Should I Get a Microsoft Certification? 5 Myths and Facts

The SharePoint community seems to have a resurgence of talk about Microsoft certifications. You know, the weekend course that supposedly is a door opener to get you a new career in SharePoint.

Because the people that would fall for programs like that do not have the patience to actually read or learn anything in any case, let me do the TL;DR very quickly :

Don’t get certified.

Now that we’ve gotten the potential candidates out of the way, let me tell the rest of you why you shouldn’t get certified by answering some of the frequent comments I see. I’ll tell you by killing off a few myths about the exams and how they affect your chances of landing a job.

Myth 1: An Exam Shows Willingness to Learn

The argument goes that if you show that you have taken exams, that’s evidence that you’re willing and able to learn.

Fact: Any exam that will land you a SharePoint title can be passed with a few days of studying. I’ve previously written about how you can pass any Microsoft exam within 24 hours using simple deduction and a few hours of reviewing the curriculum. At worst, you can take Microsoft curriculum crash courses for a few days and get enough knowledge to pass the exam.

Note: This isn’t just for SharePoint. I got my MCSE in about a week and took a random ASP.NET developer exam shortly thereafter. No exam took me more than a day to study enough to pass.

I have, of course, never cheated, and I’m not even taking cheating into account. You can read about my approach in the link above.

In what profession would you consider someone “willing to learn” if they go through a couple of days of training? I asked the community on Facebook and the answers, beyond my own suggestions of flipping burgers and working as a store clerk, were mostly jokes like “Social Media Consultant” or “SEO Analyst”.

Hey, I got a paramedic coming to pick you up after your accident/heart attack/other health issue. They’ve gone through a weekend course on driving, medicine, treating critical wounds, administering care, and they got a diploma after answering around 50 multiple choice questions so they are now Certified Medical Professionals. You should feel perfectly safe now, right?

Or how about this: I’m starting a new garage to fix up your car. All the mechanics will go through a week of training where they’ll learn everything they need to know to fix your car. At the end, they’ll get a diploma after demonstrating the ability to do a few car-related tasks. You feel comfortable sending your car to my garage for the annual service, right?

How about a hair dresser? Carpenter? Chef? In which professions would you consider 5 days of training sufficient to call someone a certified professional?

Don’t fool yourself: An exam shows laziness and a willingness to take an easy way out to get a diploma when in any other profession, the training requirements would cause you to shun away.

Myth 2: A Certification Cannot Hurt

The argument goes that if your employer pays for your exam, it cannot hurt to have it on your resume.

Fact: A certification can hurt your chances of landing an interview, especially when you look at companies that have some experience working with SharePoint professionals.

The slightly experienced community member knows that these exams are quite silly in terms of actually teaching you anything or judging your skills. What does it say about a candidate if the resume highlights these exams as evidence or indication of skill?

As more and more companies engage seasoned SharePoint professionals, chances are increasing that your resume will be reviewed by someone who knows how easy these exams really are. More than once, I’ve spoken to recruiters or reviewers that either throw out or at least negatively review resumes that point out low hanging fruit as achievements.

Do you really want to have your first paragraph pointing out how you’ve done a weekend course and passed a few multiple choice questions to get a diploma?

Myth 3: Certifications Is A Competitive Advantage

The argument goes that if given two otherwise similar candidates, one without a certification and another with, then a recruiter will favor the one that has a certificate.

Fact: The certification exams are very easy, and the cost of a 5-day boot camp is so low that it really isn’t a competitive advantage for anyone. Tell me, would you hire a certified professional for $50K or a non-certified professional for $30K when the cost of getting the non-certified to a certified status may be as low as $3-5K?

The value of your certification, if your employer insists that you have one, is no more than the cost of a crash course and the exam fee. There’s little or no skill requirements, so effectively anyone who can spell SharePoint will be able to take that course and pass the exam.

Do you really think that having a weekend course and a $200 exam will be enough of a barrier to give you an advantage? If it were that easy, why shouldn’t employers just hire the cheaper candidate and send them through the same week-long course?

Myth 4: Certifications Are Mandatory to Get Microsoft Referrals

The argument goes that companies need a certain number of certified professionals to get referrals from Microsoft.

Fact: This one is actually true. It’s a really nice scheme; Microsoft gets to sell certifications and brag about how many “certified professionals” they have in the community and the companies have fewer problems convincing customers they actually know how to tie their own shoelaces because Microsoft vouches for them.

So yeah, for your employer, it makes sense because their cost of customer acquisition goes down.

Is that good for you? Well, that depends what you think about things like job safety, morale, and the tasks you get. If your job security depends on nobody else taking a weekend course, I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable.  If your continued job depends on the ease with which your company can convince customers that their paper diplomas are valuable, I’m also unsure whether I’d feel comfortable.

But, it’s up to you. By your next pay check, a much cheaper offshore consultant can have all the exams you currently have. Do you really want to hope your boss doesn’t realize how worthless your exam is?

Myth 5: Everyone Else Has Them, So I Must Too!

The argument goes that because all the other resumes or candidates have certifications, then you will look less valuable if you don’t have them.

Fact: Most of the SharePoint superstars are out of jobs, right? People like Jeremy Thake, Marc Anderson, Joel Oleson, Michael Noel, and Christian Buckley. They couldn’t land a job if their lives depend on it because they don’t have certifications, right?

Wrong! Any employer worth their salt would give up non-vital parts of their bodies to get any of these people on board. Still, they do not have a single exam.

“But,” I can hear you say, “I’m not one of those superstars!”

And you’d be right, but neither were they just a few years ago. Today, though, these people drive the community forward and deliver orders of magnitude more value to their companies than what their frankly ludicrous salaries are.

The problem for you, though, is that you want a quick fix. You want to write something in your resume that will land you a job next week. Sorry, but that’s just not how it works. There are some things you can do, but they will not be done quickly nor are they as easy as writing something on a piece of paper.

What Do I Do?

First of all, stop contemplating getting certified. It’s a joke to anyone who knows what they are. It can and probably will be negative for your resume. It is not a competitive advantage. You will not learn anything valuable. You will not open a door that’s worth opening.

Second, start learning. Learning is great. Cramming for an exam is not. If you really want a career where you are worth the frankly silly amounts of money you can get,  you need to spend considerable time learning.

Third, start being active in the community. I don’t care what your excuse is. If you’re not in the community, you’re not doing SharePoint. No more arguments. Whatever you say against this is wrong, so shut up.

.b

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Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.

36 thoughts on “Should I Get a Microsoft Certification? 5 Myths and Facts”

  1. Although I generally agree with your points, as a MS partner certs are important in a couple of aspects.

    1. Software usage rights – by being silver/gold partner you get a lot of software usage rights which out-value the partner and cert costs.

    2. When doing bids, a lot of public sector customers (and others) calculate a cert score for the bidders. I don’t agree it should matter, but it does. So if you want to play ball you have to follow the rules, and one might be to get certified.

    -mikael

    1. I understand these points, but they are not points that benefit the individual. If the question is whether an organization should certify their employees, the answer may be different (due to ignorance of clients, public or otherwise). However, individuals really shouldn’t pursue certifications as part of their career goals.

      1. As an individual I’m inclined to agree. That said, the study process I did by reading MSDN documentation on ASP.MVP for example was very helpful. The studying and learning, not so much the certification.

        So the means to the end is more valuable in many cases…. for the individual. If your boss pays you $1000 to get certified, and you spend time to learn some new stuff to get it, then the certification is worth it in my opinion. But it takes self control and smartness on what the goal is.

        1. I agree with Mikael. I used to work for a Microsoft-only consulting shop and they would pay their consultants something like $1000 per certification they achieved. Clients that seek out consulting companies to implement their projects are often clueless about technology and are impressed by certifications.

  2. I also generally agree with the points. However, various reasons may force you to get certified or take certifications a bit more seriously. One of the most compelling one is that a recruiter won’t consider you for an interview because you do not have certifications. And many companies, small and big require certification as a criteria for qualifying for an interview.

    After all an interview is also not a full proof process for prequalifying a candidate. It is only after that person starts working in a company for about a month a real picture emerges.

    I would recommend certifications for mere mortals to get some annoying prequalifications out of the way.

    1. Like I mentioned, recruiters have started taking a negative attitude towards certifications, so the argument can be made equally valid in the other direction; a certification can deny you the chance to move on to a second stage.

  3. Hmm I wear two hats. One as a professional services business owner and the other as a SharePoint specialist.

    I too pay £1,000 to staff who get a major certification like MCSE. The reason is two fold. I know that by taking the certification staff will get a rounder exposure than their day-to-day job gives them and the other is to gain Microsoft Partner status and the advantages that come from that.

    However I do not stop there, certification is only a part of ongoing training. Every member of consulting staff have a dedicated 1 day a week to learning and keeping up-to-date. Its the way I learn so its fair for them also – bean counters are not so happy though. I think the 1 day a week cost of learning is a medium to long-term advantage and what makes us special. It also reduces the risk of things going haywire.

    Certification is part of the answer but a small part.

    1. Peter,

      Nice attitude on training. I still think a 30% focused training is required, but at least 20% is more than most people offer their employees.

      So, after a month of that program, you’re ready to certify that your employees are professionals and then hire them out at a premium? If not, why would you accept the same from Microsoft? Why is it that we, and by that I mean the public in general, accept that Microsoft will certify anyone who goes through a five-day program and then pay them more if we would not accept putting our own ‘certified awesome’ stamp on a five-day old employee?

      .b

  4. I recently got my MCSD – SharePoint certification. I got my employer to pay for the exams as part of our training budget. The exams have gotten more difficult. Not every question is multiple choice and you do need to know how to build code samples. Often times the answers are very nuanced and a five-day course will not get as in depth as the exam. Additionally, I found the exams help to determine how much you can actually read the requirements and understand them. Often, two answers will be technically correct but only one is right because it satisfied the requirements of the accompanying case study.

    Are certs the end all be all of my career? No. But I learned a lot by spending months studying on my own. As a SharePoint Online dev I learned a lot of in depth info about on-premises development that I just wouldn’t be able to with Office365. There is some value. I know now much more about ASP.NET MVC than I did before deciding to get certified.

    1. Scott,

      You seem to mix up learning with certification. Learning is great. Commercial interest certification is pointless. You will never reach a point where Microsoft certifies people for the benefit of its customers only; if it did, SharePoint wouldn’t be in shambles now and we’d have skilled and properly trained people that could fix the issues. Instead, we have the App model because training people is too difficult and expensive.

      .b

  5. A very interesting and obviously somewhat controversial take on certifications. I agree with all your Myths in the context you have stated them in which you were careful to do so to support your points. I do take issue with Myth 2 that certifications can’t hurt. I agree there is a chance they can hurt in the context you describe where the person’s resume is essentially pretty empty without them. But this is more the downfall of a bad resume or inexperienced/underqualified person than the actual certification itself having a significant negative effect. Would the candidate in that context actually look that much better without the certification? I think not.

    With most applicants, there will be a balance between experience and certifications on their resume. The certifications, to me, provide a *small* amount of verification that the description of the experience and achievments is not a bunch of BS.

  6. I truly do not understand why anyone would take a negative view of someone having certifications when nearly all of the job postings you find out there have certifications listed as a requirement. How could you blame a person for taking the initiative to have what the employers are demanding? OK, so you don’t think it’s important. That’s one thing. But to actually see it as a negative seems ridiculous to me.

    Also, I’d like to know where these inexpensive certification classes are. They all seem pretty pricey to me.

    1. Eric, if nearly all employers asked for blonde hair and all potential candidates dyed their hair, would that make them more suited to do their jobs? It is because employers are asking that people take certifications. In other words, it’s a “yeah, I’ll do this meaningless thing because it increases _my_ chances of getting a job, not because it in any way benefits the employer”. It is a way for employees to appear better without actually being better. It is like buying a paper PhD.

      1. The issue is whether it makes the candidate more suited to their jobs is beside the point. If the certification is a requirement, then regardless or whether you believe the requirement is justified, you will need it for the interview. If you are an individual interested in getting a certain type of job and most of the companies require a certain certification, you will need to get it. It will only change when companies and HRs stop requiring the certificates, but that’s hardly something the individual applying for jobs can decide.

        1. I’d like it if this guy would reach out to all of the companies that are listing specific certifications as a requirement for even being considered for an interview, and explain all of this to them, because I would love to get hired without needing a certification.

          First, willingness to obtain employment that requires a certification leads to willingness to become certified, leading to the willingness to study for the exam. Now take an exam, pass it, and tell me you learned nothing. Please. And advantages? Companies that require certs give those that have them an advantage over those that don’t.

          Also, why has this dude taken, and passed, so many exams if they don’t mean anything, and are useless. We now live in an employer’s market, with those that are doing the hiring dictating the necessary qualifications. If that changes, then maybe go on a rant about how no one gave you the time of day, even with the 15+ certs you’ve nonchalantly obtained.

          Finally, just as a personal suggestion, maybe try to be a tad less pretentious when giving your opinion, which is what this list is; a list of your opinion.

          Good day.

          1. Hey, Anonymous Coward,

            To answer your questions, I took the exams to prove how pointless they are. I spent less than 24 hours before I was “certified” something. Maybe you’d like to have your doctor “certified” in the same manner? Why, then, would you accept that whoever builds your enterprise software would be left with such ridiculous requirements.

            There’s no ‘advantage’ because certifications are commodities. It’s like a plastic bag at the supermarket; you don’t have an advantage in any way because anyone can just go get one if it really was that advantageous.

            Finally, maybe, if you want to be in a certain fashion, you start your own blog and get your own readers and act however the fuck you want? Because that’s what I’m doing.

            .b

          2. You nailed it, He is proving his point by providing example of real world professions like medicine, hair dresser, but he does not understand that he will go to a certified ENT specialist if he has an nose problem, instead of a simple doctor.

            Secondly, he is mixing an IT certification (which covers only a fractional portion of IT) with a full fledged profession in his examples.

  7. I think this is a very slanted view of the picture were you born with the silver spoon up your ass, or did you just shove it there on purpose. Not everyone can afford 4 years of college, and even with student loans life can get in the way, in my case a tragic accident left me bereft of my parents, and I was devastated and in addition lost my financial aid. In my opinion certifications are a way to show that you proceeded to further your education, in my personal experience they have helped me land jobs, but they are a small part of that, if it gets you an interview that’s fine, its the companies job to determine if you are right for the position, but offhand suggesting you can pass any exam in 24 hours is arrogant bullshit, pass them all and prove me wrong.

    1. I haven’t finished high school. The rest if your argument is invalid because it is a sob story for a victim of his own emotional breakdown and has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

      As for “proving you wrong” I’ve taken 15+ exams that way. I have no need to prove you wrong any further nor do I have any need for any more exams. If you can’t do it, that’s no evidence that I can’t either but maybe you should focus on learning how rather than playing victim and cry your way to a job interview?

  8. When I was in high school I never had the best grades… or attendance records and I knew when I applied to the local collage I would be lucky if I was accepted. After I graduated I took a year off and I studied. Mainly programming, but as I studied I learned sql server and that lead to windows server and so on. I decided to take the exams mainly because I wanted to have something to show for my hard work. After I applied to the college I was surprised when I received a call from the guy in admissions, he wanted to talk to me about my application. He wanted proof that I had these certifications. Took about an hour of talking and me showing him my website (on the server in my basement) with all my projects ranging from simple batch scripts to complex c# programs and I proved to him that just because I was a D average student in high school doesn’t mean I am not “collage material”. I walked out with my acceptance letter. The certifications are not useless. They might not get you a career but your professor will be impressed when a 19 year old walks into their classroom with certifications and experience. My certifications opened the door I needed to get a degree that I need to start my career.

  9. Okay, well where I actually live and have to work, employers demand specific certifications off the bat even for entry-level IT workers. And if you don’t have a degree you can forget having a job, but even with a degree they want certs. I don’t know where you live, maybe it’s nicer up there, but on my side people do not have a chance without fancy certifications. So unless you can get me and all those new IT workers out there “enough work experience” to live off a “reputation for excellence” alone, please don’t insult others for trying to do something with their lives, for heaven’s sake.

  10. Greetings!

    You have a very narrow minded view of the certification tracks that Microsoft, VMWare and Cisco have.

    I am currently studying for the Server 2012 MCSA, on my final exam.

    I have learnt alot of new stuff along the way, alot of it I will use, and alot of it I won’t. I don’t know what will be useful in future jobs so having learnt it, I will at least KNOW about a certain technology, even if not able to deploy it immediately from memory. I will remember it exists and what it can be used for.

    Nobody knows or remembers EVERYTHING. Certifications are not a testament to “This Person must know ALL of the content in the 410, 411 and 412 exams.” It shows that they have some degree of knowledge on the subject matter and has taken the time to get certified.

    Yes there are people who dump exams. I have chosen the honest path of CBT nuggets and Pluralsight 🙂

    1. It doesn’t really matter whether you have chosen something because an employer won’t know employee A from employee B when all you see is Cert XY on both.

      Why do you think that most employers now ask for a Github account? It’s because they want to see what you can actually do rather than whether you’ve paid someone to say you’re great.

      .b

      1. Wow. I couldn’t agree more with that Github part. But unfortunately, that,s how the world works; we are impressed by what we see (Certificates) and hear (Nailing an interview).

        That’s when I attend interviews, I let the panel know that I may not be hired because I may not “tell you want to want to hear” or ” have the world of certifications”, but what I can show is my track record of previous achievements (actual work done) and my willingness to learn and solve problems.

        Too bad I never get a follow up call.

        1. There may be plenty of reasons why you get or don’t get a follow-up call. Adding more paid certifications will likely not land you any worthwhile jobs and may even cost you some jobs because still employers treat many certifications with huge skepticism.

          I also never get follow-up calls but that’s because I’m always hired on the first call.

  11. Myth 1 : – MS recommends candidates to have a 2-3 year experience.
    Myth 2 : – Easy ? What about more professional alternatives ?
    Myth 3 : – True that. But they do make your skills official. Knowledge milestones are always better than time milestones. Saying “I have 3 years in blabla” proves zero until tested in depth. One could learn in 3 years more than another in 10 and viceversa. Skills need to always be tested.
    Myth 4 : – Don’t know here
    Myth 5 : – Again. Solution to this is ?

    Conclusion : Without providing complex feedback and constructive criticism towards better alternatives, this post is at most a rant.

    1. I have plenty of better alternatives. However, just because I’m able to point out that kicking small dogs is a bad idea doesn’t mean I must have every answer to how to raise dogs in order for that argument to be valid. I have not written a blog post on “how to raise a puppy” I’m writing a blog post on “stop kicking small dogs”.

  12. Reading this in 2016. Makes sense. But what if I don’t have experience in that technology? Wouldn’t a certification help in that case? Or would you suggest that I remove the certifications that I have mentioned in my resume?

    1. Ask yourself this: Pick any professional you want to hire. A hairdresser, car mechanic, cake decorator… anyone. Now, if they were to put on their ‘pitch’ for you to hire them that their primary qualification is a one-week course followed by a 1-hour exam by the vendor they are pushing you to use… Would you consider that a great pitch or resume?

      If not, why do you think it looks great when you do the same?

  13. I agree that certifications aren’t the best thing for new IT professionals. I think it’s useful for people who already have experience, however.

    I’m a SQL DBA and my company wants me to take over Sharepoint. Prior to this I was obtaining my SQL certifications after having about 5 years of experience. The cert process taught me many areas that I had little exposure to in my career and I certainly don’t regret it (Well, company is paying for it anyway).

    I’m actually doing the Sharepoint cert route to atleast get my feet wet and be in a position to support our current Sharepoint environment. Ofcourse, I am looking through our current environment to see how we have things configured or why we are doing things the way we are as I go through the course material.

    I actually had alot of difficulty with the MCSA Server 2012 stuff, because I had little real world experience in that area. However, after getting the cert, I now feel I have basic IT knowledge. Early in my career I was a DBA who had very little idea how AD-DNS and other Microsoft products worked. It was good to get the kinks out.

    I hope that the Sharepoint cert will atleast make me competent enough to support it for now. I acknowledge that I will have to work at it for many years as I did in SQL before I’m ever an expert.

  14. I personally think your points are very negative.

    Myth 1: An Exam Shows Willingness to Learn

    I’ve been in IT for over 20 years, I’ve had numerous jobs and contracted for many years. Now, I am an IT Manager. I fully appreciate that exams can be dumped, but at the same time are you suggesting that a candidate with no certifications and another candidate with an MCSE are on the same footing.
    What it suggest to me is that the candidate with the certifications has an up-to date knowledge of the product. Of course you take experience into account, but experience does not show you know all the latest features of a product.

    Myth 2: A Certification Cannot Hurt
    From experience this is completely the opposite experience I have had, especially in the contracting world. Every interview I have been on they specifically mention my MCPs. It’s a safety net the employer has because usually they have little technical experience.

    Also when you are working for the larger organisations as I am now, all candidates go through a screening process through HR. Having qualifications scores highly and the candidate is more likely to be put through to the next stage.

    Myth 3: Certifications Is A Competitive Advantage
    One of the main reasons I got promoted over my rival was due to me having far more qualifications than my neatest rival. We had equal experience all across the board except when it came to certifications.
    Myth 4: Certifications Are Mandatory to Get Microsoft Referrals
    Many of the larger and consultancy firms require employees to have MCPs to obtain their Microsoft Gold Partner.
    Myth 5: Everyone Else Has Them, So I Must Too!
    Simply what harm can it do.

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