Are Certificates Worth It?
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
I'm in the middle of a career change right now, I'm hoping to become a data analyst but the main barrier is I don't have any previous experience or formal education. And I'm not interested in obtaining a degree right now. As I've mentioned before, I'm enrolled in the Google Data Analytics Certificate Course. I've learned quite a bit on it and I have also recently updated my LinkedIn profile and have been engaging more with other data analysts (Benefits of Reaching Out).
I'm not the only one, many others who are in a pivotal point in their careers, and are enrolling in online courses. Online courses are much more accessible because unlike traditional higher education they are affordable and the time commitment is manageable, you can do it while working full-time. People are turning to courses that offer certifications or bootcamps. The latter promises to condense the knowledge of a traditional degree into a few months or even weeks, and it's much more affordable. While courses allow you to test our your new career because you don't commit all of your time and finances to a career you might not enjoy. It's the idea of making little bets, an idea that was brought up in the So Good They Can't Ignore You (Is Passion Everything in a Career).
The problem with most certificates (for online courses not from an accredited institution) is they aren't regulated: there's no educational board who oversees these (that would be impossible with the amount of courses coming out), the quality of the course, and the knowledge you gain can widely vary. And as a reminder having a certificate and being certified can be two completely different things, some fields have a distinct difference between the two. For instance I have certificate in Paralegal Studies but I'm not a certified paralegal (with NALA or a similar organization). Certified would mean I passed the NALA test and other requirements.
Currently in the data analytics field, there are many other aspiring data analysts like myself who are taking the Google Data Analytics Certificate Program and posting about their certificates. But it seems like that's it. Another data analyst I connected with noticed these same people who post about their certificate don't have a portfolio or projects listed on LinkedIn to showcase. It seems like everyone these days is obsessed with certificates and courses. Alex the Analyst made a video on this topic, Data Analyst Certifications | Are They Worth It?, where he tries to answer if certificates are worth it. And essentially while certificates may help they aren't the major factor that will determine if you get a job or not, possessing the skills and displaying those skills are what will set you apart.
Certificates/certifications can certainly help your job search and teach you valuable skills but it seems like the majority of people just use this as a checklist, "if I get this, this and this certificate I'll certainly be hired". It's almost like a game for them where they're trying to get all of the achievements, the problem with this is people don't utilize or showcase the knowledge they supposedly learn from these courses. To be honest I am guilty of that, I was searching for other certificates to obtain (specifically the Tableau and PowerBI certifications) but I realized it's not the most important thing.
People think posting their certificate on their LinkedIn is enough to get a job, but it isn't. Certificates aren't enough, they can certainly help but job seekers need to do more. Especially those of us who don't have any experience or formal education.
So what do you need to do? Projects.
I've seen many other prominent data analysts like Alex the Analyst, state that the way they got their jobs was by creating and posting projects. Projects let you showcase your work, you can show potential employers specific skills you possess and how you can transform your knowledge into tangible results. You can demonstrate to future employers the skills you'd bring to the table.
I'm not saying to stop taking courses or stop earning certificates but once you have taken a few of them do something with that knowledge. Create a project, or write about it. Don't think the certificate is going to speak for itself, you need to transform the knowledge into something. Alex the Analyst has a series on his Youtube channel with project ideas here are the four he has as of writing this article:
Along with How to Create a Portfolio Website for FREE.
That's why when I'm done with my Google Data Analytics Course, I will be posting my capstone project on LinkedIn and on my Portfolio page on my website.
I know it's daunting to post your project for others to see, you might be afraid of negative feedback or feel like your work is inadequate. But you'll never know of you don't post it. I've found most people on LinkedIn are supportive and willing to help new people transition into the field. And with practice the idea of posting your work online won't seem so hard, that's why I began writing my blog.
I encourage you to not only create a project but to publicly display it in some form, whether that be on your own personal website, LinkedIn or using Github. There's numerous ways to showcase your work, the medium isn't important, what matters is you're putting it out there for potential recruiters to see.
See you next week!