The dark side of certifications

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The dark side of certifications

The truth nobody is talking about

Jan 3, 2023ยท

5 min read

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Certifications have some great distinct features by design; however, the design is not without its flaws. In this post, I discuss the dark side of the certifications market, along with a couple of misconceptions and bad practices.

#1. No guarantee of real-life performance

One of the major misconceptions about certification is that certificates entitle holders to a particular job or position. This is, sadly, not the case. Although both employers and recruiters would love to have such a fail-proof tool to assess candidates, certifications do not guarantee that the desired level of value will be brought to the company.

It's great to be certified when experience, soft-skills, and academic education are included in your 'value package', however, just holding a certificate will not sell very well*. My experience with recruiters and HR confirms that most of them either don't know or care about certifications. Perhaps the only exception would be positions that are regulated by legislation.

* To address this concern and increase the value of their certificates, some institutions (PMI, ISACA, ISC2) have introduced former experience and/or education requirements.

#2. Cost

If you compare certifications to degrees, the latter will probably look a lot more expensive and time-consuming. However, getting certified for a high-profile program is far from being cheap: the cost of the exam, membership fees, application processing fees, question banks, books, mandatory training, etc. The list goes on. Finally, some certs still require you to travel to the test center, which implies extra money spent on logistics, accommodation, food, etc.

I'll give you some perspective. In order to get certified for ISACA CISM, you will need to spend at least 130$ on amembership fee, 105$ is a CISM Review Manual, 299$ is a 12-month subscription for questions bank, 575$ exam itself, plus 50$ application processing fee. A minimum of 1,159$ of costs in total. I believe this is a safe assumption that you would need both CISM Review Manual and questions bank, simply because you want to avoid failing the exam and paying an extra 575$ for another attempt.

Also, my overall spending for acquiring the PMP certification was about 2000$ in 2019.

This does not include any kind of training that you may want to take. Any boot camp or instructor-led training will set you back another 500$ - 3000$, while the cheapest options like Udemy video course on discounts are about 100$ per course. BTW, the membership fee is annual, and if you want to keep being certified - you will have to pay it forever. Continuing Professional Education (CPE) points that are required to maintain the certification sometimes come at a price.

BTW most aspirants do not stop with one certification; therefore, the costs can be multiplied.

#3. Redundancy

Although certifications are very subject-specific, you still need to preload a lot of redundant information into your memory. Very few practicing professionals can pass relevant certification exams without, at least, going through some Review Manual or Body Of Knowledge.

Most probably you will forget most of the details within the next months unless you dive straight into practice or start teaching others what you have just learned. ๐Ÿ˜… A lot of people over the internet get frustrated because of this, so be ready.

#4. The Way

Certifications are provided by organizations that advocate for a particular way of doing things. To get certified, you need to understand and embrace that way. Otherwise, you will always find yourself in an internal conflict between practice and the way you are supposed to work according to what you've learned. Most professionals claim that their real-life job roles are not particularly aligned with what they have been certified for.

#5. Getting obsessed with certifications

This one, I believe, is one of the worst practices about certifications. Getting certified is mentally very rewarding. Once the hard preparation work is done, you pass the test and get your badge. Loads of serotonin and dopamine fill your brain, you naturally feel exhausted, but accomplished. This provokes an addiction for some.

Certifying organizations live from your membership fees and exam payments. Thus, this is a business that invests in its product marketing. Moreover, people that have already acquired a certification will do their best to promote its value.

If you google for any major certification, you can find Reddit posts that discuss how people go for one certification after another, as if they are trying to catch them all. I don't believe this is a way to go. Since each cert is supposed to support a particular job role, being certified for everything just looks like a person has an abundance of spare time and money. Or, maybe, a lunatic and certifications funboy.

#6. Certifications are not easy to sell (as you think)

If one is not applying for an entry-level position, certificates are not easy to sell unless listed as a specific requirement. Surprisingly, recruiters are not familiar with the certifying institutions or know what a particular acronym (CISA, CISSP, ITIL, CCNA, etc.) means. On a higher level and management positions certificates become a hygiene factor rather than a feature that, sadly, won't make you stand out.


Certifications require planning to get the most value out of them. Entry-level certifications will get you hired faster, while those of higher caliber will assist you in your career. Meanwhile, it is important to remember that a certificate is not a silver bullet and requires the respective soft-skills and experience to make you desirable for an employer or a client.

Free advice: Don't rush to get all of them, check the market first, make sure your efforts will bring other benefits besides decorating a wall with another A4 frame.