When it comes to IT certifications, trust but verify

When it comes to IT certifications, trust but verify

Trust, but verify, the old adage goes. But in a tight IT talent market, it seems hiring companies are doing a heck of a lot of the former and not enough of the latter. New research shows that organizations are trusting employees when they say they've attained certifications, but aren't investing the time or energy to verify whether or not those credentials have actually been earned.

"We'd heard this anecdotally, but to see it in the hard data was very concerning, and it made us cringe. The value in the certifications themselves isn't in question, but the lack of action by hiring managers and the fact that some candidates are fudging the truth makes everyone look bad. This has the potential to seriously impede the credibility of certifications to qualify and benchmark candidates," says Jason Hayman, market research manager at TEKSystems, which conducted the research.

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Certification inflation?

The survey polled more than 300 IT leaders and approximately 900 IT professionals to gauge their attitudes toward and the perceived value of certifications in the workplace. The good news is that certifications are still of great value in benchmarking the qualifications of IT professionals. The bad news is that their value decreases, and a certification can be seen as almost worthless, if hiring managers and recruiters aren't accurately vetting candidates, Hayman says.

"Hiring managers and recruiters as well as candidates need to understand that certifications can illustrate knowledge and provide a benchmark, but only if they're verified correctly. And also understand that you can't rely only on that -- you have to have create your own technical tests and screenings internally to prove they have the knowledge and the skills to do the job," says Hayman.

Only 26 percent of IT leaders always verify candidates' certifications according to the research, and only a slight majority -- 52 percent -- of IT professionals indicated they always or often represent their certifications accurately on their resumes. That's a staggeringly high percentage of organizations potentially exposed to "certification inflation" during the vetting process, with the potential for disaster if candidates don't actually possess the knowledge and skills they claim to, says Hayman.

IT leaders who don't verify a new hire's certifications expose their organizations to unnecessary risk and inefficiency, he says. With the average time to fill a requirement currently greater than 50 days, hiring an individual who cannot perform as advertised forces organizations to rededicate time and resources towards finding a solution to a preventable problem.

"With the employment market as tight as it is, a lot of organizations are thinking, 'If I don't hire this person, we're still going to have a vacant role, and we can't have that,' so they're trying to go for speed rather than taking the time to actually ensure the candidate is qualified for the role," he says.

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Pony up for certifications

How can organizations avoid this issue? One way is by offering to foot the bill for their current workforce to take continuing education classes or certification courses, Hayman says.

"Organizations should be vocal in emphasizing that they'll pay for certifications or that they have programs and processes in place to help upskill their current workforce. Businesses can benefit by cultivating talent and in-demand skills internally; that's also a great way to make sure your workforce is actually certified," he says.

The majority of both IT leaders (65 percent) and professionals (74 percent) surveyed believe their organizations should pay for certifications, but that professionals taking advantage of this as a benefit or perk shouldn't be able to also receive an associated salary bump -- what's referred to as "double dipping," according to the research.

And while 50 percent of IT professionals believe that the number of certifications they hold should be taken into account in overall salary, less than one-third (31 percent) of leaders factor certifications into salary compensation -- that's a big disconnect, says Hayman.

"This is a problem not just around the issue of certifications, but between IT and business in general. First, organizations, need to be more diligent in actually verifying certifications in order to avoid getting trapped in a certification shell game. And while IT professionals have indicated a willingness to trade compensation for certification, they should also be aware that organizations increasingly consider paying for the certifications of their employees as a cost of doing business and that this is much less of a zero sum scenario than it used to be," Hayman says.

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