In reading over an interesting story by Lynn Lawton (international president of ISACA and the IT Governance Institute) at Certification Magazine entitled “I’m Certified…Now What?” I was reminded that while earning an IT certification does have intrinsic value, it’s what people actually DO with those credentials that really counts. For those in or facing this situation, I’d recommend reading her story, which is filled with good advice and suggestions (though it will soon become obvious to readers that her own organizational affiliations have dictated the certifications and subject matters she chooses and uses as examples to illuminate her coverage).
Beyond all the things that she mentions: getting the word out, displaying a framed certificate, asking for a raise or looking for a new position, and so forth, there is one more thing I’d like to encourage those preparing to earn a new credential, or those who’ve just passed the bar to same, to consider: how to describe their newly- or soon-to-be-earned cert in a variety of situations:
- Quick hit: In sales lingo an “elevator pitch” is a very brief but compelling version of your story that you can deliver in 30 seconds or less — the time it takes to ride an elevator in a sizable office building. Using the popular CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) cert as an example that might go something like: “As a CISSP, I’m qualified to design, review, and oversee implementation of corporate or organizational security policies, including physical security, software security, and Internet security. I can also work with HR and training organizations to make sure employees understand the need for and value of information security.”
- Cover letter/resume copy: This usually boils down to a paragraph that explains what the certification covers and why it has value. For the CISSP that could be expressed as: “The CISSP is built around a common body of knowledge that covers access controls, communications and network security, security management, security for software and systems development, cryptography and related encryption techniques, security architecture and models, operations security, business continuity and disaster recovery planning, security-related rules and regulations, ethics, and investigations, and physical security. This credential qualifies its holders to help research, forumulate, implement, and audit security policy for an entire organization or company, and to make sure that policy as stated and as implemented agree substantially with one another.”
- Interview/promotion/raise discussions: Whereas the other items are amenable to quick, accurate examples, this topic should involve at least 5-10 minutes of conversation, so I can go only into the broad outlines of what goes into such a conversation. This is where you have to explain the content of the certification, and justify its value to your interlocutor in terms that demonstrate some kind of value add to his or her organization. Thus, instead of saying: “I know how to select a VPN for remote access that will provide encrypted access to internal information resources and assets,” you might start with such a statement, but then go on to add “This will protect Internet traffic from unauthorized snooping or access, and make sure any private or confidential information that traverses a remote access link remains safe from unwanted disclosure.” You might even want to add some discussion about SOX, HIPAA, or PCI (as relevant) to mention how this protects the organization from potential liability that unauthorized access can incur. Hopefully, you get the idea: tell them what’s in it for them, if they choose to make use of your cert-related skills and knowledge. If you do a good job, they’ll be eager to jump at this opportunity.
Overall, the idea is to sell yourself while also explaining and exploring the value of your certification and the knowledge, skills, and experience it’s led you to develop and acquire. Good luck with your new or upcoming credentials: take this approach to obtain the best return on your investment in earning it!