What Is Professional Certification?

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Professional certification is a standardized process that enables an individual to demonstrate a certain level of competency in a specific career or job function. Upon completion of professional certification requirements, which typically entail passing an exam administered by an industry specific credentialing organization, a certificate credential is awarded. The National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) current sets quality standards for credentialing.

Most programs leading to a professional certification take less than two years to complete. Professional certification programs are offered at community colleges, technical schools as well as some four-year colleges and universities.

A growing number of industries and career fields offer professional certification, from jobs in the arts, including ballroom dancing to highly technical jobs, such a computer programming. Regardless of the industry, a professional certificate validates a professional’s ability and competency and assures customers, employers and the public that the certificate holder is a competent and skilled professional.

In many professions today, certification is a prerequisite to employment. Doctors, Accountants (CPAs), Certified Financial Planners (CFAs), and pilots are examples.

Why Earn a Professional Certification?

While certification isn’t required in all career fields, it’s a good idea. If you have the opportunity to earn a professional certification, doing so usually pays off. The following are just a few of the benefits of earning a professional certification.

  • More employment and career advancement opportunities
  • Competitive advantage over competitors that are not certified
  • Higher pay
  • Tuition reimbursement for continuing education
  • Lower liability. If your competency is ever questioned a certificate will show you are a qualified professional in your industry.

If you work in a field where an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree are not required or available earning a professional certificate may be the only credential that can prove your qualifications.

Types of Certification

Generally speaking, there are three types of professional certification. These include corporate (internal), product-specific and profession-wide.

Corporate, or internal certifications, are company specific and are typically designed to fulfill purposes unique to a company’s needs. This certificate has limited portability, in that it typically has little value outside of the corporation that provided the certification.

Product-specific certifications are more portable than corporate certifications, and typically more valuable. Product-specific certification is prevalent in the information technology (IT) industry where professionals can become certified on versions of industry specific hardware and software platforms. This type of cerfication is portable across and industry, but not other products.

The most valuable type of certification is profession-wide. This type of certification is designed to be portable across an entire industry. For example, the Certified Public Account (CPA) designation indicates that the holder of the certificate is qualified to work in the profession, not just for one segment of the industry or for a specific employer.