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Certification Program: Demystified

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

I’d wager that a certification program has a place among the misunderstood programs in an organization. I say that as a member of a few IT organizations over the decade whose certification programs moved around a bit. In one, the certification program branched out of the Education Services team, then moved to Consulting, then it went to the Partner Program and finally landed under Customer Education. In another, it was originally part of Education but was moved under Customer Support.

It’s probably also a mystery to many about what we do and how we support a business. During one meeting I participated in, I heard a sound of surprise when the attendees learned that the certification program had been supporting the company for over twenty years.

Certification programs help with brand recognition while minimizing risk

Certification is highly favored in the IT industry. When an organization decides to offer certification, or to add the word “certified” in their exams and certificates, the public changes its perception of the validation tool (usually a written exam) and the process by which the exam is developed.

Certification implies that:

  • The validation tool underwent a formal process of design, development, review and evaluation

  • Certification is awarded to an individual once the issuing agency (the company) can objectively quantify that the candidate is qualified to perform a job or task.*

Certifications have legal implications. From my experience in the IT industry, they are used in job hiring, career promotions and business contracts. Though infrequent, we hear about someone challenging the results of their exam because it affected a career move or an ability to win a contract.

Certification teams know this formal process (which I learned over a decade ago, and still follow today). The process comes from standards recommended by the National Council on Measurement in Education to produce fair, reliable and legally-defensible exams.

Certification teams are data-driven

Typically, metrics presented to management have to do with pass/fail rates, volume of tests delivered, and revenue (if the program is part of a P&L). To the certification team, that’s the tip of the iceberg.

A very respected and more senior colleague of mine would point out that the pass/fail metric does not paint the complete picture. A test with a high passing rate may look like a good metric to executives, but it could be a red flag to the certification team. The exam developers are bound to ask why everyone and their cousin are passing the exam--is the passing mark too low, or is the exam already compromised and being sold online? At the other end, why makes a fail rate high-- do the test takers not meet the minimum profile of the candidate designed for the test? How did they prepare for the test-- did they study, or relied on experience? How are the questions performing? Why is it that a majority of candidates who pass the exam keep getting the answer wrong on this one question?

The certification team relies on data to determine if an exam used to validate the skills of an individual is indeed performing as expected and able to validate the defined competencies efficiently. Whether a member of the team has statistical abilities, or the company intermittently seeks the help of a psychometrician, the certification program uses data to evaluate its own products (exams) and provide corrective or maintenance measures.

Certification programs need an organization’s support and resources to do the job

A certification program cannot operate in isolation. The team is not able to produce assessments without the input of subject matter experts (consulting time), without a secure exam delivery platform (infrastructure), data analysis (psychometrician) and customer experience (registration, support, badges, inquiries, FAQs). A certification program needs appropriate resources to do the job well and minimize risk.

An individual certified with the company’s logo is a brand ambassador. That certificate or badge becomes added assurance to customers and clients that someone qualified by the company, is there to help them succeed.


American College of Functional Neurology, Differences between Credentials and Certifications,

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