When I was a kid, I used to play a lot of RPG-style Nintendo and Super Nintendo games. Heck, I used to download the same games on my laptop and play them during my breaks at my old 9-5 gig (nothing against these games, but gosh; what a waste of time!)
I was always a big fan of the Final Fantasy series, although I’m of the opinion that the games’ quality diminished over time. The first is a classic, the second is also great, and FF III (or FF VI for the real video game nerds out there!) is quite the masterpiece (although I’m still partial to the “replayability” of the first). However, there are certain aspects of Final Fantasy II, musical cues to be specific, that have always resonated with me.
Some of these cues played sporadically throughout the game, signaling some substantial accomplishment (cue 1). Others were only played a few times in order to signal a MAJOR game accomplishment (cue 2).
When I was admitted to my doctoral program, a cue 1 went off in my head.
When I got my first online teaching gig, a cue 1 went off in my head.
When my doctorate was conferred, a cue 2 went off in my head.
When I got my first full-time online teaching gig, a cue 2 went off in my head.
I’m sure most people can empathize with this kind of thinking and the act of attaching certain cues to particular achievements. Those achievements that we save cue 2s for are BIG deals.
But sometimes achievements that we don’t even assign a cue 1 to can be the difference in landing that gig and sending out another round of CVs.
My journey to my first full-time online position was a bit unique in the sense that I had been adjuncting for the institution for over three years, teaching 6 or 7 courses per year for them. When a full-time position opened up, I was “encouraged” to apply.
Did I have a pretty good idea that I was going to be offered the position? Yes.
Was the position ever guaranteed, explicitly or informally? No.
Could the institution have hired anyone else with similar or even better credentials than I had to fill the position? In a heartbeat.
Keeping all of these things in mind, I knew I had to do something to help solidify the position for me.
I had to be smart, but more importantly, I had to stand apart from other internal candidates and from qualified external candidates.
Enter certifications and certificates
For the longest time, I was never really sure what certifications and professional certificates could do to help me as an academic. To me these seemed like tools to help people to fit a particular niche (a certification in welding for example) or to pad resumes for people who didn’t want to go all the way (a certificate in “leadership” as opposed to a full-length degree program).
To a large extent, I was right.
Then I realized that I WANTED to fill a particular niche and that I HAD ALREADY gone all the way.
Unfortunately, a lot of other people WANTED and HAD ALREADY as well.
It was time to set myself apart.
Setting Yourself Apart
Full disclosure: my first full-time online teaching job was not the first that I had applied for. Looking at candidates who had beaten me out for these jobs, they usually had more teaching experience or even more work experience in the field. Many also had other, more unique credentialing. Not wanting to be outdone in the next hiring “go-around”, I decided that I too would not only increase my professional development and knowledge within my field via the acquisition of alternative credentialing means, but would do so in a manner that would be beneficial to my C.V. and overall attractiveness as a full-time online teaching candidate.
So I researched some certification programs and some certificate programs.
I quickly realized that this was NOT something to devote 30 minutes of free time to. There are a lot of programs out there!
I eventually settled on two programs, one certification and one certificate program, that were both related to my field. The costs were reasonable (~$1800 for both) and only one was synchronous, allowing me a bit more flexibility in completing both in a relatively short period of time.
3 months, 2 passed exams, and a good bit of hard work later, I had new letters to place after my name and a substantially “beefier” CV.
I didn’t hear cue 1 or cue 2 in my head, but I had definitely “leveled up”!
Level Up, Get the Job
Certificates, certifications, and other related programs aren’t guaranteed to land you an adjunct or full-time job and they are rarely explicitly required for a position. Many can also be quite costly.
But remember the importance of setting yourself apart from others and remember that hiring managers and program coordinators want to make easy decisions. A person with a master’s vs. a person with a master’s AND a couple of relevant certs? Easy decision.
Research your certs (be sure that they are from reputable bodies or issuers. There is no point in pursuing low quality or unrecognized certs), put in the work to earn them, gain your experience points, level up…
and get the job.