A spirit of life-long learning is critical for success in today’s world of work. To be effective, we must continue to grow and develop in our field. This requires a thoughtful approach when seeking more formal types of education, including deciding what you want to learn and how you want to go about it. In particular, it is important to do some investigating as you consider whether to complete a new degree program or earn a certification. Since pursuing a degree may require a great commitment of time and money, many career practitioners are opting to earn certifications instead.
Deciding on a certification program can be overwhelming. Besides the fact that so many different certifications exist in our field, there are also a variety of training providers. Additionally, some key skills in our industry overlap with other fields, so expanding your search for certifications into human resources, workforce development, personality assessments or other areas of counseling/coaching may also prove worthwhile. The first step is to decide the primary topic area that you want to explore and the competency you most want to gain.
Is the expertise you desire broad or specific? Who are the people you are trying to help? For example, the Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) curriculum gives an excellent overview of career development, including specific tools to use with clients. It offers a strong foundation if you are new to the field of career advising and would be a smart choice if your client base is varied. However, if your business focuses on résumé writing, you may attract more job search clients with a résumé writing certification.
Once you have decided on your preferred area of expertise, you need to identify a training provider. Utilize online information, testimonials from trusted colleagues, and research the organizations offering training in that specialty. As you gather information, consider the aspects below.
Certification programs are often connected to certain organizations that may even oversee and regulate the training. One example would be the GCDF certification. The National Career Development Association (NCDA) offers training to become a Career Development Facilitator (CDF) Instructor and gives links to approved CDF training providers on its website, but NCDA doesn’t offer the training directly. Once trained as a CDF, the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) accepts one’s application to become a GCDF, confers the credential, monitors continuing education requirements and collects the annual fee. This is unique as, more often, the organization offering the training and conferring the credential are one in the same. Research the organization (or individual trainer) offering the certification program. Look to others who hold the credential and ask about their experience in the program. Also, consider these questions:
- What, if any, organization stands behind the certification?
- Is it a state, national, or international organization? What is the reputation of the organization (and their leaders)?
- How long has it existed?
- Does the organization/trainer offer resources to those they certified?
- Where is the certification recognized?
- Are there minimum experience requirements for entry into the certification program (and do you meet them)?
Costs to Earn a Credential
Costs can range from several hundred to a few thousand dollars for the training program itself. Some providers offer discounts, so it’s wise to get on their mailing lists to be notified of any opportunities. Often there are additional costs beyond training, such as an annual fee to maintain membership in the credentialing organization, a fee for initial application, or a periodic renewal fee. The location of the training might require travel or lodging costs. Because of these factors, you should be thorough in your research to best predict the total cost required to reach your goal.
Beyond the financial piece, you should also consider the cost of your time. Programs vary widely in length, from a few hours, weeks, or even months. Are there required steps toward completion or phases beyond the time you are in training? For example, some coaching programs expect you to hold a minimum number of client sessions after the training to prove your competence before conferring the credential. Is there a post-training application process and how long does it take to complete? As with monetary costs, consider the entire commitment to assess your future investment.
What type of learner are you? There are many formats to consider, and you should think carefully about which will work best for your preferred style of gathering and retaining information. Is the format online, in person, over a conference call, or a combination of these? Is the training led by a live person or is it prerecorded? Do you decide when to cover the material (self-paced) or is each class conducted at a specific time? What are the attendance requirements and are you able to make up missed sessions? Regardless of format, will there be an opportunity to connect with fellow attendees and is there additional support provided by the instructor if needed?
Commonalities Among Certification Programs
Most formal career-related certification programs require these elements, beyond the actual training:
- An application fee and a renewal process (with additional fee)
- Adherence to a code of ethics
- Maintenance of membership and good standing in the certifying organization
- Completion of continuing education requirements
Staying on top of trends and pertinent developments in the career counseling field is an ongoing commitment, and formal training programs can be a great way to stay current. This article should give you a framework to make quality decisions on certification programs in the future. Remember to consider your audience, the organization behind the certification, the costs involved, and the format offered. And of course, don’t forget to have some fun while you are learning!