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Professional Certifications: Are They Worth It?

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You finished your degree. You got a job. You built up a few years of experience, and now you're ready to take action to advance your career. Could professional certification be the next step?

Professional certifications verify that you possess skills considered valuable in your industry, which might qualify you for higher earning potential or more responsibilities. That said, these certificates require an investment of time, energy and money – so it's important to first determine whether they're truly worth the effort.

Certification Benefits

Though professional certifications may qualify you for higher salaries, that's not always the case. It depends on your industry, position and the type of certification you're pursuing. Take Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification, for example. MOS certification demonstrates proficiency in one or more Microsoft Office programs, ideal for professionals who use Microsoft Office cloud and hybrid solutions on a regular basis. According to Eat Your Career, an OfficeTeam survey revealed that employers pay their administrative professionals who hold MOS certification up to 8 percent more than those who aren't certified.

That said, Microsoft Office is widely used and recognized, and MOS certification is highly regarded as denoting expert-level mastery of Excel, Word, PowerPoint and related programs. It checks out that administrative professionals who can demonstrate advanced proficiency in these programs often successfully demand higher salaries. However, not all certifications enjoy the same impact and respect as MOS, so your prospective certification may not prove as valuable.

Do Your Homework

Start by looking into other professionals in your field, and specifically those in positions similar to your ideal job. Rewire suggests perusing their LinkedIn profiles to identify any trends in professional certifications. This might give you an idea of whether a certification is worth your while: If people working your dream job tend to hold it, it might be worth the effort.

Check out job descriptions for positions you'd like to hold, as well. Look for trends in whether they require or prefer any professional certifications. Take your research a step further and speak to some recruiters in your industry – give them the low-down on your aspirations regarding career and salary, and ask whether professional certification could help you achieve those goals.

Career coach Kathy Caprino told Rewire that it's important to base your certification pursuits on your career goals.

"Do research on who has that kind of role and what is the trajectory for those people with those kinds of roles," Caprino said. "What are ... the industry associations [and] organizations recommending about the best certifications for your trajectory?"

Best-Bet Certifications

Though it usually takes significant research to determine whether a professional certification would realistically give you a career boost, you can safely bet on a few types to advance certain professional pursuits, according to Glassdoor. For example:

HR Professionals: Consider pursuing the professional in human resources (PHR), senior professional in human resources (SPHR) or Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) certification. Recruiters generally agree that these certifications benefit HR professionals in their job search.

Project Managers: As OakTree Staffing and Training technical recruiter Ashley Riedesel told Glassdoor, "Anyone can claim to have the leadership and organizational skills of a project manager, but a certification in this field really adds value to a candidate's resume." These professionals should consider obtaining project management professional (PMP) certification.

Sales Professionals: Foundational sales skills usually come from on-the-job experience, but formal training or certification can really make a candidate stand out, according to CloserIQ CEO Jordan Wan. Challenger Sales, Spin Selling and Sandler Training offer professional certifications in this field.

Help Desk Professionals: Professional certifications in this field particularly benefit entry-level employees, according to OakTree Staffing and Training technical recruiter Chase Wagner. Entry-level help desk professionals might pursue A+ or Network+ certification, and as Wagner told Glassdoor, "An A+ cert looks great for a lower-level position like help desk or desktop. It's a really good starting point and will definitely help you find your footing in the IT industry."