Part 1 of 2. This blog post is co-authored by Ajayi Anwansedo, PhD and William Assaf, who met and worked together at The Futures Fund, a STEM non-profit which offers introductory coding and web development classes to teens and adults.
So, you're considering pursuing a certification exam. Congratulations for taking your career into your own hands! Preparing for a certification is a commitment but it doesn't require derailing your personal life. This co-authored blog post is mean to encourage, empower, and enlighten you.
Does passing a certification exam make you a better developer, programmer, analyst, or administrator? We would argue the process of preparing for an exam, the preparation of the materials, and the mindset that led you to the self-improvement path of the certification exams, are all productive, causative, and beneficial for your career.
The benefits to your own learning and knowledge are obvious but a 2015 International Data Corporation (IDC) study found that certified employees resulted in 56% less unplanned downtime, 58% faster time to market for applications, and 39% less time for new hires to reach full productivity. These are beneficial to your future employers as well, which is why certifications are valuable on your resume.
Let's discuss why, what, and when of taking a certification exam. Then, we'll discuss how: how to prepare, how to have success test-taking, and how to build confidence in test-taking skills. In the next blog post, we'll address some frequently asked questions about certifications, exams, test-taking skills, and more.
Why pursue a certification exam?
First, you prepare for the certification exam by asking the following questions:
“Why do I want to take a certification exam?”
“What are the benefits of taking a certification exam?” and
“How will my career be affected if I do not take the certification exam?”
Answering these questions will help you prepare for the certification exam. Additionally, a clear understanding of the reason you need to take the exam and the potential consequences of not taking the exam will keep you motivated to finish the process.
What exam should you pursue?
After deciding you are prepared to take a certification exam, the next step is to decide what exam to take.
Sometimes taking a certification exam is mandated by your organization or job prospect. Here we will address taking a certification exam for self-improvement/career advancement purposes. Consider:
- Deciding on what certification will enhance your current job performance or career prospects.
- Get an idea from someone who is at the ideal job/position you are pursuing.
Next, it's important to understand who the intended audience of the certification exam is.
Is it a fundamentals exam covering concepts, or is it (more commonly) a cert exam looking to test experience? A fundamentals exam (like Microsoft’s AZ-900) is intended to get newcomers rolling in a field, whereas exams like DP-300 are intended to test solutions experience.
A fundamentals exam will be more like book learning, but a more advanced exam will ask scenario-based questions, intending to test experience. For a fundamentals exam, usually the provider will provide you with a significant amount of onboarding information, because they want you to pass and start gaining experience!
For a more advanced exam, you need to be working in the field already and gaining that experience. Make sure you’re targeting an exam that is meant for your level of experience.
When should you pursue a certification exam?
Timing, they say, is everything. A friend took a certification exam a few months before their company went through reorganization. The reorganization of the company resulted in said friend having to interview for a new position. During the interview process, one of the major requirements for this new position was the certification they had taken months earlier. I had no idea I was friends with Nostradamus.
Taking certification exams before you need them can help you prepare for a future role. Here are some of the best times to take certification exams.
1. You're a student or new to the field (target fundamentals/introductory certs first!)
2. When you are job-hunting
3. After you get a new job
4. Before the promotion cycle
5. Whenever you have idle time
6. When you need to shake up your career
7. When you're afraid of becoming obsolete*
*That last reason for taking a certification exam should be a bigger concern for folks who work on aging technology and don't get an opportunity to see new products or features. Preparing for a certification exam is a great way to make sure you aren't vulnerable to being left behind by progress or vulnerable after a layoff. Your employer is not motivated to keep you up to date as you maintain legacy systems, that is up to you!
So now that you know how to prepare before taking a certification exam, when are you taking your next certification exam in 2023?
In the next blog post, we'll address some frequently asked questions about certifications, exams, test-taking skills, and more.
Ajayi Anwansedo, PhD is an Associate Training and Change Consultant for IBM. She has over a decade's experience in training and development. She is passionate about STEM education and is a 2-time National Center for Women in Technology Award (NCWIT) Winner – for playing a pivotal role in promoting gender equity in computing and technology. She works with various organizations to make STEM accessible to all.
William Assaf is a senior content developer for Microsoft Learn for the Database Docs team, a veteran writer and SME for Microsoft certification exams, and author of the last three editions of SQL Server Administration Inside Out by Microsoft Press. William has been writing and taking certification exams for the past decade and has been authoring Microsoft Learn content since 2020.