functioned within individual workplaces. Certification is an objective declaration of your credentials, particularly helpful for employers that are unfamiliar with the context of your experience.

Specialization is often key to certification programs. While professionals may have earned academic degrees that prepared them for entrance into an industry or practice of a certain occupation, professional mobility and advancement is dependent on job-related expertise and discrete skill sets. An entire subset of certification is product-specific. Information technology is a field rife with certificate programs. IT professionals are pursuing certification in hardware or software specialties.

According to Quint Careers and the Career Masters Institute, certification is increasing in visibility and number in a few particular fields: Information Technology, Financial Management & Planning, Safety, Healthcare, Human Resources, Hospitality, Internal Auditing, Manufacturing, Homeland Security, Training & Instructional Design, Automotive, Administrative, Project Management, Fitness Training, and Real Estate.

Certification Program Basics

Make sure that you choose a program that is accredited within your industry. Your human resources manager may be able to provide guidance. Professional association and organization websites provide extensive resources and links to help direct you to accredited programs. The Institute for Credentialing Excellence has a helpful index of accredited certification programs.

  • Pay close attention to prerequisite requirements. Enrollment in certificate programs may require a prerequisite academic degree, workplace experience or achievement, letters of recommendation, or other requirements unique to your profession.
  • Certification programs typically prepare students for national credentials exams. Know how and when exams are administered, if there are fees attached to exams, and whether you can retake exams in the case of poor performance.
  • In many professions, certification needs to be renewed after a certain amount of years, and renewal may require education upkeep.
  • Different programs come with different costs and fees. Comparison shop, not for a bargain but for value: the elements and benefits of a program should match the price.
  • Certification should directly correspond to your career. The cost and effort you put into a certificate program should be useful and resonant. Ask yourself if certification is a redundant effort, if it is a vanity effort, if it is a misdirected effort, or if it genuinely offers you a professional advantage.
  • Consider consulting your employer about financial assistance. Many companies have tuition reimbursement programs and even those that don't may be amenable to funding certification programs that directly boost employee expertise and job-related skills.
  • Certain professions lend themselves to online education. Online certification programs can provide the necessary flexibility for full-time professionals.
  • The Guide to National Professional Certification Programs, Phillip A. Barnhart, HRD Press, 1997
  • "Help & FAQ's: Certification Finder", Career OneStop (
  • "Certifiably Empowering: Hot Fields in Which Certification May Boost Your Career", Katharine Hansen, (
  • "Five Certification Mistakes You Don't Have To Make", GoCertify Staff (

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