May 22, 2024


Business – Your Game

Assessing the Credibility of Professional Certifications

Use any search engine and type in “fake certification” or a similar term and you will likely find offers for certification credentials in your profession of choice without any skills assessment, training, or experience required – except for a valid credit card. Obviously, entering “fake certification” will result mostly in offers for “novelty” credentials; however, many so-called “legitimate” certification credentials can be just as worthless as the fakes. How can this be so? Well, the certification industry is largely unregulated. Basically, there are no regulating agencies to enforce standards, so each certifying body can create their own.

In fact, just about anyone can become a certification granting entity using a home computer and a printer. This is not to say that all certifications are phony; there are certification granting bodies that indeed have high standards, but unfortunately, most do not. For every credible and recognized certification, there are likely to be several competing ones that are unrecognized, questionable, or outright fakes. Being unregulated, the certification industry is truly a “wild west show”, making it difficult for the uninformed to identify the good from the bad. However, with a little footwork, it’s not that difficult to filter out value from the “junk”.

Assessment Criteria

If your goal is to obtain a credential that truly validates your expertise, it will likely be based on a combination of experience, a skills assessment, training and education, and a reference check. Keep in mind however, that even a program proclaiming use of these criteria can be “less than credible” if it waters them down or allows them to be “gamed” to an extent that enables anyone to qualify. For instance, a skills assessment could be a questionnaire that even a five year old could pass, training could be in an unrelated field, and experience or references could be stated and unverifiable. One way to gauge the validity of a certification program is to find out its pass rate. Usually, the higher the pass rate, the more likely it will fall into the “less than credible” category.

General Reputation

Name recognition can be good and bad; good as in trusted, valuable, and respected – bad as in infamous, notorious, or scam artist. Before signing up for a certification program, it would be prudent to learn of its reputation and that of the organization granting it. Search the Web, ask friends, family, coworkers, and others. For obvious reasons, the goal is to filter out certifications and/or organizations with negative reputations. However, keep in mind that just because a certification or organization isn’t well-known doesn’t mean it has no value. There are well-known organizations that offer certifications that are considered a “joke” by its industry practitioners, but those same credentials may appear credible to an uniformed public because of the name recognition factor. Also, small organizations offer certification programs that are often highly regarded within their professions, but are relatively unknown to the general public. Adding to the confusion, some well-known certification granting organizations may offer multiple certification programs, some which are credible and some which are not. Although name recognition by itself can provide an initial short-term credibility kick, it should be considered only if other indicators of quality and credibility are present.

Peer Acceptance

After filtering out the obvious junk, the next step is to discover which certification credentials are valued by your industry’s practitioners. Talking with practicing professionals, employers, and customers can uncover a lot of valuable information. Highly regarded certifications as well as those considered as “worthless” are often well-known within particular industries, but there may be little information, good or bad, about them in the general public. Certification programs with a high acceptance among affected practitioners, employers, and customers enhances ROI (return on investment) and will reduce your chances of earning a worthless credential that can label you as a “wannabee” or “phony”. It’s just as important to discuss certification with seasoned practitioners who are not certified.

Practitioners may have valid reasons for not seeking certification because they may consider the available credentials as not credible, unnecessary, a gimmick, or fraudulent. Sometimes, particular certifications become very popular within an industry. If this is the case for a certification program you are considering, it would be worthwhile to find out why. Often certifications become popular only because they are easy to obtain, the selling point being that any paper credential will give you an “edge” over the competition. But impressive looking credentials granted by official sounding organizations can only go so far regardless of the ribbons, buzz words, signatures, and other trappings used to make them appear legitimate. Also, the vast majority of experienced practitioners and employers won’t be fooled by appearances and are sure to investigate any unfamiliar credentials they come across. In any case, because of all the the variables, it’s critically important to research all the available certifications in your field of interest and to discuss your findings with professionals in that field.


Certifications can be valid indicators of expertise or money making schemes. As long as people are fooled by “official looking” credentials, the fraudulent certification industry will continue to thrive and prosper. At the moment, the certification industry is largely unregulated. However, if and when the safety and interests of the general public, of employers, or of customers are perceived as threatened by practitioners with questionable credentials, regulation or licensing will be the necessary response as it was for medicine, law, engineering, education, and other professional fields. In fact, because of the proliferation of credentialing programs, society and businesses are already becoming more skeptical and selective about certification credentials, and this trend is likely to continue. Most professional fields have multiple certification program offerings from industry vendors, professional organizations, and private companies. For obvious reasons, all of these certification granting organizations will try to project an image of professionalism and integrity, regardless of whether it actually applies or not. It’s up to each individual to look beyond appearances and sales pitches for the best available options. At the very least, performing some basic research before using a credit card will help ensure that you won’t end up with a totally useless credential that primarily benefits the fraudsters.