Working with Certifications in the Recruiting Process

When you sit down to interview a prospective job candidate, you’ve got a lot to figure out.

Will this person get along with other team members? Is she seeking a long-term fit? And most importantly, can she do her job?

Certifications exist to make it easier to answer this question, but sometimes you wonder just how valuable they are. There are the obvious legal certifications— board-certified doctors and legally licensed drivers— but what about positions in which the lines blur, such as project management and information technology? Does it make sense to use these certifications as requirements or influences in recruiting?

While there’s only anecdotal evidence that certified professionals perform better or are more knowledgeable, there are situations in which you should seek certifications and situations in which you can skip them.

1. Seek a Certification When It Affects Billing

If you’re in an industry that relies on certifications for certain billing requirements, you should obviously seek to hire certified professionals. For example, within the healthcare industry there are a number of positions and situations that are not legally licensed positions but that can affect the Medicare billing or reimbursement for healthcare firms. This is a clear case in which hiring a certified person would have an immediate impact on the firm’s bottom line.

2. Seek a Certification When You Want a Specialist

Certifications are also important when the job description denotes a specialty or benefits from an experienced candidate. Hiring a specialist isn’t simply a matter of academics. When you need a candidate who is at the top of his field, certifications often signal that the candidate is committed and passionate.

Dedicated, devoted professionals invest time and money in their career in the form of certifications. So whether or not the certificate guarantees a certain level of productivity, at the very least it guarantees a certain kind of person—one who is committed to his occupation and motivated to excel in it.

3. Skip the Certificate When You Need a Friendly Face

Let’s be honest. Not every hire needs to be a company cornerstone. Sometimes you’re looking to hire a role in the company that requires personality traits, not professional accomplishments.

If that’s the case, skip the certifications. When you’re looking for personal characteristics like “reliable,” “timely” or “welcoming” over expertise or experience, it’s best to go with your gut and ignore the certifications.

4. Make the Most of Certifications in Every Scenario

Still not sure about your scenario? Here’s how you can make the most of certifications in the hiring process without embracing or dismissing them entirely:

  • Ask about certifications in the interview. If the candidate has a certification (whether it is relevant to the job description or not), ask why he pursued it. If he doesn’t have one, ask which certificate he would get if he were to get one.
  • Make a list of certifications for your industry. If you’re new to an industry or haven’t investigated its certification options before, use the resources you have to research certifications available to the role you’re looking to fill. Ask current employees which certifications are worthwhile and which are resume fluff. The people who do the work every day will know when experience or common sense trump a certificate. Identify three to four certificates in each field that are noteworthy or worthwhile so that you can take note when they appear on a resume.
  • Make a stinker list, too. While performing your certification research, use caution when considering information from trade organizations, as some may push the prestige of a certification that actually holds little value for employers. Seek out research and endorsements from unbiased publishers and authors, and note the certifications that sound good but don’t represent real achievement.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or turned off by the sheer numbers of certifications that cross your desk. But instead of feeling pressured to make a decision about certifications, use them as another tool in the hiring process for you to find out more about a candidate and determine whether or not they are a good fit for a position. The presence or lack of a certification can be equally useful to the recruiter who knows how to read the resume.

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