Contrary to what you might think, those letters aren't just for show. In fact, those two or three symbols can separate you from the pack or be the reason you get the job over someone else.
"Especially in today's business climate, anything that differentiates you from the crowd and emphasizes your commitment to your profession is career critical," says Kent Johnson, partner for Da Vinci Search, a Minneapolis-based recruiting firm. "As hiring managers pore over the multitude of résumés for an opening, their eyes will naturally pick up those with the all important initials that trail their name."
Sheri Rice Bentley, APR, a public relations specialist for Knupp & Watson Inc., says earning her Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) enhanced her career tremendously. APR, the only certification that exists for public relations professionals, consists of presenting work to a jury of PR professionals, followed by a written exam. After Rice Bentley passed the exam, she was immediately headhunted into a position that paid 50 percent more than her previous salary and boosted her to the managerial level.
Lesly Simmons, APR, a media relations specialist with the American Red Cross, concurs that the designation has been a huge professional improvement.
"In a field like PR that doesn't typically have degrees associated with it, it shows my peers that I have a certain level of expertise on the field. It wasn't easy, but it was definitely worth it," Simmons says.
How can credentialing help you?
Certifications show employers your dedication and commitment to your profession. They show you're credible and knowledgeable about current trends and best practices in your field. In addition, designations polish all skill sets -- not just the hard skills you might need in a position. In fact, 64 percent of employers in a recent CareerBuilder.com survey found social interview skills and the ability to communicate well were the most important assets in a potential employee.
"Staying on top of soft skills such as critical thinking and time management while maintaining expertise in hard skills such as widely used software programs provides candidates and employees with a necessary edge," says Christian Idiodi, director of CBInstitute.com, a division of CareerBuilder.com that offers online courses and certifications.
Even if you already have a designation, employers expect workers to consistently improve their current skill sets. According to the survey, the following percentages of employers want their employees to sharpen their skills in the following areas: time management (62 percent), customer service (45 percent), Microsoft Excel (44 percent), leadership (39 percent), interpersonal skills (33 percent), business etiquette (26 percent) and business ethics (17 percent).
While there is no doubt certifications open the door and improve your chances of getting an interview, official recognitions are not the silver bullet, says Wayne Botha, a project manager with two designations: Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Project Management Professional (PMP).
"Certifications are especially beneficial when coupled with an appropriate number of years of experience in the field that you work," Botha says.
In some cases, however, certifications might count for more than just an added skill. Joe Palmer doesn't have a degree but believes his certifications as a bookkeeper, notary public, registered representative (series 7 & 63), and business coach and trainer count as qualifications in the absence of a degree.
"Years of experience are a great gauge, though interviewers had to see my highlighted accomplishments to even entertain me," says Palmer, a life coach and certified sales and leadership trainer. "I absolutely believe that my certifications are important and attractive to employers."
What kinds of certifications are out there?
There are literally thousands of certifications available to people, both on and offline, specializing in hard and soft skills, and in every industry. CBInstitute.com, for example, offers more than 4,000 courses and certifications in topics ranging from business etiquette and workplace safety to language skills and customer service.
"CBInstitute.com offers easy-to-use online courses at all levels to help employees get ahead in their current jobs or improve their skills to land the job they aspire to have," Idiodi says.
Looking to expand your skill set, boost your salary and make yourself more marketable to employers? Here are several certificate programs that you might not have known about to beef up your résumé:
Designation: Certified florist
Where you can earn it: Only a few states offer floral design certifications through their state floral associations. Among them are the California Certified Florist (CCF) and Texas Master Florist (TMF) programs. Shenlei Winkler received her TMF and says it always earned her a higher salary and more respect on the job.
Designation: Search engine marketing
Where you can earn it: There are several search engine optimization and marketing programs that offer certifications; you just need to find one that's right for you. Jon Negrini, founder of the search marketing firm Arrive Digital Marketing Solutions, is certified in SEM with Google Adwords and Yahoo! Search Marketing. Negrini says his certifications with these companies, who are industry leaders in search marketing, add a nice touch and a level of professionalism to his résumé.
Designation: Certified plant maintenance manager
Where you can earn it: The Association of Facilities Engineering administers an online and classroom course. The CPMM certifies these professionals are qualified in preventive and predictive maintenance, work-flow planning and scheduling and overall productive management.
Designation: Accredited jeweler professional
Where you can earn it: The Gemological Institute of America, which developed the four C's of diamond value (color, cut, clarity and carat weight), offers an accredited jewelry professional diploma program that focuses on product knowledge and proven sales techniques. It's offered through distance education only and is accredited by the Distance Education Training Council.
Designation: Certified purchasing manager
Where you can earn it: The American Purchasing Society has a purchasing certification program for professionals in the purchasing industry. If offers two certifications: a certified purchasing professional (CPP) and a certified professional purchasing manager (CPPM).
Designation: Professional in human resources
Where you can earn it: The HR Certification Institute offers several certifications for HR professionals, including Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR). The requirements and qualifications for each vary, as do the conditions to keep certifications current. Cathy Missildine-Martin, SPHR, has had her designation for 13 years and says it's helped her establish authority. "HR historically has not had a lot of credibility, but I have found that having the certification helps with that," she says.
Designation: Certified wedding consultant and coordinator
Where you can earn it: It may seem obscure, but wedding certifications are actually available through a number of media and in a number of different ways. Some companies offer online certification, while The Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants, for example, says certification is available after working two years as a consultant, completing 18 weddings and obtaining 14 letters of recommendation.
Designation: Certified professional organizer
Where you can earn it: The National Association of Professional Organizers sponsors the Board of Certification for Professional Organizers, which offers the certified professional organizer (CPO) designation to anyone, not just professional organizers. Candidates must document 1,500 hours of paid work experience in the last three years, according to the BCPO Web site. CPOs must also adhere to a code of ethics.
Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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