The value of professional certifications

Once upon a time, I looked down on industry certifications. I thought they were crutches, tools that people used to hide a lack of a track record, and for a certain small percentage of the population, that’s probably still true. But for the most part, I’ve changed my perspective on certifications and now view them as valuable.

Why? As people get busier and busier, as the world grows more and more complex, people are willing to devote less time to getting certifications or continuing education. Certifications’ value have increased not because they’re harder to get, but because people are unwilling to make sacrifices to obtain them. In many cases, our workdays are so busy, so frenetic that we don’t have a moment of spare time to devote to personal advancement. Employers don’t go out of their way to give employees dedicated chunks of time to go get certified in anything. Thus, certifications have to be pursued outside of work, and in some cases even at our own personal expense.

Because of this, someone who has a certification from a legitimate authority is demonstrating by proxy that they’ve invested in themselves. They’ve spent time and possibly money to grow themselves, and that’s a powerful personality trait that you want in an employee.

What makes this even more powerful is that a legitimate certification can help to overcome bias. When you think of Brian May from the band Queen or NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal, do you think of intellectual rigor?

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Perhaps not, but May is Ph.D. in astrophysics, and O’Neal is a Ph.D. in Human Resources. We have biases about these individuals based on their fame that obscures our ability to see their intellectual feats.

Now extrapolate that down to the non-famous. If you have two resumes in front of you that look virtually identical – as many entry level candidates do, thanks to grade inflation – there’s a good chance subtle biases will come into play, consciously or unconsciously. Having a legitimate certification, such as a Google Analytics certification, suddenly puts more objective data on the table that can reduce the influence of bias, particularly subconscious bias.

Where should you go for certifications? As much as possible, go to the originating source. If you’re interested in Google technologies, get certified through Google. Want to be recognized as authoritative by Facebook? Facebook has Preferred Marketing Developer and Preferred Marketing Partner certification. When certification from the originating source isn’t possible, then you’ll have to shop around, but beware that there’s much more snake oil than legitimate, rigorous certification in the third party market.

The bottom line for me is that certification demonstrates investment. If you’re not willing to invest in yourself, why should other people invest in you? Conversely, if you’re willing to improve yourself, chances are you’re willing to improve any organization you’re part of.


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Who to support on #GivingTuesday

Chances are, you’re going to receive an endless deluge of pitches from non-profits you’ve been in contact with, all today. Your inbox survived Black Friday, it probably survived Cyber Monday (which I swear is an acronym, Can You Blast Email Repeatedly), and now you have to weather #GivingTuesday.

Some people have their personal causes, their personal crusades that matter a great deal to them. Those folks don’t need any motivation to give today or any day.

For the rest of us, here are a few thoughts.

First, find a cause that affects you personally, if you want to donate to something. If you don’t have anything like that off the top of your head, go look at Charity Navigator for four-star charities in a 5 mile radius around you (or larger, if you live in a rural area):

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Second, look for charities that are less wealthy. A $10 donation is more impactful to a charity scraping by than a charity with millions of dollars in the bank. Obviously, if they’re less wealthy because of mismanagement, that’s something to take into account, but sites like Guidestar and Charity Navigator can help you determine who’s running their shops well.

Third, as you plan your gift, think about taking the amount and making it a monthly gift if you can. If you planned to donate $20, consider a monthly donation of $1.67 instead. If you planned to donate $50, consider a monthly donation of $4.16. Why? Non-profits are like any other business – they need cash flow all year round. Having a predictable cash flow makes the business easier to run, rather than boom-bust cycles that make for tougher forecasting and planning.

Go forth and support something worthwhile!


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The best things in life are difficult

How impressive would a 6 foot redwood tree be to a tourist in Sequoia National Park?

How marvelous would the skeleton of a chicken harvested last week be to an archaeologist?

How safe would you feel under the protection of someone who got a black belt in 3 months by mail order?

In the modern age, we lose sight of the fact that not everything in life is supposed to be bite-sized, convenient, easy, cheap, and immediate.

Giant sequoias live for thousands of years, assuming they survive things like drought and fire. Fossils take millions of years to form. Black belts can take as long as a decade to achieve, and in some dojo only 1 out of a thousand students will ever get one.

The best things in life can be difficult. You could even make the argument that the best things in life are supposed to be difficult by definition.

Here’s a recent example from the holiday weekend. I baked two sets of cookies. One was from a box kit, the hilariously named “Ugly Christmas Sweater Cookie Kit”.

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It was easy, just add water, wait a minute or two, roll out the dough, and start cranking out the cookies. Bake ‘em, decorate ‘em, and enjoy.

Everything went well except the last part, because the product tasted like cardboard.

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The second set of cookies was made from a dough that took half a day to make. It started with only raw ingredients, which required mixing, kneading, and sitting for several hours. The dough was a lot more tricky to work with, but the end result tasted like terrific, real cookies.

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There was significantly more effort involved. It was significantly more difficult than “just add water”. But the end result was incomparably better.

As you approach business, marketing, or just life in general, don’t turn away from a difficult path just because it’s difficult. Question whether it’s difficult for a good reason, and if the reason is legitimate, consider taking the harder path!


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