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Professional Certifications: Can they Impact Your Career?

A topic of conversation that has certainly become more popular over the last few years as individuals realize that they need to differentiate themselves (or be seen as "best in class") among their professional peers is the value of professional certifications/designations.  In general I am a believer in the value of professional designations as I am a Certified Treasury Professional (CTP) and I believe that this designation along with my association with the organization sponsoring the certification has opened many doors for me in my professional life.  However, I would caution that the value of any designation is dependent on a person's current job, career path and professional aspirations.

I believe that obtaining and having professional certifications can serve several "purposes": 

1. Facilitates the mastery of skills that will help develop the technical skills needed within a given profession  

2. Demonstrates a mastery of a defined set of skills (provides an inherent level of professional credibility)  

3. Provides a "built in" professional network of fellow certification holders  

4. Facilitates involvement in professional associations

5. Opens doors to career advancement (or keeps them from being closed to you) 

However, professional certifications can be costly in terms of time and money. If you want to "do the math" sponsoring organizations should have information on "how much more" holders of their certification make over the course of a career.  Also many professions offer more than one certification and you must access the marginal value of each one to your career. A great way to do this is to talk to successful professionals in your field both who hold the certification and do not hold it and see what impact having or no having the given certification has had on their careers.

The cost/benefit analysis for any certification is personal and it depends on factors such as: your current job, your particular industry or desired industry of employment, your desired career path, and how you plan to leverage (or not leverage ) the certification.

Professional certifications can open doors and keep them from being closed on you, but it is an individual's job to invest time and money only in those that have the most impact on his or her career. Like most things in life, the benefits of a professional certification will be what YOU make of it.


Richard Schwalbe
Title: CEO
(CEO, ) |

These seem to have proliferated over time. I do not place much value in certifications or degrees from non-accedited educational institutions. It is very hard to know what is a certificate of attendance to a seminar and what has real value.

Fiona McGinnis
Title: Assistant Treasurer
Company: In-between
(Assistant Treasurer, In-between) |

In addition to the list of reasons you gave for undertaking professional qualifications I would also add that sometimes we find ourselves in jobs where "vertical" development does not seem to be available. Therefore studying for professional qualifications allows you to develop "horizontally" and maintain your motivation. It also demonstrates your interest and commitment to your chosen career area because the effort and time involved is considerable.

Ernie Humphrey CTP
Title: VP, Thought Leadership
Company: Stampli
LinkedIn Profile
(VP, Thought Leadership, Stampli) |

I would like to get some insights as to what people view as the value of certifications, and how they have leveraged them or have survived without them (any CFOs without a CPA care to comment here on this angle).

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

I just don't believe in Certs. They are an example of someone who has spent time studying for the test(s), and successfully passing them. Granted, some of the tests (like CPA exams) are extremely tough, take a long time to prepare for, but in the final analysis; it's a test.

Let's look at some the answers given by people on Proformative over the years. There are quite a large number of just wrong answers, followed by what I'll call questionable, and then correct answers and right answers.

Correct answers are in the zone, and its based on interpretation, industry, etc. In other words mileage may vary.Right answer have no interpretation component. An example would be Cash in bank is an asset, or an account called "something expense" is just that an expense.

I would say just as many of the certified people vs the non-certified (and advanced degreed) people fall into both categories. If that is the case, then what does the certification prove (besides they passed a test)?

The real question is can a person do the job, and that certification or degree they got years ago is pretty much worthless?

The degree or certification they currently have received is as good as the experience that backs up their abilities. Coming out of school, not much.

Working for multiple years, I'll agree it shows some fortitude, but then again what's your resume show?

And, even with that cert, can you do the job?

Jaime Campbell
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Tier One Services, LLC
(Chief Financial Officer, Tier One Services, LLC) |

#2 and #5 in Ernie's list were the strong factors for me. As a woman in an industry dominated with male leadership, as a physically average/small person, and as a person with a very young-looking face and naturally energetic and positive demeanor, I am often mistaken for someone half my age. Despite the gray hairs. Although I am certain this phenomenon will be enjoyable when I am 80, it has been less then helpful in my career.

However, time and time again when a prospective client or employer hears all of my certifications, the eyebrows go up, the conversation pauses, the tone of voice changes, and doors open up.

My certifications/designations are: CPA, MBA, CGMA, CTT, MCT, and for a number of years Certified QuickBooks Professional Advisor.

MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer) includes Certified Microsoft Master, which includes Certified Excel Expert, Certified Word Expert, Certified PowerPoint Specialist, and Certified Outlook Specialist.

Randall Bolten
Title: CEO
Company: Lucidity
LinkedIn Profile
(CEO, Lucidity) |

Professional certifications certainly do have value. They provide insight for potential employers and clients into a person's interests and skills -- insight that can be very difficult to get in other ways. That insight is especially valuable given the kind of growing information overload we see these days.

The FP&A certification -- the newest one of these credentials, to my knowledge -- is a good example of the certification dynamic. FP&A is the fastest-growing discipline within the finance profession, but at the same time, speaking as a longtime CFO I can tell you it's really hard to identify a good FP&A practitioner just from an interview, let alone from browsing the resume. Enter the FP&A professional certification. It took the certifying body years to develop the criteria and the exam, but it has really taken off in the past year. And a number of universities with well-respected business programs -- Indiana University and Rice, to name a couple -- now offer programs aimed at getting the participants certified.

Ernie's advice is spot-on: If you're wondering about the rigor, the difficulty, and of course the value of getting a certification in a specific area, a good start would be to seek out a couple of people who have that credential and ask THEM what it took to earn it and what the exam was like.

Carlton Johnson
Title: Chief Financial Member
Company: Luz Fraterno LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Chief Financial Member, Luz Fraterno LLC) |

I agree with all of you: professional certifications are a great way to identify professionals who have made the decision to be distinct from their colleagues through their dedication in obtaining a designation demonstrating proficiency and/or mastery. There has been a proliferation of a number of accounting and finance certifications and designations since I earned my first "alphabet soup" in 2002. I first earned the Accredited Business Accountant (ABA) designation, then the Master Financial Professional (MFP) credential. My current credential is the Delaware Licensed Public Accountant (LPA) designation.

I will share the same caution that one very wise CPA practitioner shared with me: the credential is only as good as the practitioner. An individual may have an "alphabet soup" chocked full of rich specialities, but these must be coupled with relevant and practical experience. For newer credentials, experience counts more as the body of credentials holders are being tested as more designations are being awarded. A practitioner's letters are a promise...the practitioner's performance is the promise fulfilled.

kurt ramin
Title: treasurer
Company: KPR Associates
LinkedIn Profile
(treasurer, KPR Associates) |

Certifications are a quick way to gain knowledge and network access in a field which is related to your current work. The learning tools are often much better than what you had in school or university. A very efficient way to learn. The problem most people have are missing discipline and not able to de-learn or dismantle knowledge they had acquired earlier.

I have to smile when people talk about cost/benefit if you consider the hourly rates charged by most professionals. Calculate the hours you need for the prep and test and compare it to the rates you earn or charge. That will give you an incentive to stay the course.

I recently completed my CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) in two weeks of concentrated learning. The question banks allowed me to identify my weaknesses to enable me to correct missing or false links. And besides, it was fun to see the progress.