Certifications Are for Cars, Not People

There's an car dealership advertising a multiple-point certification for pre-owned vehicles. To me that translates into “checklist for used cars.”

That's what a certification for people based on book knowledge is also–a checklist that a person knew the right answer. Nothing about the experience or if the experience that led to that knowledge was successful.

Cars with a lot of experience are used. You want to see a certification that they still work. Car experience is no predictor of future experience, except that something is more likely to break, because of the experience.

People with lots of experience are also “used,” but people who've learned from their experience are more useful(valuable) than people who haven't. People who haven't learned from their experience are like new cars or uncertified pre-owned cars–you can't tell where they'll break. At least with people who've learned from their experiences, you might have more insight into where their experience is not useful.

A certification for a car tells you where the experience has (or might have) eroded the car's value. A certification for a person tells you nothing, except that the person studied for and passed a test. Don't confuse people with cars. A certification for used car is much more valuable than a certification passed by a person.

8 Replies to “Certifications Are for Cars, Not People”

  1. “people who’ve learned from their experience are more useful(valuable) than people who haven’t.”

    That is just plain wrong.

    People who have learned from their experience are better people than they were?…. Maybe… even then people can learn things that close their mind. Often people who have learned one thing a particular way have a lot of trouble learning how to do things a new way. The person who comes in fresh can be more valuable.

    People who are more experienced are not better than the less experienced.

    Which is not to say experience is meaningless, it’s just not the only measure of “worth”

  2. Hi Johanna – I like this post and agree that experience is valuable. You can read a book or take a test but only through real experience will you truly learn, develop and grow. Not only are you learning what to do, you’re also gaining valuable insights on what not to do, which does make you more valuable in my book.

  3. Hi Johanna, I suggest strengthening your argument that people who’ve learned from their experience are more valuable than people who have little experience but have memorized assigned material and past a certification test.

    If someone knows how to uncover the nature of a candidate’s experience and to assess the value of their experience to solving necessary problems, then your argument makes sense to me. You have that know-how but I suspect many people do not. Someone who doesn’t have the interviewing know-how may find it easy to assume that certification means someone has skills that are only created through learning by doing.

    A final thought — if I didn’t know you, I might interpret your post as saying people with certifications are less valuable. I think you would agree that a candidate can have both certifications and valuable experience. I would recommend being explicit about that fact.


  4. A weeks ago I had a discussion about the sense and nonsense of certification for CMII (Configuration Management II).

    It was claimed that a CMII certificate proves that someone has a professional level of work. I claimed however that someone with a track record of work experience in CM on his/her CV also has this proof. So why invest in (expensive) training and exams if you already have all it requires?

    I think that a certificate only proves that you are able to pass a test. Passing a test is quite different from being an expert in the work! Passing a test proves only that you are able to absorb the knowledge and reproduce/apply it during (the short period of) the test. Long-time experience proves that you can do it over a long period.

    Isn’t there any value in certification then? Well, there is. If not have a certificate is a disqualifier for a (job) selection, you need the certificate.


  5. Are no certifications of people valuable? I think certifications are meant to be a third party replacement for reputation, and so has all the baggage associated with being a backer.

    Take for example medical licenses. We’ve probably all had an experience with an idiot doctor, but we also know that a licensed doctor has passed classes in medical school and been trained by other doctors for at least 4 years. Further, the medical profession also understands that certifications “expire.” While they may have certified someone back in 1972, they require continuing education.

    That said, the main weight that the AMA carries is its ability to revoke licenses. Patients can feel confident that if they are led astray due to incompetence, the doctor can be held accountable and lose their license to practice.

    This leads me to think that the crux of the matter is “How do I know I can trust this person?” Just as with licenses, certifications are most valuable when the issuing institutions credibility is placed on the line for every certificate it hands out, in order to maximize the truster’s faith in the accreditor.

    So I’d disagree with the blanket statement “A certification for a person tells you nothing, except that the person studied for and passed a test.” A certification tells you exactly what it is good for, and it is up to you to weight its value.

  6. Well, I have been on both sides of this argument at times. I think certification can be a differentiator, depending on the prerequisites for obtaining the certification. I agree with the example of the physician and might say the same about accountants, lawyers, and other professionals. In addition to passing a test, these certifications require stringent educational and experience requirements, plus requirements for remaining certified by continuing to work in the field and learn.

    A problem in our field is that we have not matured enough to agree upon certification criteria. I find that, on average, PMP certified project managers know more about project management than non-certified practitioners. However, there are many exceptions on both sides. When a hiring manager gets 400 resumes for an open position, there has to be some way to narrow the field, and certification, like a degree, is one of those ways, rightly or wrongly.

    I think experience can always have value, but, as Keith points out, it must be relevant. Not everyone learns from experience in the same way.

    Another differentiator is study and training. I’ll look at someone who has taken a course or read a book much harder than someone who has not. Sadly, not very many people in this field study it very hard on their own.

  7. Interesting discussion. Lets see if you ppl would agree with this analogy.

    Suppose, you were approached by two flight agencies. 1) Airlines A has pilots that have 10k hrs of flight experience and knows how to fly but do not have any license. 2) Airline B has pilots with 1k hrs of flight experience and posses license from International aviation industry.

    Who will you choose and trust for a one year period to fly with ??

    We would individually make our choices and judge the risks based on our past experiences and knowledge.

    No analytical reasoning can lead you to the choice with safest flight experience. Since, the pilots capablity is just one of the 20 factors that accounts for safe flight experience.

    Exactly the same way, judging a person on basis of certificates or experience are not very accurate factors to measure his/her capablity to contribute in a NPD process.

    Sharing my opinion, from past experience, ppl with just experience and no certificates always try to relate a problem as a mix of situations they dealt with in past and have limited capablity to tackle the problem. On other hand ppl with certificates and no experience would run to the shelves and google trying to find alternatives to tackle the situation.

    So, if you are looking for senior positions, go with experience. Junior positions be filled with certificate holders.

    Certification is THE most important way to recruit employees at junior and lower middle level.

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