I’m Already an Expert; Why Would I Need Certification?

My name is Stephen McSweeney, and I’m proud to be a Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Certified Master. I’ve worked here at Certiport in various capacities since 2005, and am currently the Vice President of Strategic Accounts. I have long considered myself a digital literacy expert; my background is in educational IT, having taught related courses at university level in my native Ireland, as well as worked in the assessment and certification industry for almost 15 years now. So, other than hanging something on my wall, what possible value could I expect from taking an Office certification? I used to think the answer was “none”, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

I have a lot of experience with Microsoft products, all the way back to Windows 3.1 and Office 4. This experience was one of many factors that influenced me to join the team at Certiport, and I quickly moved into roles where developing these exams became my responsibility.

In a similar manner to that classic tourism conundrum where many of us never go to visit our local tourist attractions, in my first few years at Certiport, I never actually formally took the certification exams for MOS. My reasons were manifold; I managed the team that developed the exams, I was too busy, I couldn’t see the value, I was scared I might fail, etc. However, given my position and my increasing role in promoting the products as an executive, I eventually began to feel more and more pressure to actually take an exam.

When I eventually did so, it was a true revelation. I took the Excel certification first, which was the one I expected to pass with the least trouble. Thankfully I avoided the ridicule of my team by posting a decent score and gaining my certification without any real trouble, but I learned something fascinating about myself and my skills. Firstly, while there was much I clearly did know about Excel, in the 50 minutes it took to complete the exam I learned of several features I never even knew existed. Some of these features I use extensively today, and this experience has been the same with other certifications too. In Outlook I learned about advanced task management, much to the chagrin of my team and their deadlines. In Word, I learned about advanced reviewing and collaboration techniques, and so on. These additional skills have made me significantly more productive at work, and I would likely never have uncovered them had I not taken the certification exam, even though I was already quite the expert. The point here is this: modern productivity applications such as Office are so complex and feature rich that nobody can reasonably expect to know everything about them. However, the process of creating a certification exam is designed specifically to highlight and test the more important and useful features.

Nowadays, when I interview people looking for a job here as part of the Certiport team, I always ask them to rate their competency in Word and Excel on a scale of one to ten, and after the interview I have them take the certification exams. Almost invariably, the ones that rate themselves the highest fail the exam.

When Microsoft releases a new version of Office, I am now always first in line to take the related certifications – it allows me to learn what’s new, and to keep my skills current with what the industry as a whole considers to be the benchmark for excellence. These are skills that you truly can benefit from in almost all job roles these days. So I challenge you: unleash your potential, get certified today.

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2 Responses to I’m Already an Expert; Why Would I Need Certification?

  1. Rob Moore May 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Stephen’s experience with certification is representative of one of the more interesting challenges faced by the adoption of certification in the corporate market.

    How can corporations come to understand the value of the certification experience to the individual and the institution in order to justify investment in a training program that includes certification as the capstone assessment or ‘validated learning’ experience?

    Studies have shown empirically that certification boosts individual competency and confidence as well as institutional productivity and professionalism. So while the returns on investment and productivity gains are clearly there both for individuals and the organizations sponsoring their training and certification experience, the challenge remains–how to promote that value such that businesses not only invest, they come to require existing and prospective employees to be MOS certified.

    What do you think? How can MOS certifications become as indispensable in corporate America and professional environments as are the applications (Word, Excel, Outlook, etc.) themselves?

  2. Dave Hansen May 20, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    Your experience is similar to nearly all that I’ve spoken to about their certification experience. I have learned something new every time I get certified. Rather than learning a tidbit in a blog post or through eLearning, I find (and experts have validated) that the things I learn via a testing event (i.e. MOS certification exam) are seared into my memory forever. Thus, I put them into practice and still finding myself using VLookups, and other excellent Excel functions.

    Great post!

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