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Work Experience Or IT Certifications – The Perennial Dilemma

The IT industry is seeing a pace of change that was never before. All domains within the IT sector are witnessing a new age technological change. Hardware, software, IT infrastructure and administration, networking are all heavily impacted with these changes. The business environment of an organization is rapidly evolving. A natural question that is asked in this scenario is whether one should hire for experience or for certifications? Both have their merits. Do any of the two weigh heavier is the billion dollar question.

Let us do one thing. Let us understand the importance of both work experience and IT certifications.

IT Certifications

A certification that is credible has its own identity. Such certifications are often the result of hundreds of hours of hard work.  They also involve a sizeable amount of dollar investment and a lot of grit. The general perception about a certified professional is that he/she is:-

  • Proficient with the matter of concern at hand

  • Adept at handling situations that demand the skills of that particular certification

  • Inclined towards a solution oriented approach

  • Knowledgeable about the complexities of various situations. This knowledge is ascribed to the  process of the certification

  • Determined to put the knowledge acquired through the certification

These and more similar reasons work in favor of a certified IT professional. Hiring managers considers these factors. 

Work Experience

There is nothing that can ever replace hard core dirtying of hands. It is true in context of any profession. More so, in the case of an IT professional. Years of living through technology changes add to the learning curve of the IT professional. On top of it, seeing through execution of projects builds in certain abilities like:-

  • Handling real life uncertainty arising due to technology changes

  • Specific industry knowledge that aids the way a professional tackles a situation

  • A super-fast learning curve on any given job

  • Launch into smooth execution

  • Communicating to all concerned stake holders

These are abilities beyond an expected level of technical know-how.

Having read through till this point, it might seem to you that either of the choices is good. You are on the right track.

The best possible option any day is that of a professional who is both certified and has the relevant work experience. This is really a hiring manager’s jackpot! But, such professionals are either hard to find or are too pricey. Hiring budgets cannot stretch to accommodate such rare talent if found. Then, what is the solution?

Understanding this situation from the perspective of the hiring manager helps you as a job seeker in multiple ways. 

  • You are an IT professional from a specific industry. You do not have the necessary certifications. Your chances of being hired at intermittent positions are good.

  • You are an IT professional with relevant certifications. You do not have industry specific work experience. Your chances of being hired of entry level positions are good.

Basically, you will find a job one way or the other. What you need to understand is your future employers interest in your growth. Will that organization invest in you?

Many organizations have the budgets to help their employees acquire the necessary certifications. These organizations focus on getting the right candidates. Their organizational culture is the main filter. Fitting-in matters a lot to them. When such employees are found, such companies support certifications. There are terms and conditions that apply in terms of years of tenure. This is a minor factor given the pay and perks that a relevant certification attracts. If you are lucky enough to find such employment, do not hesitate to sign up.

There are other organizations that spend money to acquire the most suitable candidate with all the relevant certifications. The salaries are high, the interview process is strict and the expectations from such candidates are big. Such roles demand expertise that one gets from work experience. They believe that certifications cannot cover this real life experience.

So, in a way, the answer to work experience vs IT certifications boils down to how you charter your career path. Factors that influence are:-

  • The nature of the industry you are looking at

  • The personal vision you have for yourself 10 years down the line

  • The financial aspirations you have for yourself across different milestones

  • The amount of time and money investment you are willing to make for career development

  • The determination with which you will go after your career objectives

In my personal opinion, taking up a certification only strengthens your profile. This is irrespective of whether you have work experience or no experience.  You need to take up a certification that is in line with your career domain. It is a useful exercise that will not go unrewarded.

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