I have a Bachelor’s in Information Technology; I am going to get that job! I have a high-level, world-recognized certification; I am the best for that new hire position! I have been in this business for over 15 years, who better than I for this position?! Really, which one is more marketable and gets your foot in the door, or even possibly all? This is constantly debated because there are no clear-cut answers. So I’m not going to throw out any concrete facts and I can’t hope to change anyone’s mind on the matter, but here are a few things to consider when weighing the benefits of a degree versus a cert with the included experience if possible. First of all, keep in mind that the degree/certification matter is only a part of what you should concern yourself with when you’re marketing yourself for a new job or a better position. Certifications and Degrees provide potential employers with a “calling card” of what you may be able to bring to the table, but remember what you are really selling, “YOURSELF!”
Once you are in that job role, your employer will want to see the individual who can “get the job done” and doing it in the most efficient, cost-effective manner. If you don’t have either a degree or certification, no one is going to dismiss your good results because you lack those credentials, especially if you have the experience or the aptitude for the position. However, in IT, keeping up with the changes in technology is important, and in some cases because of regulatory requirements, a must have. Certifications and degrees can demonstrate your awareness of that required knowledge, especially to a hiring company reviewing a multitude of possible applicants.
On that note, the Human Resources (HR) person who is reviewing that resume is a variable as well when looking at degrees versus certifications. You might get a HR person who is ticking off check marks against a criterion to filter candidates. For example, to apply for a Windows Administrator job, you must have a high level Microsoft certification in order to be seriously considered for the position. They might not be aware that many of the degreed programs offer you the equivalent knowledge, just not with that official certification and title.
However, if the HR person is an “academic”, they may respond to the presence of a degree most positively since they often come from a mindset that they had to acquire and complete their degrees and any new hire for a position should have that equivalent educational level or higher for their chosen field. They may see the jumble of certification acronyms as just that, a jump of letters and characters of no real value unless instructed otherwise, like from an IT Manager. Like I advised, these are not hard-core facts, just things to take in consideration.
There are lots of good reasons to get a degree, both personal and professional. In the eyes of some employers, a completed four-year degree shows that you can finish what you start with a show of dedication and work ethic. But do be aware that if the degree is dated, then a certification which is often required to be renewed as the technology changes and evolve shows most employers about your proficiency levels and how you are willing to shift those to meet changes in the IT environment.
Degrees can prepare the foundation for dealing with technology, but you can’t generalize. I know we have all heard of the guy with a Master’s degree in something like Computer Science, who can’t get a position as a computer technician or possibly be able to do those simple troubleshooting tasks for that role in a business. This could be a concern with specificity in a job role. Some companies have a budget for a “Jack or Jane of All Trades” but most do not have that luxury and are looking for those hires with the certification and/or experience for that specific position. Ramon Padilla, and experienced IT Manager [TechRepublic], states when he is looking at a job candidate: “If I am looking at a highly technical position (DBA, network engineer, etc.) then I lean more heavily toward certification. However, if I’m looking at a managerial, administrative, or analyst type position, the degree is more valuable.”
So, the answer to the age-old question of degrees vs. certifications is “it depends.” I say, it depends on the specifics of the job, on the person doing the hiring, and on your capabilities in general. When it comes to IT, there is a high degree of mental ability needed for the job; not just for problem solving, but also can you deal with stress as well. Having a degree without the experience can hinder you just as much as having a certification without the experience. Depending on the company, to really market one well for a position, having a degree, with some certifications and experience will put you over the scale of most other possible applicants. Don’t limit yourself, no matter the educational choice, because in the world today an applicant with either or both a degree and certificates often proves to that employer that you are a hard worker and willing to go that additional level to gain expertise in your chosen field which often equates to a “Must Hire” applicant versus a no-hire!