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Assessing the Credibility of Professional Certifications
Use any search engine and type in “fake certification” or a similar term and you’ll likely find offers of certification in your chosen profession with no skills assessment, training or experience required – except for a valid credit card. Obviously, entering a “fake certification” will mostly result in offers for “new” credentials; however, many so-called “legitimate” certification credentials may be just as worthless as counterfeit ones. How can this be so? Well, the certification industry is largely unregulated. Basically, there are no regulatory bodies to enforce standards, so each certification body can create its own.
In fact, just about anyone can become a certifying entity using a personal computer and printer. That’s not to say that all certifications are fake; there are certification bodies that indeed have high standards, but unfortunately most do not. For every credible and recognized certification, there are likely several competing certifications that are unrecognized, dubious, or downright bogus. Being unregulated, the certification industry is truly a “wild west spectacle”, making it difficult for the uninformed to identify the good from the bad. However, with a bit of footwork, filtering out the “trash” value isn’t that hard.
If your goal is to earn a degree that truly validates your expertise, it will likely be based on a combination of experience, skills assessment, training and education, and reference checks. Keep in mind, however, that even a program claiming to use these criteria may be “less credible” if it waters down them or allows them to be “played” to a point that allows anyone to qualify. For example, a skills assessment could be a quiz that even a five-year-old could pass, training could be in an unrelated field, and experience or references could be stated and not verifiable. One way to assess the validity of a certification program is to know its success rate. Usually, the higher the success rate, the more likely it will fall into the “less than believable” category.
Name recognition can be good and bad; good as trustworthy, valuable and respected – bad as infamous, notorious or trickster. Before enrolling in a certification program, it would be prudent to know its reputation and that of the organization granting it. Search the web, interview friends, family, colleagues and others. For obvious reasons, the goal is to filter out certifications and/or organizations with a negative reputation. However, keep in mind that just because a certification or organization isn’t known doesn’t mean it’s worthless. There are well-known organizations that offer certifications considered a “joke” by industry practitioners, but those same credentials may seem believable to a uniformed audience due to the name recognition factor. Additionally, smaller organizations offer certification programs that are often highly regarded in their professions, but are relatively unknown to the general public. Adding to the confusion, some well-known certification bodies may offer multiple certification programs, some that are credible and some that are not. While name recognition alone can provide an initial boost to short-term credibility, it should only be considered if other indicators of quality and credibility are present.
After filtering out the obvious junk, the next step is to find out which certification credentials are valued by practitioners in your industry. Talking with practicing professionals, employers, and clients can reveal a lot of valuable information. Highly valued certifications as well as those considered “worthless” are often well known in particular industries, but there may be little information, good or bad, about them in the general public. Certification programs with strong acceptance among practitioners, employers, and concerned clients improve return on investment (ROI) and will reduce your chances of earning a worthless credential that may brand you a “wannabee” or a “fake” . It is equally important to discuss certification with seasoned practitioners who are not certified.
Practitioners may have valid reasons for not seeking certification because they may view the available credentials as uncredible, useless, gimmicky, or fraudulent. Sometimes certain certifications become very popular within an industry. If this is the case for a certification program you are considering, it would be interesting to know why. Often certifications only become popular because they are easy to obtain, the selling point being that any paper credential will give you an “edge” over the competition. But impressive credentials bestowed by official organizations can only go so far, no matter what ribbons, buzzwords, signatures, and other trappings are used to make them look legit. Additionally, the vast majority of experienced practitioners and employers will not be fooled by appearances and will be quick to investigate any unknown credentials they come across. Either way, because of all the variables, it’s extremely important to research all available certifications in your area of interest and discuss your findings with professionals in that field.
Certifications can be valid indicators of expertise or remunerative schemes. As long as people are fooled by “official” credentials, the fraudulent certification industry will continue to thrive and thrive. Currently, the certification industry is largely unregulated. However, if and when the safety and interests of the general public, employers or clients are perceived to be threatened by practitioners with questionable qualifications, regulation or licensing will be the necessary response, as was the case with medicine, law, engineering, education, and other professional fields. In fact, due to the proliferation of credentialing programs, society and businesses are already becoming more skeptical and selective of certification credentials, and this trend is likely to continue. Most career fields have several certification programs offered by industry providers, professional organizations, and private companies. For obvious reasons, all of these certification bodies will try to project an image of professionalism and integrity, whether that applies or not. It is up to everyone to look beyond appearances and sales pitches for the best options available. At the very least, doing some basic research before using a credit card will help ensure that you don’t end up with completely useless credentials that primarily benefit fraudsters.
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