6 Reasons Most Job Certifications Are Useless

Job certifications sound great, but they can be a waste of your time and money.
Updated May 2, 2024
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Are you interested in boosting your career so you can stop living paycheck to paycheck? Whether you want to advance in your current job or try something completely new, it can be tempting to complete a job certification and beef up your resume.

However, job certifications are not always worth the time, effort, and money it takes to get them.

Here are five compelling reasons why you should consider skipping job certifications in favor of hands-on job experience instead.

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Employers care more about experience and character

kerkezz/Adobe female boss interviewing candidate

Perhaps you spent years getting familiar with photo editing technology at a designer job. Before you apply for a new position that might help you grow your wealth, you should consider getting a certification in software such as Adobe InDesign or Photoshop.

Which do you think better demonstrates your ability to use the software correctly: A certificate or actual examples of your skill using InDesign that you showcase in an online portfolio?

The answer could depend on the company, of course. But generally speaking, many employers prioritize your work experience over a certificate you earn.

Using your resume, cover letter, and interview to demonstrate your work experience will likely get you much further than simply listing a certification.

Certifications simply prove you can pass a test

weedezign/Adobe close up interviewer candidate

Employers aren’t looking over your shoulder while you take an exam. For all they know, you acquired your certification by googling answers or writing them with help from AI-based chatbots.

Whether you use outside help or not, a certification simply proves you are good at passing tests. Employers want to know that you have the actual boots-on-the-ground experience a good hire needs.

Things change fast enough that certifications can go out of date quickly

Miljan Živković/Adobe education and learning concept

Just because you are certified to use one version of the software doesn’t mean you can successfully use every version.

Software technology changes frequently, and you might find your certification obsolete almost as soon as you complete the course.

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Certifications can be costly and time-consuming

luckybusiness/Adobe difficult test

The adage that you must spend money to make money sometimes holds true. However, investing in online certifications to score the job you want might not be one of them.

There may be better ways to invest in your future than putting time and money into a certification. For example, networking with the right people and building relationships in your industry is likely to offer a bigger payoff.

Additional activities that can pay big dividends include simply spending more time researching jobs you want and polishing your resume. 

Expanding your actual work experience—rather than using that time to pursue certification —can also make you a more appealing job candidate.

Many certifications come from organizations that lack prestige

pressmaster/Adobe reading online article on laptop

In some cases, getting a professional certification from a well-known organization within your field — such as a project management certification through the Project Management Institute — might be a requirement for obtaining certain jobs.

However, a certification from a random online organization is unlikely to carry the same prestige and weight as an official industry certification.

Unless you earn a certificate from a recognized industry gatekeeper, your prospective employer probably won’t put much stock in the credential.

Many workers don't stay in jobs long enough for certifications to pay off

Svitlana/Adobe man leaving the office

The time and money it takes to earn a certification might pay off by helping you land a specific job, but will you stay in the role long enough to justify the effort?

The answer might be yes, of course, depending on your career goals and current job prospects.

However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median time workers stay with the same job is just over four years. In addition, many people change careers, often more than once during their working lifetime.

The certification you earn could quickly become irrelevant as your career path evolves and you pursue new directions to help boost income and grow your savings.

Bottom line

djrandco/Adobe handshaking and smiling candidly

Online certifications don’t always set you apart from a large pool of job applicants—at least not enough to make the expense of getting certified worthwhile.

If you want to boost your career and get ahead financially, you might want to focus on developing the things that matter most to future employers: job experience, positive character traits, and real-world skills.

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Author Details

Michelle Smith Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.

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