I did an online seminar a few weeks ago and was asked about the value of technical certifications. This was a question I did not expect … Since I have been doing these types of presentations (since 2006) I have not been asked about the The value of technology certificates… my response was good and direct, but I thought of another angle I want to address.
In 2018 I took a dream job for ten months. In the same position I interviewed different candidates for several positions, if I remember correctly. During the interviews my colleague and my boss would stop the interview after I asked a question and say, “Wow, that was a really good question!” It was flattering and embarrassing … but it showed me that I had a different interview style they were expecting. It also gave me confidence in my interview skills, as I probably had better questions than the most common question lists for interviews you would pull from sites.
When I wore my interviewer hat, I wanted to talk about addressing this question about technical credentials, and how to get the right messages across.
Technical Certifications Take a job
Back in the 1900s there were a lot of chatter about people who got technological credentials who didn’t really know how to do anything. They went to boot camps for a few days, learned how to pass the tests, and then received certification (once they passed the test). I remember talking to an IT man who said, talked about someone with certification, “He has this server certification but can not even run the server!”
You need to talk about the work invested in obtaining your certification. You might not say, “It sure took a lot of work!” (Although you can). Maybe you are talking about study hours leading up to certification, practice, learning, etc. Let the interviewer know, through your stories, you are really investing the work. If they hired people who went to “how to pass the test” bootcamps, they might not see much value in certification.
As an interviewer I would dig into that. I would ask questions about what you learned, what it was like to study for exams, etc. I would like to know what employment experience has completed your studies. I really want to understand that you have a certain level of control over the subject / certification, and you can get into that role with a certain ability. After all, that’s what the supposed certification states, right?
Technical certifications quantify knowledge and ability
In a job search interview use appropriate jargon. Your certification says, “This person knows at least a certain amount on this subject.” I want you to share your knowledge and talk about everything you can so I can feel confident in your abilities. Use the language you learned (or reinforced) while receiving your certification. Something like a pro … as if you already had the job. And do it with confidence.
If you do not feel confident in this level of jargon, start talking to people who have the job, and “talk in the store” with them. You want this stuff to roll out of your tongue. You need to be able to use those words and talk about these technical ideas as if it were second nature.
When you’re in an interview, and you talk like that, it can be impressive. Of course, identify who is interviewing you. If it’s just human resources and not tech people, slow down the jargon. But if you’re talking to people who will be your peers and bosses, then you’re probably okay to use jargon.
My only warning tip is to make sure you use the right words. If you use the wrong jargon, they can easily pick it up and realize you’re over your head. If you make a mistake, however, the owner of it, brush it, try to correct it and move on.
Technical credentials could not say anything
Depending on who is interviewing you, maybe they think approvals are the cat’s meow, or they may think approvals are useless. I have seen profiles on LinkedIn that have a lot of authority, so much so that I wonder if they only study for certificates. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does not give me the confidence that you specialize in something, or understand. Instead, take the time to earn tons of certificates, and check carefully.
Your job, as an interviewer, is to communicate the importance and value of your certification. You need to have stories, anecdotes or any information you can gather that makes teeth in these credentials.
As an interviewer I will have biases about certificates (good or bad). But if you were to tell me that it took you x hours of study, preparation, learning, labs, etc. to pass your certification, or that you failed twice before you passed it, I would probably register more.
Wait … why does this failure twice impress me? Because it will show me that the certification is difficult to obtain, and not just distributed to everyone who sits in it. Perhaps the fact that you disagree is that only %% of the people who take the exam pass it for the first or second time. In this example I look more at the difficulty of certification and much less at your ability to pass it for the first time.
Remember, I value exam validity and certification no less than your abilities. If the exam is difficult, testify to the number of people who do not win it (but try), I will register that you have the certification.
Your work experience is important
Do not stay with just one or more technical certifications. Sometimes, certain certificates are really impressive. But if you have relevant employment experience, I want to hear about it. Otherwise I would hire people who have the most, or the right technical credentials.
Talking about your work experience will help me understand how you work with others, how you deal with issues, what you think of leaders / managers, clients and co-workers. If you have no work experience from this position, or related positions, that’s fine. I still want to know these things. I want to know what kind of work ethic you have, how you feel about working in teams, carrying weight, helping others, working under pressure, being proud of your results, etc.
Here is a job search interview tip I did not know about: When asking a question, instead of answering the question with the most concise answer, channeling experience or ability. For example, you could say:
“That’s a great question. When I worked at ______, as _____, I dealt with this very problem. I….”
Then talk about what you did. This tactic can be used in most answers. Guess what? You will want to practice this before you get there. I think the best way to prepare to respond like this, with these powerful stories and examples, is to write down your stories beforehand, and have a list of them that you can rely on. Sounds like a big project, no doubt, so start now and maybe add a new story every day.
One more thing … My presentation from the beginning of this blog post was for students. Many times students are unsure of what experiences to draw from. If you do not have the relevant work experience you would like, get out of class projects, maybe an entrepreneurial venture you started, even from the lemonade stand or lawn mowing business you had when you were eleven years old. As an interviewer I look for any experience, and even patterns.
Your soft skills are important
Another critical thing to keep in mind is that I appreciate you for your suitability for my team. Do I think you’re going to be too cheeky and offensive? Too humble and pushy? Will you say what needs to be said? How will you fit in with certain people? Of course, you probably do not know these people, nor do you know my management style, but I judge based on what I see and hear in this interview.
This is far from the talk of technical credentials from above, but I want to marry hard and soft skills to find the best person to add to my team.
Just as you tell stories to quantify your work experience, you can tell stories that quantify your soft skills. Tell me about working under a boss you disagreed with, or about working on a class project with a few slips. Tell me about getting direction, listening, analyzing, negotiating, presenting … any soft skills relevant to the position for which you are applying.
I am looking for a skilled person to add to my team. Talking only about the technical aspect may not tell me the whole story of who you are and what you have to offer. So make sure you have some soft skills you want to talk about, and stories to support your claims.
By the way, I have a bunch of Soft Skill Courses on Pluralsight. There are probably over 200 soft skill courses out there right now … which is amazing. Complete your hard / technical skills with your soft skills and you will come on the road to winning interviews and you will have a rich and rewarding career!