Certifications: Why They Matter and Why They Don’t by Don Smith, CC, CL, ACB, ALS, MS1, MS2, MS3, MCP, PMP, MCSE+I, A+, CLC, CCNA, CCNP, CCDA…


by Don Smith

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A comment from a friend caught my attention the other day. He said, “It seems like the more education I have, the less I make.”

I've lost count over the years of the number of initials behind my name and even which ones are still valid and which have expired. I've served on the board of directors for multiple companies and am the Owner and President of a tech company. These days though, I usually sign off as Don, or Don Smith with whatever job title applies at the moment.

Considering much of this website is about investing in yourself, I thought it might be worthwhile to dig into why certifications sometimes matter and why they sometimes don't.

Certifications: Why They Matter

Early on in my career, I was making minimum wage as a technician, which was $4.25 an hour at the time. I hadn't completed college, and my prospects seemed a bit dim. I looked through job after job, but most of them wanted certifications. After a little while, I noticed a pattern. Many required the Microsoft Certified Professional certification. So, I invested a few thousand dollars, learned the material, and took the exam. Shortly after, I was able to land a job that added $20k a year to my salary! When you're making $4.25/hr, that's a huge jump. A 1000% return every year for the rest of your career makes for an incredible investment.

Certifications such as the Cisco Certified Network Professional are highly valued today. According to Payscale.com, the salary for a CCNP certified professional starts at $41,022 and ranges up to $133,590. A Project Management Professional (PMP) certification might get you anywhere from $59k to $180k.

So why are employers willing to pay that much? Well, they know that these certifications mean that you know what you're doing, and they can bill out your time at higher rates. When your employer makes more money, you make more money, so anything you can do to boost your billing rate will help you make more. That's why certifications matter.

Certifications: Why They Don't Matter

I have lost count of the number of initials behind my name. DTM, CBE, CC, CL, ACB, ALS, MS1, MS2, MS3, MCP, PMP, MCSE+I, A+, CLC, CCNA, CCNP, CCDA…they all run together after a while. The last certification I got, I said cool, stuck the certificate in my drawer, and forgot about it. At some point, additional certifications have a very minimal impact on your income or the ability for you or your company to charge more for your services.

Once you hit that point, certifications no longer matter that much to you. It's not that you shouldn't take the courses to stay sharp and stay on top of the latest products and research; it's just that it won't immediately translate into additional cash in your pocket. You or your employer may not be able to start billing out at twice your regular rate just because you added a few more initials to your name when you already have thirty letters behind it.

Certification example - certified life coach
Oh yay, I'm now officially a certified life coach…that'll add about 0.0001% to my earnings.

I asked a group of six-figure earners how long they had been at their current job, and out of over three hundred responses, more than 2/3 told me they had been there more than five years. It not only requires taking the proper courses to improve your earning power, but you also must do the work and use what you've learned to bring value to your clients.

Focus on Delivering Value to Increase Your Earning Ability

Your income-earning ability is limited only by what people are willing to pay for it, which is why certifications can be a very wise investment. But, unfortunately, at some point, people start to say if John can get the job done just as well at half the price you're charging, it's not worth paying twice that just because you had a bit more training. So eventually, certifications stop mattering as much as they did when you were starting your career.

If you want to increase your earning potential, yes, you should invest in certifications early on in your career. Still, eventually, you want to start focusing on how you can deliver more value to your employer or clients.

When you can deliver enough value to enough people, your income levels can go off the charts. Think of things like the One Funnel Away Challenge by ClickFunnels, where people paid $100 to go through a course. There were over 4,300 people in the group when I took the challenge.

Do the math on that, $100 * $4,300 = $430,000 for a thirty day challenge. We're not even talking about the amount that people invested later by buying a subscription to use the software; that's just for the class. And there will be more next time. Why? Because participants stand to make a lot more than $100 from the lessons in that class. It's a no-brainer to invest in things like that when you can pay in $100 and potentially make thousands or even millions from what you learned, so it's good for both you and the person delivering the class.

Deliver Value to Increase Your Income

You'd be happy to give me $100 if I gave you back $1000 or something you desperately wanted, right? That's how delivering value works. When you find ways to deliver more value to your clients or employer, your income will go up. Whether that's by increasing your skills through various courses and certifications or by creating and selling things that help others, if you provide a lot more value than what you are charging, you and your customer or employer will be happy.

About the Author 

Don Smith

Happily married with five kids, Smith owns a technology company, is the founder of this site, has served on the board of directors for multiple companies, and loves playing soccer, hiking, and mentoring.

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