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IT certifications are not only declining in value in enterprise IT departments, they’re also not as sought after among VARs and other channel partners when they look to hire engineers. However, the channel does have another use for certifications most IT departments don’t – marketing to clients. 

And a few certifications are still prized among employers.

"Cert value is in decline," acknowledges David Bennett, owner of Connections for Business in Hollywood, Fla. Bennett says that these days engineers will have a "paper CNE" certification or a "paper MCSE."

"People don’t have the real-world experience," Bennett says. "In fact, we joke that MCSE stands for ‘Must Consult with Someone Else.’"

Bennett acknowledges that certs do have a place in hiring, like a college degree does.  "We encourage our staff to attain their certs. Most resist as they don’t value them. We gave up tying financial incentives to certifications as our staff just left the money on the table – they really didn’t see a value in the time and effort."

However, for VARs marketing their services to clients, certifications do play more of a role.

Certifications "is something we can use to show clients that our employees have some background and training in the fields they are consulting in," says Andy Swenson, managing director for security and infrastructure at Tribridge in Tampa, Fla.  "It is really more of a marketing tool for us rather than a hiring decision."

Doug Ford, a former third-party Microsoft trainer who is now president at The I.T. Pros, a San Diego MSP, agrees that the primary value is in marketing to potential clients.
"It does have value when you go to a customer and say ‘we staff all Microsoft engineers," Ford says. "And it’s also valuable to The I.T. Pros to maintain our Microsoft Gold Partner Status." To maintain the status Ford must have his engineers pass certain exams to earn points that are applied to the company’s partner status with Microsoft. But in terms of hiring, the certifications don’t carry much weight.

"The idea that people can get trained in six months and be an IT professional is a farce," Ford says.

Swenson believes the reason certs have fallen in value is the proliferation of "Boot Camp" training programs.  These programs quickly prepare individuals to pass certification tests.

"Pretty much it’s ‘Instant Expert – Just add water," Swenson says. "The problem is very little of the knowledge sticks after the test and there is no real world experience to back it up.  Put them on a project and it is not likely to have a good outcome."

Certifications that require real job experience, however, are standing up in value, Swenson says. 

"The CISSP [Certified Information Systems Security Professional] is a good example," Swenson says.

To earn a CISSP, candidates must have five years of experience and endorsement from any professional certified by (ISC)2, the organization that awards CISSP certifications.

Ford says that storage engineering certifications, for example those bestowed by NetApp, carry more weight with him.  And Cisco certified engineers also tend to be better trained, too, Ford and Swenson agree.

"CCIE [Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert] would be another exception because it contains practical labs where individuals have to demonstrate to live human beings that they know what they are doing in order to pass."

Stuart Raburn, president of Homewood, Ala.-based Teklinks agrees that "the CCIE is the clear leader."  But for the most part, the really important factors that go into hiring are character and skill.

"Certifications aren’t tightly correlated to ability and since we’re looking for honesty, ability, work ethic and love of technology in a candidate, most certifications carry little weight in our hiring process," Raburn says.