Professional Designations and Certifications – Value Add… or Value Bad?

Professional DesignationsProfessional designations and certifications. Are they worth the risk?

One of the things I’m fortunate enough to do at Fraud Solutions is consult with clients from various verticals about their career transition and professional development plans.

While this usually results in a new strategic plan and complete resume overhaul, often while having professional development conversations, I’m routinely asked for recommendations about designations and certifications. “Which ones do you recommend?” “What should I get?” These sound like easy questions to answer but they aren’t….because designations and certifications can either be a real value-add or a total value bad.

That said, it’s occurred to me over time that there are a number of other important considerations that should go into this equation before any decisions are made and I routinely ask client’s to ponder five questions. There may be other important considerations but once they’ve gone though this exercise it usually provides a solid foundation for the conversation and helps them frame their decision/evaluation process.

Important Considerations

1)    Who is the entity offering the designation/certification?

While there are many designations and certifications available one of the key factors to examine under the microscope is who’s behind the credential? This may be a critical part of the decision process as a designation/certification offered by an entity widely viewed as lacking credibility will have little marketing power for  you professionally.

In fact, getting a designation/certification from the wrong entity may not only have a negative stigma to it but could actually work against you. Generally, as the saying goes “it may not be worth the paper it’s printed on!” So, just because it exists…and some entity is marketing it doesn’t mean you need to have it or that it will benefit you.

2)    Do you have the time?

Consider the time investment. If all you have to do is apply and send in your money…the phrase “diploma mill” should be ringing loudly in your ears. Does the designation/certification require a significant period of individualized study? Some do.

In addition to your personal/professional commitments, do you have the time available to dedicate to it? And will you do so? These are important considerations as money spent up front without the effort/time commitment behind it is like flushing money down the drain.

3)    Who’s paying for it?

Given the significant cost of some professional designations/certifications, the question of money almost always comes up. Employers may be willing to pony up the cost of certain designations/certifications under the auspices of professional development while others may not.

Even those that generally back these kinds of personal/professional development efforts may have stringent requirements on the specific designation/certification, the cost and the perceived benefit. And you should be able to clearly articulate that to management since you’re asking them to foot the bill.

If management does not back these kinds of efforts, the evaluation process and cost/benefit analysis becomes even more important as the money to earn the designation/certification is coming directly out of your pocket and some of the offerings aren’t cheap!

4)    What are your professional areas of emphasis and personal interests?

This often involves an analysis of what are you doing now? What vertical are you in? Where do you want to go, what are your personal interests and what’s your passion? It may very well be that the place you want to transition to professionally requires a certain designation/certification to be competitive in that space.

This requires a little homework but should be easily accomplished with people knowledgeable about that space/industry BEFORE you undertake the effort.

5)    What do you intend on using it for – how will it benefit you?

This is a critical question which cannot be dodged. It’s one thing to tell me you want a designation/certification but if you cannot articulate how it will really benefit you professionally there may not be much point in getting it. Do others in the industry have it? Is not having it a barrier to entry in that field or industry?

Will it put more money in your pocket? Will it help you advance or get a promotion to the next level? Or will you just be “status quo” since so many others already have it? This is the kind of critical analysis your thought process should reflect.

Another important consideration is how the designations/certifications you plan on securing work in conjunction with each other. I recommend getting a select few that not only have real impact for you personally and professionally but which complement each other and your education. Think about how the designation makes you look and what it says about you as a professional.

Can obtaining professional designations/certifications send the wrong message? Absolutely, if you pick one that is very niche specific it may have the effect of pigeon holing you and your skills in that industry. That’s fine if the need to specialize in that industry is there or it’s all you envision yourself doing forever but when you try to cross over to other verticals and industries, as many are doing in this economic time, it may limit your opportunities across the board as people will only view you in light of the specialized designations/certifications you have which might not apply to that vertical.

I also suggest client’s avoid “alphabet soup” if they can help it! While having twenty designations and certifications (acronyms) after your name might impress some, and help you qualify for expert witness work… more is not always better. Besides being time consuming and expensive, in fact, more may actually impress certain people, in certain verticals less, perhaps even suggesting you’re overqualified. So, choose your path carefully.

Do you really need all those designations/certifications to be competitive in your space? If it impresses the professionals you are trying to impress great but beware it may also have the reverse effect.

While these questions help frame the discussion and narrow down the possibilities one thing is certain, you have to critically evaluate professional designations and certifications from a cost/benefit standpoint and really analyze what they will do for you long term.

While the right professional designations and certifications may definitely help you (value add), it’s entirely possible that the wrong professional designations and certifications might be a detriment and do little for you (value bad). Interestingly, much of this same evaluation also applies to memberships in associations and trade groups, continuing education and professional conferences but that’s another article altogether.

Daniel W. Draz, M.S., CFE is the Principal of Fraud Solutions, a specialized fraud risk management consulting firm. He has a Masters degree in Economic Crime Management and 31 years of sophisticated fraud, investigation, compliance, audit, legal and risk experience exclusively in the private sector. Mr. Draz is a frequently published author and industry speaker. He frequently mentors other investigators and fraud professionals. For more information about the professional services offered at Fraud Solutions, contact Dan via e-mail: