I admit, I have bought into the concept of certificates and certifications.
In 2017, how can you blame me, though?
It seems that every company and entity with a .org behind it’s name is pushing some type of certification or a certificate in some niche specialization to those willing to put in the time (and, of course, the money) to acquire one.
So…are these “resume-boosters” worth it?
First, it’s important to establish the differences and distinctions between certificates and certifications.
These differences are actual somewhat numerous, although a key difference, according to credentialingexcellence.org is that assessment-based certificate programs’ goals are “for participants to acquire specific knowledge, skills, and/or competencies” while for professional or personnel certification programs, the objective is “to validate the participant’s competency through a conformity assessment system”.
What a mouthful!
Long story short, certificates (certificates) signify that you know something about a particular topic ex. TESOL Certificate: Teach English Now CourseRA certificate, created by Arizona State University.
On the other hand, certifications (certs) signify competence in a particular area or field ex. CSCP (Certified Supply Chain Professional) conferred by APICS (Association for Operations Management). Both of these items have value and each is likely to be more valuable in specific contexts.
So what is the point of pursuing such pieces of paper and letters after your name in the context of online teaching?
Academia has been known as the “Ivory Tower” for quite some time, with academics supposedly possessing “book smarts” but not as much practical application of knowledge.
With the demographic of online learners leaning more heavily towards working professionals there is a growing demand for instruction that involves more “real-world” content…content that is often times discussed, researched, and debated in graduate programs, but can be lacking in actual acquisition. The guy sitting next to you in your M.S. or PhD program, who has the same education as you, probably has similar practical experience (or lack thereof) as you.
So what can set you apart from him? Certificates and Certifications.
To backtrack for a moment, if you have significant experience in the field that you wish to teach in (to complement requisite education), you don’t really need extra pieces of paper to help yourself stand out.
Knowledge, skills, and abilities derived from these programs can be valuable in the classroom, but may not be the deciding factor in whether or not you get the job in the first place.
However, when a program coordinator, department head, or hiring manager is looking through identical CVs and one includes relevant and practically-focused continuing education that is above and beyond what is required (and what most other applicants possess), you had better believe that eyebrows will rise a bit.
So what should you be looking for in certificates and certification programs? A few considerations:
Reputation of the granting entity (should be at least somewhat recognizable or at least known in the particular field or area of study)
Affordability (dropping close to 13 grand for a graduate certificate from Harvard may not be in your best interest when you can pick one up from Texas for significantly less)
Ease of Acquisition (many certificate and certifications can be completed mostly, if not completely online. In some cases, self-paced programs are available)
Actual interest (a program of slightly less relevance or slightly higher time or monetary commitment that actually interests will be infinitely more tolerable than one that does not)
Of course, it goes without saying that graduate degrees, professional experience, research activity and community service will generally help your cause more than other factors.
However, if a nominal time and monetary investment can help you stand out in the application or promotion process (while also expanding your knowledge base and skill set), what do you have to lose?