In the world of competencies and credentials—certificates, certifications, degrees, badges, and licenses—there are a lot of details and nuances that can be overwhelming. Perhaps the most confusion surrounds the differences between certifications and certificates—two types of credentials that individuals can pursue to further their careers, each with distinct requirements, indications, and specifications.
Job-seekers and employers often have misconceptions about certifications that may hold them back from pursuing or advancing a career or building a skilled workforce. There are several common “myths” that individuals and employers believe about certifications. Test your knowledge here.
Common Certification Myths, Debunked
Myth 1: Certifications can be earned quickly.
Fact: Some certifications can be earned quickly, but others may take years of experience, training, and/or education. Certifications focus on different levels of skills, knowledge, and abilities, and are tailored for all occupational levels (i.e., entry-level, mid-level, and specialized occupations). Some certifications have prerequisites including education, work experience, other certifications, or a combination of those three—making it a longer process that the learner must go through before qualifying to take the certification exam. Others offer faster pathways to employment and can be earned in less time than a degree.
Myth 2: There are no standards for certifications.
Fact: Standards are used in accreditation of certification bodies. Certification bodies—which issue certifications to individuals—can be accredited to assure that their certification exams have been appropriately evaluated using psychometrically-sound and legally-defensible assessment practices, and that certification holders demonstrate competencies as advertised. Two main organizations accredit personnel certification bodies in the US: the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB), which uses the international and national standard, ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024:2012, Conformity assessment – General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons; and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which uses the 2021 Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs.
Myth 3: Certification assessment exams are based on learning outcomes and developed by educators.
Fact: Certification assessment exams measure whether an individual has achieved a level of competence related to a specific job or occupation, and are developed by psychometricians, experts in test and measurement, with input from subject-matter experts (SMEs). Unlike certificates, certifications are not connected to a course or academic program, and do not measure what was learned in a class. Rather, they assess whether an individual can perform specific skills based on job tasks. The assessments are developed through a job task analysis that determines the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for a job role or occupation. This information is gathered through surveys, interviews, and/or focus groups with SMEs. SMEs validate the tasks identified and ensure that they are being assessed accurately based on how they would be used by professionals in the industry.
Myth 4: Certifications do not support lifelong learning.
Fact: Certifications require renewal or recertification, leading to lifelong learning. Certification bodies require certification holders to recertify periodically—typically every three to five years, although it can be less or more. The process of recertifying varies by certification, and may include taking an assessment/exam, completing a continuing education opportunity, conducting academic research, or submitting a portfolio of professional accomplishments. Regardless of the timeframe and requirements, certifications holders continue to learn new skills and keep their competencies up-to-date as they renew their certification.
Myth 5: Certifications cannot be revoked.
Fact: Certifications can be revoked at the discretion of certification bodies. Certifications can be revoked if an individual fails to meet recertification requirements, violates a code of ethics, or demonstrates professional misconduct. Accredited certification bodies are required to have clear policies on revocation, including an outline of the revocation procedure and an appeal process that can be pursued by the individual.
The Truth about Certifications
Having a clear understanding about certifications and how they differ from certificates and other credentials is essential in using them to their full potential. Learn more about these five certification myths and the impact that certifications can have in the workplace in Workcred’s brief, Certification Myths Debunked, available for download at no cost on Workcred’s website.