What is a certification?

A certification, or just "certificate" as they are sometimes known, is an official test or document that certifies a person's competency in a given trade or field of study. Some certifications may involve a simple test at a government office, such as a food handlers' permit. Others can involve very specific, very thorough training in a particular process or trade, such as a journeyman electrician's license.

What kinds of certifications are there?

There are thousands of certifications available today. In almost any given career field, there is some form of certificate proving your competence in your chosen trade. A certification is not the same thing as degree, as most degrees require study in a range of subjects. Certifications typically focus on a single field or even a single process within a field.

How do I obtain a certification?

The process to obtain a certification depends on what the certification is for. If you are looking for a certification to become an inspector, for example, you may only need a certain amount of experience in your field. Most city or county offices can give you information on inspectors' licenses and the necessary process.
If you are looking for a certification that is more specialized, such as computer programming, you may need to enroll in a training program in a technical school and go through months of study. After the study, some schools offer a comprehensive exam to actually receive your official certificate.

Some large companies have their own training programs or schools within the company itself. Others may be willing to reimburse you for the cost of the certification, if it is of benefit to them. Some companies encourage their employees to receive training on a regular basis to keep their job skills up-to-date.

Are certifications necessary to obtain a job?

Many people can obtain an entry-level position for nearly any given company without needing a certificate or degree. However, in today's competitive job market, many companies will insist on an employee gaining a certain level of training and certification in order to advance in position in the company. Experience is always a plus, but without formal training, it can be difficult to compete in an ever-changing global market.

What is the cost to certify and how long is a certificate good for?

The cost for a certification varies widely. It depends on the amount of training necessary and how comprehensive the exam is. Many government licenses can be less than a hundred dollars. Very specialized certifications can cost thousands of dollars. The length of time a certificate is good for also varies. Some require a single test, others must be renewed frequently.

Is it worth it for me to get a certification?

There are a few questions you must ask yourself when considering a particular certification. Is it directly involved with your career field? How serious are you about continuing in your field?

Also, consider the cost. Will the cost of the licensing and possible renewal fees be more than the benefit to your career? For example, if you do freelance computer work on a part-time basis, it may not be worth it to get a computer certification, as you will not use it often enough to justify the fees. However, if you are working for a computer company and looking to advance, or looking to get a better job with another company, getting that certification may put you ahead of the pack. It shows you are serious about your career and keeping your skills sharp and updated.

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