In the past few months there has been a significant increase in activity in the area of experience-based certifications in the IT Service Management arena. itSMF has introduced priSM; the details of the ITIL® version 3 Master level of certification are now being made public now that it has entered the pilot stage, and other schemes are already in place or in progress in various locations on the planet. The level of discourse on the value of these new certifications has risen to a feverish pitch. But what value does it all bring to the industry? Will an employer trust a certification based on subjective documentation of a level of experience? What benefit will it bring to the person owning the piece of paper?
To understand the answer to this question, we must understand how decisions are made about value when it comes to the hiring of a human resource for a particular task, and what components are brought to bear on such a decision.
The decision to bring a talent into a position in a company begins with the talent of the leadership driving the hiring. Obviously, there are basic factors, such as intelligence, motivation and the ability to function in a team and organization. You can have all the certifications in the world, and all the experience in the world, but if you cannot convince the decision-maker that you have the brains to do the job, the motivation to do what needs to be done to help the organization succeed, and the ability to mesh into the team, you won't get the job.
That last one -- the interpersonal skills that would make it possible for you to assume the accountabilities and responsibilities of a member of the work team -- is probably the single most important measure of value in a hiring situation. I believe it also explains why the vast majority of hiring decisions are not made on the basis of resumes or job web sites, but rather on the basis of recommendations from the individual, team and organizational networks surrounding the people making those hiring decisions.
Of course, resumes are read and make a difference, but for the most part a resume is a calling card, and is judged on many of the same parameters as a calling card. Those of you who have had to slug your way through piles of resumes know what I mean. The round file has bins for kilometric manifestos, boilerplates that have no relevance to the position, pathetic spelling and grammar errors, cover pages that wouldn't get you in the door of your mother's office, and just about any pet peeve you can imagine.
So what part do certifications play in all of this? Regardless of whether they are experience-based, theory-based, or a mixture of the two, the reality is that all these pieces of paper do is open doors, and only partially at that. How far the door will open is determined by the relationship of the certification to the position, and by the perception of the certification on the part of the hiring manager. No piece of paper will fully open any door the way a good reference from a peer of the person doing the hiring will do so.
If this is the case, then what is the point of getting the certification in the first place? In the case of ITIL, the point is proving knowledge of the framework to increasingly higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. In the case of priSM, the stated purpose is to "enable members to apply for recognition of their ITSM knowledge, skills and abilities" and for "proactive employers and customers will be able to verify the qualification of candidates who are being considered for Service Management roles, assignments or projects." The question that comes to mind almost immediately is "Recognition by whom?" For some reason the word “peers” comes to mind. Every professional seeks to be recognized by their peers as a valuable person, no?
The ITIL v3 Master certification announcement states that "candidates for the ITIL Master qualification must select one or more real world situations and explain how they were able to apply their knowledge of ITIL to implement real solutions. Testing is performed by assessing a written submission describing real-world assignments, augmented by oral examination." My first reaction is that this certification is very much like a thesis at the Masters or Doctoral level. It proves a certain level of knowledge and competence, but the depth of the certification requirements limits the breadth of the knowledge the candidate can evidence. In essence, an ITIL v3 Masters Certification means you have subjectively convinced a panel of peers that you are very good in one very small area of the ITIL framework.
So what is the bottom line here? The bottom line in my opinion is that experience and classroom training alone will not improve your odds of getting that great job or juicy consulting gig. You have to bring both to the table, because a person with plenty of experience but little knowledge of ITIL theory can make spectacular errors, but so can a person with little experience and plenty of ITIL certificates. As with Utility and Warranty, the only way to achieve value is through an "AND" gate.
In closing, it is my opinion that certifications and experience are good to have, but your networking and people skills are what will close the deal and enable you to move forward along your chosen path to success.
As always, the point of my blogs is to get readers to think, rather than provide ready-made answers, because I will be the first to admit I do not always have them. Feedback on my blog entries is always welcome!
(ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom and other countries.)