Certification -- what's in it for writers

Subject: Certification -- what's in it for writers
From: Jerry Franklin <jerryfranklin -at- alumni -dot- northwestern -dot- edu>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 28 Oct 2011 10:15:14 -0700

Greetings, all.

IMHO, those who are questioning the value or validity of certification -- at
least insofar as its accuracy in representing overall competence is
concerned -- are completely missing the point. Certification isn't for us
(i.e., the technical communications community) -- it's for the people who
*hire* us. It completely doesn't matter if our certification is
comprehensive and brilliant, or if it's nothing more than a spelling test --
the guy hiring a tech writer can go back to his boss and say, "Hey, I had
good rationale for hiring this person -- he's/she's certified!" Don't
discount this. Even if the person who hires us knows the true value of a
certification (whatever that might be) -- chances are, her boss won't know,
and everyone who hires someone has to be able to justify to his/her manager
why they made that decision. Sorry, but few hiring managers are confident
enough AND have wise enough support from their management so that they can
comfortably say, "I hired this person because, in my judgment, this person
is the best candidate." They need check boxes (Frame? Check. Flare?
Check. APIs? Check. etc.). It's why people of all professions get
pigeon-holed ("I hired this person because she's already done exactly this
thing that we need now!") and it's an out if the person hired doesn't work
out ("I don't know what else I could have done -- he had the resume, and he
was certified!").

Also, don't forget that most positions these days are group/team interviews;
we're interviewed by the hiring manager, by engineers, by product managers,
perhaps by sales engineers, etc. You think each of those people knows
whether a certification is relevant? And if they seem not to care, it's
very easy to talk it (and yourself) up.

Secondarily, certification is a clear demonstration of a tech writer's
commitment to improving his craft/maintaining relevance in her profession.
And it even demonstrates passion for the craft (are you going to spend the
money and effort it takes to get certified in something that bores you?
Probably not). And hiring manages need to believe you *love* and *believe
in* your profession.

My wife, a teacher, continued to get take exams and get certificates not
because they improved her abilities in the classroom or made her a better
teacher -- they absolutely did neither -- and not because they reflected who
she was or how good she was (again, they were 100% beside the point). But
her *profession* placed value on these silly things, and they absolutely
broadened her options in case she wanted (or was ordered) to teach a
different subject or go to a different school.

I'm absolutely going to get at least one certification. It's not going to
make me a better tech writer, though I do expect to pick up a few good
tips. And it's not going to represent in any way how successful I am in my
job now, or how successful I can be at another job. And it's not going to
get me a raise (or, at least, I don't expect it to). But the next time I'm
in the job market, you bet it's going on my resume, because, while it may
not be the deciding factor, it will help the hiring manager justify her
decision to *her* manager. Do not underestimate how much this is worth.

Regards,

Jerry
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