If you are looking for ways to differentiate yourself in the job market, adding industry certifications (alongside your college degree) may be just what you need. Many of our students pursuing Associate in Science degrees at St. Petersburg College are already earning certifications free, through federal grant funding. Some of those certifications include CompTIA Security+, Adobe Certified Associate Photoshop, and Autodesk Certified User AutoCAD.
We have featured a few of their success stories on the blog:
However, the differences between a certification and a traditional college course exam are too often confused. This confusion sometimes results in students who sit for their first certification exam unprepared. Let me explain industry certifications in depth, so you can arrive to your certification exam as prepared as possible.
What is an industry certification and why should you care?
An industry certification is a voluntary process where individuals are assessed by an independent, third-party certifying entity, using predetermined standards for knowledge, skills, and competencies. When a certification exam is passed, it results in the award of a credential that is nationally (and sometimes internationally) recognized. Some examples of certification entities are AHIMA, Autodesk, CompTIA, and Cisco. Industry certifications are valuable to employers because they verify a job candidate’s technical skillset. By having earned the certification credential, an employer can safely assume that the candidate has proven knowledge and skill in a particular subject. Industry certification exams are rigorous and unlike any exam you have ever completed. Although certification exams are difficult, many can still be earned with short-term training, before graduation.
That is why SPC has aligned over 30 courses in our Associate in Science and certificate programs with industry-recognized certifications. We also have many reciprocal agreements called articulations,which award free college credit toward a particular degree program for valid certifications you earn even before you become a student with us.
Knowledge gained in the classroom lays the foundation for the practical skills you will apply when taking a certification exam. Some classes at SPC include industry certification exams as final exams. However, make no mistake, additional preparation outside of the classroom will be necessary before you get ready to certify. Before I explain how you can prepare, let’s dive further into the two ways industry certifications are classified.
What is the difference between an Evergreen and a Terminal Industry Certification?
Most certifications are referred to as evergreen and require the credentialed individual to meet continuing education (CE)requirements to maintain their certification over time. Think of the nurturing it takes to keep an evergreen tree alive. Comp TIAA A+ is an example of evergreen certification. If an individual does not actively seek continuing education (nurturing) during the period of time their certification is valid (typically 1 to 3 years), the credential may lapse and they would have to sit for the certification exam again. The good news is that CE units are oftentimes free through the certification entity when you participate in their live events, serve on advisory panels, or watch a webinar. A great way to ensure you are notified of these options is to join their certification-specific mailing list. You may find yourself automatically receiving these updates once you are certified! Although not as appealing as free CE units, some entities offer lower-cost recertification options to keep a credential valid. CompTIA’s CertMaster,is a great example.
A terminal certification (time specific) focuses on a software specific skillset and includes the year of the product exam. For example, I hold a QuickBooks Certified User (QBCU) 2015 certification (time driven so terminal). As QuickBooks software improves and new versions are made available, I could choose to earn the latest version and ensure my skillset is “of-the-moment.” Nevertheless, my terminal QBUC 2015 certification remains valid and does not require CE.
How to prepare for an industry certification exam
After surveying a group of our certified students, I found that they had a few things in common with the way they approached their certification preparation.
Their proven framework will help you take your next step along the path to certifying:
- Each spent more than 20 hours outside of class preparing; a few spent more than 30 hours.
- They created a plan to keep themselves accountable, scheduling study time at regular intervals. Most used their exam date as a target, and worked backwards to determine how often they would study.
- Each student used the certification objectives they would be tested on, to guide their study. They accessed the objectives (sometimes called competencies) from their certification entities website. To save themselves from overwhelm, they broke up sections of competency areas and focused on one section at a time during a study session. Some certifications include more than 100 individual competencies.
- They utilized more than one resource to prepare. This included exam guides available on reserve at several of SPC’s campus libraries, as well as KAPLAN IT‘s practice exam portal (provided by SPC to students pursuing certification.)
- They regularly tested their knowledge through practice exams, and did not continue to focus on competencies they knew well. Practice exam tools are useful because in addition to testing your knowledge, they will explain why an answer is incorrect, and another answer is correct. If your certification exam is simulated (versus Live-in-App), using a practice exam product is closest to the way your actual certification exam will look and feel.
Here’s the recap of what I covered:
- What is an industry certification
- Why employers value candidates who are certified
- The framework for how successful students have prepared and earned industry certifications.
I hope you feel more confident about taking your next steps toward an industry certification.
Did you already #GetCertifiedSPC? Share your experience with other students in the comment section below!