As a job search coach, I'm often asked by my candidates if I think that certifications are worth it. While I personally believe that there are some incredibly valid certifications out there (especially in the technical fields), I also believe that there are just as many that aren't worth the paper that your certification is printed on. However, how on earth do you tell the difference?
Cast your mind way back in time to when you were sitting in your economics class and your professor was droning on about supply and demand. Supply and demand...what does that have to do with certifications? Well, a lot! Here is how you can apply these principles to determining whether you should spend the dough on external certs:
Price: Ask yourself if the certification is going to either get you a job, or get you a better paying job. Not sure the answer to that question? Get on the phone with recruiters. Find their blogs and post a question. Visit them on LinkedIn. They are going to be the ones dealing with this question day in and day out. While I'm sure your local unemployment office could be helpful, I would go right to the employment deal makers as they would also be able to tell you the trends of what skills are in short supply. However, definitely think about asking your local unemployment office if there are state or federal dollars to pay for these certifications.
Utility: So let's say that you've determined that the price is worth it. Now you have to figure out if the certification itself is worth it. Is this a cert that will be used? Is this a useful skill set or merely an easy certification to achieve. Don't spend your time and money on an outdated skill. And for goodness sake, don't let anyone talk you into getting a certification in a field where no one else has a certification. Already a rock star Executive Assistant? Chances are that you do not need a Word Certification to continue to be a rock star.
Quantity: Ah-the big question. Is there a need for another professional with this certification or is the market already flooded? If you are re-inventing yourself after a job loss, think carefully about this question. No sense getting a certification that even the fry cook at your local burger shack has. Think about the words: supply and demand...supply. and. demand. Go where the demand is high, and if possible, the supply is low. This is the equation that will help you be more marketable to a potential employer.
Still not sure what is right for you? Cruise the tech job boards like www.dice.com or www.corp-corp.com to see what employers are looking for. Talk to recruiters. Talk to other professionals in your skill set. And then make an educated decision about where to spend your time, money, and energy. Good luck and happy studying!