Achievement Unlocked: Certifications for Career Growth

I missed out on being a boy scout.

It was something as a child that never appealed to me, but now that I am older, I feel like I missed my calling. I like being outdoors, learning to be self-sufficient, and – most importantly for me – I like earning badges. I don’t believe I am alone on that last statement, and most companies know this as well. So when someone gives me a chance to do more, to get certified, or even earn a silly badge like for just logging onto their website and starting a profile, I immediately rise to the challenge. And while this may seem like a time-sink depending on the challenge, it can be helpful not only to yourself but also to your job.

So let’s talk a second about what’s not meaningful for certification – unlocking achievements for the purpose of unlocking achievements. See the game “Achievement Unlocked” on This is the true definition of a time-sink game. There is no purpose other than to do every possible achievement, some of which involve playing the game for over a certain amount of time. Now, this may seem like an obvious example, but it has real-world implications. For instance, while it is great to have worked for a company (played the game) for a certain amount of time, it is not as powerful of merit as doing something that allows you to grow or even changes how a company operates, hopefully for the better.

Here is the important question to ask yourself at this point:

Am I chasing after things that are time-sinks?

Said another way, is what I am doing going to grow me as a person or employee?

As for meaningful merit, there are companies and websites that specialize in training and certifications, communities that offer rewards for contributions, and quite a few product sites that have their own ways of offering merit and recognition. And these are all things that you have to interpret yourself as whether they are worthwhile. I try break it down into the following three rules if I feel the effort is worth the reward when it comes to certifications:

  1. Growth: Will I actually learn something?
  2. Value: Do I or the company I work for value this recognition? Is there a monetary value to earning this recognition? Is this certification easy or difficult to obtain?
  3. Pride: Would I be willing to talk to my boss/ my family/ a stranger about my accomplishment? Could I put it on my resume?

Let’s start with number 1. If we are jumping hurdles to jump hurdles, then I would assume this is something not worth pursuing at this time. For instance, if I am trying to pass 3rd grade Math on Khan Academy even though I have graduated from college, the badge/certification doesn’t mean squat for me or my job. My degree or knowledge should speak for itself on this one. On the other hand, if I am an English major, and I am going for a quantitative analysis job, it may be worthwhile to show that I have experience in Excel, higher level maths, and other job-related activities to prove some kind of worth. Just be aware that not all certifications are equal, and your degree and experience will speak more volumes than that cool-looking “certification.”

After we have said “yes” to the first question, we must consider its value. Like before, if it is job-related and will make you more efficient or give you expertise, then the certification is certainly something to your company. Furthermore, if this is a certification that you had to pay to test into, then it adds even more to the investment (think Udacity’s Nanodegree Programs or Coursera Courses). Lastly, the difficulty factor for earning the certification will pay a major role. If not everyone can earn it, then it certainly is something of value.

Last but not least, would you be proud of this accomplishment? Odds are if you answered the first two questions positively, then this one should be a slam dunk. However, I can certainly think of accomplishments that are mediocre experiences that you would not feel comfortable touting yourself as an expert in (think courses where you get a certificate just by watching videos). Likewise, the more you grow and the more value the certification has, the more likely you are going appreciate the experience and even put it as an extra item on your resume.

There are plenty of places to get certified and a whole pool of achievements to unlock, but by using these basic questions as your compass, you will find yourself growing for the role you have or even the role you want to have.

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