Over my past dozen or so years hiring in the software testing and quality assurance field, I can’t think of a question I’ve been asked by recruiters more often than, “Is the candidate required to have a certification?” In my early years, I had two great managers who would unabashedly toss any resume highlighting professional or technical certifications with limited work experience into the “circular file.” MCSE? Trash. ISTQB? Garbage. Of course, that was back when we actually printed out resumes and handed them around the office. The satisfying crunch and thud of a crumpled up piece of paper hitting the bottom of a metal trash can is nearly lost to us today. The overwhelming opinion was that a bright person, with a good education (preferably from a competitive college with a respected math or computer science or engineering program), a decent amount of ambition, a proven work ethic, impeccable attention to detail, solid analytical/troubleshooting skills, and a respected network of colleagues was the recipe for a successful candidate. Attempts to mask a deficiency in one or more of those areas with a couple of short-term certification programs would only diminish an otherwise acceptable candidate. An individual who has received a certification has validated that they have received a level of education in the field but not necessarily that they have the skill nor the ability to successfully perform.
Now that I’m older and wiser – and the market for high quality technical candidates is tighter than ever and it is critical to have a balance – I have more interest in imagining, based on other clues in a resume, what reason the candidate may have had for pursuing a certification. Was it part of an employer sponsored training curriculum? That makes sense. Have they resisted the urge to append their name in the resume header with a string of certification abbreviations as though it was a series of doctorate-level accomplishments? I keep reading. Were they honestly interested in augmenting their formal education and previous work experience with exposure to other methodologies or concepts? This works as well. I also tend to give more credence to vendors’ tool-based training (see IBM or HP/Mercury) over programs reminiscent of a for-profit diploma mill. Basically, I believe that education obtained primarily to increase knowledge is a good thing. Education provided by an employer (for any of a variety of reasons) is typically well-intended. I applaud those willing and eager to learn more in their field but caution those only interested in stringing letters at the end of their names.
In my opinion, a certificate or other label purchased to increase the attractiveness of your resume only may not provide the desired payback for you or your employer. My recommendation is to learn as much as you can and make prospective employers and recruiters aware of your various experiences and education, but craft a resume – and a career – that places more weight on proven personal accomplishments and value than society memberships and certifications.
Susan Keim is a Senior Consultant at SDLC Partners, a leading provider of business and technology solutions. Please feel free to contact Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions on this blog post or to further discuss software testing.