IT Certifications Declining in Value

IT leaders, analysts and in-the-trenches professionals say certifications mean little in the candidate selection process.

Though not all were created equally, IT certifications once had an almost-guaranteed value.

In the years after the dot-com bust, many IT pros stocked up certifications namely in an effort to improve their job security. Their managers, in turn, used these accreditations to assure their value to the organization's penny-pinchers.

But when speaking to CIOs, IT managers and analysts about what counts and what doesn't on an IT professional's resume nowadays, one thing that stands out is an almost universal agreement that IT certifications don't matter the way they used to.

David Foote, whose management consultancy Foote Partners has been tracking the value of IT certifications for years, argues that a shift away from certifications has to do with a shift away from purely technical roles in the IT department.

"Certifications were created by vendors to sell products. Once people were trained, these companies ended up with all of these specialists out there that didn't work for them but advocated for them," said Foote.

In research released May 17, Foote Partners found that the average pay for 164 IT certifications posted their seventh straight quarterly decline in the beginning of 2008. Meanwhile, the market values of IT skills continued to climb.

"These days, our research has been heading towards the conclusion that it's about execution; the hiring focus is less about pure technology and more about technology instinct-the ability to get stuff done and develop solutions that can be used down the road," said Foote.

Those who work in the IT recruiting space agree. Sean Ebner, vice president for the Western region of Technisource, an IT recruiting firm, also said that certifications are not as in vogue as they once were.

"A PMP is nice to have on a resume, but when companies are looking for someone to take on a project, their experience and history of executing similar projects is more important," said Ebner.

However, Ebner does feel that there are instances-usually in roles that are strongly focused on specific technologies-when certifications can help serve as a candidate selection tool.

"At a lower level, the certifications are more important because it's a way to filter. If they work in a technical environment, such as Microsoft, that A+ certification is a way to measure their skills," said Ebner, referring to the CompTIA A+ base-level technician certification.

Foote found some exceptions to the decline of certifications as well, but only in the security arena, due to its heavily technical nature.

"Security is a deeply technical domain and certification is an important qualification in areas where technical skills dominate," he explained.

Yet even with these exceptions, the in-the-trenches IT folks say they're no longer using certifications to making hiring decisions.

"Certifications count for zero," one IT manager at a large retail company told eWEEK, insisting that they only proved someone was good at taking a test. "They correlate little with what kind of asset they'd be."