I hope to clear the air on what a vendor certificate (or any certificate, such as a degree/diploma/etc) is, and is not. Too many times have I heard/seen people place too little or too much stock in the single piece of paper.
What a certificate is
A certificate, simply put, is proof that on a certain date you were able to demonstrate you knew enough of the answers to the questions to pass a particular threshold. While some certificates are harder than others, when it comes down to it that’s all that means. It’s a binary pass/fail. A person that squeaked by barely, and one that aced the test both have the same certificate.
What a certificate is not
A certificate is not a magic piece of paper that can be waved around to prove your knowledge or skillsets. It only means that (one way or another) you were able to pass the test. By sheer luck, dumping, or actual skill you passed that arbitrary number and got the piece of paper. It does not mean that magically upon obtaining said certificate you’re smarter or superior to your peers. It is not a magic “hire me” button, and companies won’t be falling over themselves to hire you, based solely on a certificate.
How certificates fit into the hiring process
If certificates are ‘worthless’, then why do we need them? Assuming you’re not working for a VAR (Value Added Reseller) who need certain quotas of Certification levels to maintain discount percentages, then certifications help you do 1 thing, get you past HR or past the recruiters, and get you an initial phone screen. Most recruiters or HR representatives do ‘keyword’ searches of resumes to decide which to forward onto the next level. So if the job is looking for (for example) CCNP and that doesn’t appear on the resume, you most likely will not get to the next level (sad, but true). Recruiters or HR have no real ability to screen people for their true skillset, they are just as overworked as the rest of us and fall back to what’s simple, and for them ‘works’. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but when looking for jobs, it’s best to give yourself every opportunity you can to get past the first screen/pruning).
Post-screening, and certifications
Once past the initial pruning, the value of certificates plummets (once again, barring places like VARs). From here you’re being evaluated on your ‘soft skills’ (see my previous blog post on those), as well as your actual technical ability. I’ve seen many CCNA/CCNP (and a few CCIE) interviewees that couldn’t console into a router, as well as candidates with no certifications at all that I’d place their actual networking skills above even high-level CCIEs! When it comes down to it the piece of paper is worthless in the job. What really matters is, can you do the job, do it well, and do it under pressure? Having a CCIE or JNCIE is worthless to the hiring manager if when the time comes and a problem crops up, you only know the book answer (which frequently differs greatly from reality).
Basically what I’m saying is, it all comes down to your attitude. If you’re pursuing the certifications because you truly want to learn the topics and better yourself, than that’s awesome and you should be commended. If you’re doing it just for the ‘prestige’, bragging rights, etc…… Maybe you might want to take a step back and decide what you’re in this field for. We have a glut of people that just hope to dump their way through the tests, and get weeded out during the initial phone screen already. The only value to hiring managers is the actual true skills behind the certificates, not the certificate itself.