The Value of Certification vs. Verification and Reporting

Meeting with job candidate overhead shot

A recent study from IT placement and services firm TEKsystems offers up some interesting insights on beliefs and practices surrounding IT certification. A summary report, "TEKsystems Survey: Organizations Exposed to Certification Inflation," presents data fro a recent questionnaire the company used to capture the thinking of more than 300 IT leaders (people with titles such as CIO, VP of IT and IT Director, as well as IT hiring managers) and 900 IT professionals (people working in IT who aren't in a management role).


As you may already have guessed, the TEKsystems survey produced some fascinating results that I'd like to recite and comment on. You can check out key findings of the survey in the aforementioned press release if you're interested in further details. I'll cover some highlights of what I found most interesting and compelling about these survey results.


The Certification Walk is a Little Different from the Certification Talk


One of the most interesting tidbits from the survey was the rate at which IT leaders follow up on claimed certifications, and the level of accuracy at which IT pros self-report on certifications in their resumes. When asked "How often do you verify worker's certifications" IT leaders responded as follows: 26 percent picked "Always/Often," 25 percent picked "Sometimes," and a whopping 49 percent picked "Rarely/Never."


As for IT pros, when asked "How often are certifications accurately reflected on your resume," they picked "Always/Often" 52 percent of the time, "Sometimes" 41 percent of the time, and "Rarely/Never" just 7 percent of the time. TEKsystems uses these numbers to assert that "a staggeringly high percentage of organizations [are] exposed to �certification inflation' during the vetting process."


Furthermore, they go on to assert that "feedback indicates that IT professionals may embellish or �inflate' their certifications in order to sidestep the automated electronic resume filtering process."


Given the low rate of verification, and the relatively high rate of perceived accuracy (the "Sometimes" category provides a lot of room for error, to be sure), I'm not sure that it's really a form of inflation. As TEKsystems itself suggests, this may simply be a technique to get through automated filtering of resumes.


I'd be more inclined to point the finger at management types to implore them to verify more claimed credentials during their screening processes, even if that only means spot checking some of the claimed credentials, rather than all of them.


Taking certs at face value is a lot like taking claimed academic accomplishments the same way: It's relatively quick and easy to verify whether or not a person has earned some claimed credential, in much the same way that one might check with the registrar's office at a college or university to confirm degree conferral.


Alas, in light of what TEKsystems has reported here, I'd hate to see this translate into a "license to over-report" for IT professionals.


The "Sometimes" category is particularly vexing in this context. If IT pros are being overly scrupulous about minor or occasional errors in reporting on certs under that heading, then the combination of "Always/Often" and "Sometimes" means that IT pros are reporting accurately or mostly accurately more than 9 out of 10 times.


If that's inflation, then it's not much inflation on their part. The more troubling element is that IT leaders aren't checking up on the currency and correctness of candidate claims about half of the time.


If companies simply inform candidates, that they "check all references, degrees, and certifications," then they can probably head off any tendencies to fudge things a little (or a lot). But check they must, if they want to develop an accurate pre-assessment of job candidates.


That goes double for placement companies, upon whom it's incumbent to represent candidates accurately and fairly to employers they seek to serve. I'd love to know what kinds of results the placement firms have observed for this kind of thing themselves: it could be an even more informative set of data points than what we're dealing with here.


High Value Certifications in the Eyes of IT Leaders and IT Pros


Another interesting set of items shows up as Table 1 here in this blog post, reproduced (mostly) verbatim from the press release. (I shortened a few column heads for compactness, but it is otherwise unaltered.)


Ed T Figure 1 9 30 2016

Table 1: Competency Areas Where Certifications Provide the Greatest Value (Stack rank top three)


TEKsystems asked both sets of respondents to rank certifications by subject matter (which they call "competency area") and those results are not just remarkably similar, they also accord with the marketplace realities I've been observing for the past decade and more, too. The only difference between the two sets of rankings is the positions of programming/development and project management.


Managers put programming/development ahead of project management in slots 2 and 3 in the Top 6, while IT pros reverse that order for slots 2 and 3.


There's certainly no arguing with these findings, especially the continuing and persistent presence of information security in the number one slot by a wide margin. Most IT pros outside software development and engineering can take it as gospel that all three of the other disciplines – namely, security, data analytics, and cloud – should be on their professional development radar.


Project management, in fact, can go both ways because it applies equally to jobs underneath and outside of the software development/programming/engineering umbrella.


Other Items of Note


Man in cafe considers value of certs

The rest of the survey results are also interesting. Another section goes on to report that IT leaders regard certs as more important when making new hires, as opposed to during the process of developing or promoting employees (though not by a huge margin).


In the same vein, IT pros see certifications as being most important for long-term career growth, and less important in terms of compensation impact and hiring potential than one might think.


The final section makes the point that both IT leaders and professionals agree that organizations "should be expected to pay for technical certifications" without necessarily dropping pay as a consequence of covering such costs.Interestingly, IT leaders and pros do differ on whether or not certs should be factored into salary considerations.


IT management leaders are less inclined to weight them heavily than are IT pros. Which is as you might expect, given that the IT pros generally have to do the heavy lifting required to seek out, study for, and earn certifications, often on their own time (outside of their normal work schedule) and own dime.


All in all, it's an interesting read with some insights worth chewing on. Be sure to check it out!


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.