Which Comes First Certification Or Skills & Experience?

How To Boost IT Skills Rapidly Or Get Hired Fast
How To Boost IT Skills Rapidly Or Get Hired Fast

Stephen Covey advises us to put “First Things First”

But, when it comes to our careers or jobs figuring that out or prioritizing the most important things proves to be a surprising challenge for many IT Workers!

For example, while some believe that certifications are required for getting a job, others put more value on hands-on skills and experience!

So, the question is, which comes first in your career, “your hands-on skills & experience” or “your certifications”?

What Comes First In Your Career, Certification Or Skills & Handson Experience?

  1. Is Hands-On Experience Required Before Certifications?

    Nowadays, more certification providers are requiring lots of hands on experience (3, 4 , 5 or more years) before you are allowed to sit for their certification exams.

    They’re realizing that there isn’t much value in pursuing certifications until you’ve actually worked in an industry for a number of years or gained valuable hands-on job experience.

    In addition, hiring managers realize that job seekers are abusing the certification process, by cramming or cheating their way through the certification exams!

    For example, if you are taking a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) exam, there are websites where you can get real exam questions for the sole purpose of cramming or cheating your way towards the MCP certification.

    The challenge that IT hiring managers are facing is that job candidates who get certified for the sole purpose of getting a job may not be able to perform on the job!

    The prevailing wisdom now is, you cannot perform on the job, despite your certifications, if you lack practical skills or hands-on job experience!

    So, to avoid hiring certified incompetent professionals, IT managers are looking to hire or retain professionals who have hands-on experience, practical skills and in-depth industry knowledge.

    In addition, certification providers are asking for a number of years of verifiable hands on experience and real-world, practical skills before you are allowed to sit for a certification exam.

    For example, the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification requires 3 to 5 years of verifiable hands-on, real world project management experience.

  2. Are Certifications A Replacement For Hands-On Experience Or Practical Skills?

    The goal of any certification program is not to get you into a job or to shortcut the requirement for hands-on experience but to add more value to your career.

    That is why in the Information Technology (IT) Industry, certifications are not substituted for hands-on experience or real-world career based skills.

    You develop practical skills by performing a task repetitively. For example, you may read about Use Cases from a book or study and pass a Use Case certification, but unless you have used Use Cases in solving a business analysis problem, you really don’t have Use Case skills.

    Also, you may learn about database design from reading a book but unless you have actually modeled or designed a relational database several times, you really can’t add it to your resume or claim that you have relational database design skills.

    So, the goal of IT certification programs is not to provide you with practical skills or the hands-on experience required by hiring managers but to more value to your professional career or increase your knowledge / understanding of the profession after you’ve gained strong hands-on experience or practical skills!

  3. IT Managers Hire And Retain For Hands-On Experience, Practical Skills and In-Depth Knowledge

    The IT industry works differently from other professional careers.

    For example, in the medical and legal careers, you need to have a professional medical or law degree before you are allowed to practice.

    The Information Technology (IT) Industry (business analysis, software development, project management, etc.) is remarkably different because you are not required to have a professional degree or certification to get a job!

    On the other hand, their are no professional certification requirements in the IT Industry.

    The only real requirement is an expectation that you have hands-on experience, practical skills and in-depth knowledge before you are hired or perform on your job to stay hired!

So, keep in mind that IT managers are hiring for the practical skills and hands-on experience on your resume and your performance on the job after you are hired!

Your ability to “get hired” or succeed in a business analysis, data analysis, SQL / database, software development or project management career, is driven more by your skills, experience and on-the-job performance than anything else …

12 Responses to "Which Comes First Certification Or Skills & Experience?"

  1. Robert M.   September 2, 2009 at 1:29 am

    I agree with John, and the article.

    We see a lot of guys come through with the certifications and they can regurgitate the canned answers from their certifications, but when you ask them actual details about that question they falter, exposing a lack of true understanding.

    Where I disagree with the article, is the need for certification if you have the experience.

    If your resume and references speak for themselves then the certifications are a waste of time and money.

    The people that have always worked out the best have been the ones that have a solid knowledge of the technology and real world experience putting that technology to work.

    The best advice is, know your craft, never stop learning and tinkering, get the experience by working with good people and always stay on top of the specs and APIs.

    It's not easy, but then it's not brain surgery either. 🙂

  2. John   September 2, 2009 at 1:26 am

    I believe skills come first, in whatever your chosen field is.

    Without them you won’t last long enough to obtain meaningful experience and probably won’t be interested in gettting certified.

    I don’t think hands-on experience is required for certification, though.

  3. Scott   September 2, 2009 at 1:19 am

    How can one gain the experience required to get certified?

    Employers want experienced people with certifications yet are unwilling to provide the necessary experience to get certified.

    And if you get certified they will not let you gain the experience!

  4. Roger   August 13, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Regarding the “requisite education” to become a CPA — here are the current requirements as posted on the Board of Accountancy site.


    All first-time applicants must be;

    of good moral character;
    be residents of Missouri or have a place of business in Missouri or, as an employee, be regularly employed in Missouri to be eligible to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination; and

    Have 150 semester hours of general college education to include;

    a baccalaureate degree or higher;
    33 semester hours in accounting (at least 1 course in Auditing and at least 18 semester hours of the accounting courses must be upper division accounting )
    27 semester hours in general business courses(i.e. Marketing, Management, Economics, Finance, etc)

  5. Roger   August 13, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Perhaps a meaningful parallel can be drawn from other professions.

    For example, I was once a practicing CPA. I believe that anyone can sit for the CPA review provided they possess the requisite education.

    Should they pass the battery of tests, they still will not be licensed to practice as a CPA until they have acquired the requisite experience.

    You can be an accountant in a public accounting firm, but you cannot attach the designation CPA to your name without both passing the test AND acquiring the experience.

    • IT Career Coach   August 13, 2009 at 10:40 am

      Roger, that is really good feedback.

      For the sake of those of us without an accounting background, can describe the “what the requisite education for a CPA is”?



  7. Shekhar   August 8, 2009 at 1:14 am

    My organization launched a massive certifiication program for all streams and linked it to performance appraisals etc. The objectives would have been multifold. It can make claims for certified professionals in sales and marketing but some where idea was to enhance knowledge and skills.
    In my belief, it has helped to get the concepts right but we require experience and skills to perform on live projects. There is a lot of debate about good and bad about certifications but it gives a edge in formal communications.
    Personally, it has helped me because I choose the certifications that apply to architecture like TOGAF, ITIL, COBIT.

  8. Kingsley Tagbo   March 10, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Hi Shalini:

    I will be glad to answer your questions. Here are the answers you’ve been looking for:

    Will Getting Business Analyst Training Help?

    Business Analyst Training will help you get a job … IF the training provides you with handson experience and practical skills in addition.

    Traditional business analyst classroom training is not designed to help you get a business analyst job. They are designed to pass on information to you in the shortest possible time.

    If your goal is to get a job, then the business analyst training you enroll for has to provide handson experience and practical BA skills as well … otherwise, you need to get the training and then arrange for the handson experience and prcatical skills separately

    How To Get An Associate BA or Junior BA position

    You need to drop the associate BA versus junior BA from your vocabularly. My doing that, you are already underselling yourself.
    You are looking for a BA position that matches your skillsets … because you are a business analyst period!

    The truth is that Hiring Managers are not really interested in hiring business analysts without handson experience and practical skills.

    The chances of getting a job without handson experience or practical skills when the economy was good was quite low … and now in the current economic recession … it is next to nil.

    You need to get business analyst training that includes handson experience and practical skills or just get the business analyst training and then find a way to get handson experience and practical skills.

    Anything else would be like going round the mountain … remember that you are competing with experienced business analysts who may be willing to work for less pay … so you have to give the hiring managers what they want

    Please read this article for more information:

  9. Shalini Yallapragada   March 10, 2009 at 11:35 am

    This is a very informative article however for people like me who are just getting into this field with no hands-on experience what is the next best option?

    Will getting training help?

    I am not looking for senior positions.

    I am looking for associate BA or junior BA positions.

    What do hiring managers look for in a candidates applying for such jobs with no hands-on experience?

  10. Kingsley Tagbo   March 10, 2009 at 10:54 am


    You said it best … Industry hands-on experience is weightier than a paper certification!

    That is a classic mistake made by some well-intentioned techies who are looking to accelerate their careers.

    They assume that IT Managers are going to hire or retain based on their paper certifications … the reality is that IT Managers hire or retain based on HandsOn Experience, In-Depth Knowledge and Practical Skills FIRST.

    Paper Cerifications become relevant when am IT worker has gotten all the hands-on experience, knowledge and skills needed to perform on the job!

  11. Harvey Collman   March 10, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Thank you for that needed correction and balance.

    Industry hands-on experience is weightier than a paper certification!

    I am hoping to take your SQL Boot Camp soon. I have a lot of different trainings going on at this time.

    Thanks for the post.



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