Is it wise to use certifications in the candidate selection process?

My previous certification-related post described how some companies use certifications to filter job applicants for networking-related positions. Should you follow that example? If you’re in a country with a saturated job market, where the number of applicants far exceeds the number of job postings (consider yourself very lucky if you’re an employer), you should certainly use whatever filters you can to screen the hundreds of applications you receive … but be aware that you have potentially lost a few gems hidden in the flood.

Regardless of your decision, if you’re looking for bright networking engineers, you should be aware of certain facts about the certifications they might hold:

  • A certification is like an academic degree. It proves that its holder possesses the will to study and complete the project (assuming that the certification was not gained through brain dumps or other cheating mechanisms), but not necessarily that s/he can apply the concepts covered in the certification material to a real-life scenario.
  • In most cases, certification mechanisms are completely automated, with no human double-check on the results. It’s hard to cheat your way through an academic degree, as you have to interact numerous times with professors and mentors; by contrast, certification cheating is quite common. (Check out the Testking Demo website if you doubt my word.)
  • The most popular (lower-end) certifications are based primarily on multiple-choice answers, which don’t necessarily test the candidate’s comprehension of the topic.
  • Quite often the questions in the certification tests focus on fact memorization, not on understanding of the topics covered by the certification. (Note that this analysis was done by the very first Cisco CCIE.)
  • Although many exams that are part of Cisco’s certifications test hands-on skills, these tests are usually performed in a simulated environment that’s not nearly as complex as real life. The only certifications that test the actual configuration skills of a candidate aiming to be recognized as a networking expert are CCIE (from Cisco) and JNCIE (from Juniper).

Based on these facts, what can you do? Never consider industry certifications as an absolute filter (or a showstopper). They should be used in combination with other requirements (academic degrees, experience, other essential skills) as one of the weighted parameters that can help you to select better candidates to be considered for further interviews. Finally, if you plan to offload the initial screening to your Human Resources department, work with them to make sure that they understand what you need, why you’re asking for those specific requirements and how they should evaluate the applications … otherwise, you’ll get what you’ve asked for.

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