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Formal Education vs. Experience

Top It Consulting Firms

By Vijay Khatnani, Managing Partner, J2 Solutions

Hiring in our industry isn’t as black and white as one might think. There are many factors that go into what makes a good associate, so finding a great one requires evaluating the talent on several layers. Recruiters and companies alike put a lot of effort into finding a great fit for a position. As we’ve stressed before, at J2, soft skills are a big part of what makes candidates stand out in the interview process. But before you land an interview, first comes your resume and your qualifications. So, what makes you stand out in the early stages of the hiring process?

A topic that comes up often is whether having a certification increases your chances of getting the job. The answer is sometimes; it’s a on case by case basis. Some companies prefer candidates with the a certification and some don’t. It’s a company’s choice or an individual’s bias to follow their hiring philosophies. Sure, companies have missed out on working with incredible people because they insisted on certified candidates (and I have seen this first hand several times), but overall there are great leaders with certifications and great leaders without.

When it comes to screening resumes, the truth is they show a narrow slice of what a candidate can do. Qualifications and hard skills inform companies that you are  trained, and you speak a common language, but they don’t really show what you’re made of or that you know nuances of the role because you have the experience. Have you written complex code efficiently, did you manage the completion of a project on-time and on or even under-budget? Did you motivate folks to go above and beyond? Are you a great leader? This is where experience comes in.

By looking at the success of the projects you’ve worked on, companies get a better idea of your capabilities and leadership qualities. If your relevant experience shows advancement in your profession and in what you do, it shows you were successful and are good at what you do. Simply having a certification won’t show that. It may initially show that you are more qualified on paper, but it doesn’t show the trajectory of the steps you’ve taken to be qualified enough for the position you are applying for.

There are plenty of jobs where having a certification or a degree is an absolute necessity like a doctor or lawyer, but in some cases it is simply not a requirement. Quality formal education of any kind makes your resume stand out so being certified will certainly never hurt and is an added bonus to your resume, but there is no substitute for experience.

Personally, I don’t have a PMP Certification. I started with a degree in finance and transitioned to project management, ultimately overseeing multimillion-dollar projects. Although at times I lost out on some positions because I didn’t have the certification, I have managed to build a successful career in consulting.

So, what’s the right answer? In our industry, certifications are a plus but not a necessity. There are certified PM’s and one’s that are not, and both are employable. When it comes to hiring, the final decision is up to the individual looking to fill a position. To put it simply, some people prefer them and others don’t; there is no right or wrong.