Selling network certification: How to talk up your credentials to current and future employers

Network certification has its benefits, but certification alone no longer guarantees employment. In this tip, learn how to justify your credentials' value.

Network certification has its benefits, but certification alone no longer guarantees employment. In this tip, learn how to justify your credentials' value.

In the glory days of the late 1990s, all a networking professional needed to do to enhance his or her pay or employability was to get certified, especially in Microsoft or relevant CompTIA programs -- the future pretty much took care of itself. With certification in hand, if a tasty raise wasn't forthcoming, credentialed IT professionals could simply hit the job market with the expectation that their prior experience plus certification...

added up to more than their current position was worth. Alas, that heyday is over. Network certification still has its benefits, but those who earn such credentials must know how to position themselves properly to ensure satisfactory treatment during hiring, annual review, or promotion processes in order to maximize the returns on their certification investments.

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Cartoon: Earning certifications
What does this really mean, when it comes to writing a resume, getting a review, or competing for a promotion? It means knowing how to explain what a network certification is, what skills and knowledge it warrants, and what it enables you to do for a current or prospective employer that others who are not certified -- or sufficiently prepared to justify the value and worth of their credentials -- may not be able to match.

Explain the network certification

It's no longer the case that hiring managers or HR professionals keep up with the many networking-related certifications available (more than 180 in total, the last time we conducted a thorough survey of this field in 2005). They may not recognize that the MCITP represents the latest and greatest intermediate level IT certification from Microsoft (it stands for Microsoft Certified IT Professional). In turn, of course, this demands some explanation of the general fields of expertise involved, what they mean, what kinds of value they might add, and some notion of what the certification covers, at what level of detail and expertise, and so forth.

Here, the idea is to inform your audience, either verbally or in writing, about the subject matter and business value of your network certification. Fortunately, this is something the certification program sponsor or provider had to do to present the program in the first place, and this means you can draw heavily on existing materials to help provide your audience with that information as well.

Important skills and knowledge

Ultimately, obtaining a certification typically depends on passing one or more exams that seek to establish certain minimum acceptable levels of skill and knowledge. When it comes to explaining this to a third party, especially one who may not be technically inclined or especially knowledgeable about supporting tools, platforms and environments, this means being able to explain such things in terms of the kinds of job roles they enable you to fill, the kinds of tasks they enable you to perform, the kinds of problems they allow you to solve, and so on.

Ultimately, this part of the certification positioning process means explaining what kinds of things you know, as well as what kinds of things you can do as a result of earning this credential. This is the sort of thing that can be addressed through an inventory of knowledge and skills, but that information may be best provided in writing, where you might want to concentrate on key elements or experiences that you can relate to your certification-based skills and knowledge. Statements such as "When we needed to build an online employee job bank, my knowledge of Active Directory and Exchange let us create an automated, email-based tool to provide notification and job assignments" or "When we experienced a problem with Web site security, I was able to recommend a switch to fingerprint scans along with account names and passwords to better establish user identities" should be accompanied with descriptions of how topics covered in a certification helped lead to or promote this understanding.

What have you done? What can you do?

Especially when it comes to raises and promotions, but also when competing for a new position, the ability to explain how certification enabled you to accomplish more in the past and will improve your ability to contribute in the future sells the value of certification better than just about anything else. This gives you an opportunity to relate your networking experience, knowledge and skills to certifications, but also to talk about how you've added value, improved productivity, solved problems and so forth, as you've executed your job responsibilities and kept your network humming in the past. This also lets you explain how what you have learned can continue to add value and continue to provide a return on your certification investment.

Ultimately, the ability to talk about what you know and what you can do, particularly in light of relevant, recent on-the-job experience, is the crux of making something out of your IT certifications. If you can manage to communicate this information to your managers, HR personnel or hiring staff, you can help to position yourself as positively as possible and improve the odds of earning a promotion, getting a raise, or landing the position for which you're interviewing.

About the author:
Ed Tittel is a freelance writer and trainer based in Austin, Texas, who's been writing and teaching about networking topics since the late 1980s. A regular contributor to numerous TechTarget Web sites, Ed also writes for Certification magazine, TechBuilder.org, and Tom's Hardware/Mobility Guru.

This was first published in May 2007

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