{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: The Value of Professional Certifications

{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: The Value of Professional Certifications

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss the value of professional certifications. What are certifications like Google Analytics IQ, Hubspot Academy, Udemy, Coursera, and LinkedIn Skill Tests worth? Do they help you get hired? What do hiring managers think of them? Tune in to find out!


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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: The Value of Professional Certifications

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Christopher Penn 0:17

In this week’s in your insights, let’s talk certification.

Let’s talk about all things certification.

There are, I’ve lost count of just how many different certificates there are.

There’s official ones from vendors like Google with a Google Analytics Individual Qualification.

There’s Hubspot Academy and all the like 30 or some different certifications.

And then you have certificates in from courseware companies like Skillshare, and Udemy, and Coursera.

And now even have LinkedIn skill assessments that get added to your LinkedIn profile if you pass those assessments.

So Katie, when you are looking at the landscape of certifications, particularly as someone who’s a hiring manager, how do you think about certificates? How do you think how relevant are they when you’re making a decision about somebody because a lot of these vendors say, if you get this, you’ll increase your pay $10,000 A year or whatever? What’s your take?

Katie Robbert 1:11

You know, I don’t necessarily know that that’s true.

The increase in your pay $10,000 here, but I won’t say that it’s not true.

So when I think about, you know, from a hiring managers perspective, you know, I look at certifications as someone who is motivated to learn.

So someone who is not waiting to be told, okay, you need to go do this.

Now you need to do this.

It’s someone who’s a little bit more self managed, who can manage themselves, and they have that motivation to seek out information.

So I look at it that way first, and it’s like, okay, this person is eager to learn.

That’s great.

That’s a great skill that I want, then I start to actually dig into what their certifications are.

Because to your point, Chris, there’s no shortage of certifications.

And that that’s where I start to run into some challenges because there’s very reputable companies that offer you know, certifications and training like let’s use Hubspot as an example.

They have a lot of different courses, some of which you and I have also taken and have our certifications and and so when I look at Hubspot certifications, like okay, this person is really trying to learn about this particular thing.

Hubspot been doing it for a long time.

So there’s someone who I would trust if so if, if the person I was interviewing has Hubspot certification, I’m like, okay, that’s legit.

If it starts to become certifications of companies that I’ve never heard of, I have to do my homework on that.

So it’s sort of that double edged sword of like, it’s great that people are seeking out certifications in that education.

But on the other hand, it can just be that checkbox of let me look like, you know, I have all these certifications, I think.

Chris can correct me if I’m wrong, but LinkedIn now offers a whole host of certifications as well.

And I’ve seen in recent weeks, job candidates who have had 20, some odd certifications from LinkedIn sort of varying all over the board.

And that, to me is another red flag, not that someone is exploring.

But if you’re putting everything under the sun on your resume, then as a hiring manager, it’s hard for me to know like what you’re actually skilled in.

So I would say in that case, like, editing is probably a good thing.

If you’re applying for a content marketing job.

The Content Marketing certifications are probably the only relevant ones.

And then we can discuss what those certifications actually entailed.

And what you really know.

So that’s sort of how I look at it is it’s more good than bad.

Christopher Penn 3:48

Don’t look at my LinkedIn profile, because I got like piles of these.

Katie Robbert 3:53

Well, you’re also not looking for a job and unless Unless there’s something you want to confess to me on today’s podcast.

Christopher Penn 4:00


I like that idea of this person shows initiative, because yeah, generally speaking, most employers don’t make you take these certifications.

And if somebody does have a big ol pile of them, particularly from a couple of different vendors, they probably are self directed.

Because you know, an employer will say you were just required to just get this certification itself.

I also see them as sort of like a, it’s like a college degree in some way.

It’s a certificate of minimum competency, like, you are minimally capable of you like you know where the buttons are.

But it has to be paired with experience with with practical application of that knowledge to that’s one of the biggest problems with it.

One of the red flags to me is somebody who’s who’s got, you know, a lot of certifications but has zero days in the workforce.

If they were applying for a non entry level job.

If you’re applying for an entry level job, guess what you move to the top list because Yeah, nobody in entry level has experienced by definitions entry level.

But if you’ve got a bunch of certifications that shows you clearly have some interest in things.

If, but if you’re applying for like a chief data scientist position, and you have zero days of actual time of the workforce, that to me is kind of a red flag.

Katie Robbert 5:18

Well, yeah, that you can’t overlook someone’s practical experience.

So you know, really great example, I have a master’s degree in marketing and technological innovations, it was really expensive, it did not prepare me for the job that I was asked to do.

Because it was such such a mismatch.

So on paper, I looked at the time super qualified.

But all I won’t say all but a lot of what I was taught in grad school was Porter’s Five Forces and the theories behind the marketing mix.

And, you know, case studies of Zaros, and you know, those things that in day to day, I’m never actually really using, like we talk about Porter’s Five Forces maybe once or twice a year in passing.

But it’s not critical to if I didn’t know what it was, I could still do my job.

And so having that certificate, that you’ve studied something, you’re absolutely right, Chris does not indicate that you actually know the job that you’re doing.

And so, you know, back to the question about as a hiring manager, that’s often where I start is, okay, it’s great that you have this certificate of, you know, competency in Google Analytics and Tag Manager, tell me about how you’ve used these systems at your job telling me about, you know, the challenges that you’ve run into, tell me how you troubleshoot when you get stuck on something because as good as Google resources are, it doesn’t actually prepare you to do the work, it gives you the overview, I have my Tag Manager Certification.

Chris, I’ll be damned if like, I still can’t, after how many years, I still can’t figure out the system, like I know the basics.

But if I got stuck on like a really technical thing, what I learned from the certification that Google gives me is not going to help me.

Christopher Penn 7:07

Exactly, it’s those certifications.

And those training courses are a lot like explaining and having you just get a little bit of hands on time with all the appliances in the kitchen.

And then in your first job, you let you know, you’re thrown on the line, say okay, maybe we need to cheeseburgers aside order fries, you know, whatever.

And you’re like, so

Katie Robbert 7:29

I learned spatula today.

Christopher Penn 7:33

And it’s that practical application, which is, which is where the biggest gaps are.

Because the other thing that is challenging for a lot of these courses is that they have to be a little bit of everything to everybody, like when you’re when you’re doing Google Analytics, you have to, you know, the course has to serve someone who’s using it for customer experience, or for sales, or customer service, or marketing or PR.

And so it’s very general, and not very specific, which is one of the reasons why our Google Analytics course is literally called Google Analytics 4 for marketers, because from a marketing perspective, not sales, not customer service, etc.

But as hiring manager, one of the other things that I’ve seen in the past now granted, I’m also not allowed to hire people.

So you take this with a grain of salt.

The folks who have certificates, when I’ve interviewed them, they generally came across.

Again, this is a very small sample size, but they’ve gently came across as less of a good cultural fit, you know, they they were, they were much more sort of that solo Crusader, I’m gonna go off and I’m going to do the thing.

I’m going to be the hero of your marketing technology team, as opposed to someone more collaborative, like, yeah, I can do the thing.

But let’s also work together.

Now, again, that’s a generalization of the very small sample size.

Have you seen that and in the people you’ve talked to?

Katie Robbert 9:05

So it sounds like what you’re saying is people who have a lot of certificates tend to be more of the solo app than a team player.

Is that sort of your Okay? Um I think yes, and no, I think I’ve seen both, quite honestly, I think it really depends on the types of certificates to be quite honest.

You know, when I see someone who has, you know, and this is a generalization 20 some odd certificates in a variety of different things with no real focus.

I think you’re right, they tend to not as much be a team player, because what I’ve seen in that instance, and again, huge generalization is that they’re looking to find the thing that They can be the best in that they can shine in.

And or I know a little bit of everything.

So I can be the best, you know, I can be the lead.

Whereas people with more focus tend to be more of those like, team players, it’s tough because it’s such a huge generalization, but because if you look at you and me, for example, you know, and I am going to pick on both of us in this, so don’t worry, it’s not just pick on Chris, you know, you have a variety of different certifications, from you know, this to that to whatnot, because you have a lot of different interests, you’re curious.

And then when we look, you know, personality was you do better as a solo act, that’s just how you operate better.

Whereas I don’t have a variety of certifications, my expertise tends to be very focused.

And I do like to consider myself a really good team player.

However, the downside is, I’m not really an expert in any one thing, because I’ve not sought that out.

And so it’s like, it’s, again, it’s sort of the good and the bad.

So I guess I’m kind of proving your hypothesis with just the two of us.

But it’s a very small sample.

Christopher Penn 11:17


The other thing that can be can be a concern.

And this is actually something that comes out of the martial arts for me is that people who have certifications sometimes sometimes can be overconfident in their abilities, and can can bite off more than they can chew.

You know, it’s like, in the Japanese martial art practice, sometimes you’re given a rank before you’ve earned it, right, because the teacher wants to motivate you.

And this is especially true in in countries like Japan and Korea, where it’s culturally a thing.

You get that you actually feel a sense of shame, because you know, you’re not worthy of it.

So you’ve got you work twice as hard to earn your way into to grow into that great.

And I’ve feel like with some of the folks I’ve talked to in the profession, the certification gives them a false sense of confidence, that then if they go into a big project, they are immediately overwhelmed.

Because, again, the the what you need to pass the exam was not what real life demands of you.

Katie Robbert 12:28

I think that’s a really interesting and accurate way to look at it.

You know, I do, I think that that’s a better way to articulate the hypothesis that you are trying to come up with previous in the conversation.

I think that having a certificate does give a sense of overconfidence, I have seen that, as I’ve hired candidates, where they might have a Google Analytics certification and a Tag Manager Certification.

And I remember one specific conversation I was having with a potential candidate, where he was going on and on about his love for Tag Manager and his love for Google Analytics.

And when I pressed him, I said, Okay, tell me about how you’ve used it.

Finally, he caved and, you know, humbly said, I’ve never actually used them in practical application.

And I was like, okay, that’s totally fine.

But you’re telling me that, you know, you’re an expert in these things, you’ve given me the indication that, you know, these systems inside and out, but in all reality, he only had the certification.

So I think that’s absolutely true, Chris, is that there can be this inflated sense of confidence once you have a certification, like, Okay, I know what I’m doing.

I don’t need any other training for that.

You know, it’s an interesting psychological phenomenon that happens with that.

Christopher Penn 13:52

Remember, I remember you telling me is a story worth sharing sanitized? You were interviewing candidates for another company.

And you ended up with one person who just kept throwing data science terms out all the time to talk through that story, because I think it’s worth hearing.

Katie Robbert 14:13

Yeah, well, it’s interesting.

That’s the same person I was just referring to with the certifications of Google Analytics and Tag Manager.

So I was working with a client of ours, and from time to time, companies will bring me on to act as a hiring manager.

So I guess when I say I don’t have an expertise, that is an expertise that I do have is an hiring manager.

And so this client was looking to hire a marketing operations manager.

And, you know, on paper had found this really great candidate who was getting their PhD and data science and, you know, was saying all of the right words on paper.

When we started to interview this candidate, I was able to very quickly see that they had The academic theories that they were learning in school down really good, but there was no real world application, there was no demonstration that they actually could do the things that they were studying.

Now this candidate also had told us that they had worked with these big brands, and, you know, because of NDA, they couldn’t tell us a thing about it couldn’t tell us anything.

And what it actuality was going on was that this candidate may have worked with the brands.

And they could have sanitized the example to say, one time I was managing this $10,000, Facebook campaign, blah, blah, blah, without getting into specifics, and the candidate couldn’t really even do that.

So the idea that this person was a PhD candidate, and had a lot of certifications was where his confidence was coming from.

But in actuality, he was going to be a really bad fit for the job, because he had no practical experience.

And so a PhD doesn’t make you smarter than me when it comes to doing a job, period.

And so needless to say, This person was not hired.

Christopher Penn 16:15

So if if someone who’s listening to this is a hiring manager, how should they think about waiting certifications in the overall mix of of whether to hire somebody or not? Or if you’re evaluating an agency, and you know, they trot out, you know, the Bear Stare team, and they’ve always certifications? How do you? How would you advise them to think about these things.

Katie Robbert 16:39

I’m someone who firmly believes that you do not need a formal education to be able to do a job.

Like it’s great.

If you have the opportunity to go to college, it’s great.

If you can afford to go to college, I don’t think it’s a necessary thing.

In order to be able to do your job, I feel the same way about certifications, certifications are to me really a demonstration that you can take a test that you can read the material take a test, which quite honestly, I am a terrible test taker.

And that’s one of the reasons why I don’t seek out more certifications is because my brain starts doing jumping jacks and I can’t focus, and I get all of the questions wrong.

For example, we just wrote all of these exam and quiz questions.

I wrote them.

And it took me three times to pass my own quiz.

Because my brain was flip flopping.

And that’s what happens when I started taking tests.

I wrote the questions, I knew the answers.

And so if your hiring manager, I would always put more weight against practical experience, even if the person you know, doesn’t have a lot of days in an office or days at a job.

Talk to them about what they do in their free time.

There’s a lot of people, Chris, you’re a really great example of this, who will experiment on the side to get really good at it.

So let’s say for example, you know, you were not working in a job that allowed you to use Google Analytics on a regular basis.

But you were really interested in it, I would say, you have here, it looks like that you you know, have used Google Analytics, but I don’t see this in your job history.

Can you explain that to me? And then you might tell me, Well, I haven’t really had the opportunity.

So you know, in my free time, I’ve set up a demo account, I’ve stayed, I set up a website, here’s what I’ve learned, here are some sample reports.

And that to me, is always going to outweigh checking a box on a certification.

You could also say I have a Google Analytics certification, but I have never had a chance to use it.

That doesn’t mean you know how to use it.

What do

Christopher Penn 18:43

you do if you’re a hiring manager, though, like certifications and degreased, this fall in the same bucket or sort of heuristics, their their mental shortcuts? If you’re a hiring manager, say for your hiring for a data science person, and you yourself, don’t understand datasets like me pretend you’re hiring a team that was on vacation in Montenegro.

Right, and you had to interview a candidate as a junior person for me.

And, you know, for example, some of the technical differences like when should you use light GBM versus GBM versus x g boost? For example? How as a hiring manager, do you suss out, this person actually has the goods or not when you don’t have the technical expertise for the position you’re hiring for?

Katie Robbert 19:29

Well, first and foremost, the hiring manager has to have a really good BS meter.

You know, you can With practice, you can tell when someone is fudging an answer just to sort of say what they think you want to hear, even if you as a hiring manager don’t know what the actual answer is.

And so the way that I always look at it is explain it to me, convince me that this is the methodology that you should be using.

And I always say like pretend I know know nothing about this subject explain to me how this work because a hiring manager then is given the opportunity to start to poke holes where the plot doesn’t really follow the correct line like you can tell if someone’s getting from A to B cleanly, or if they’re kind of zigzagging around and don’t really know their way and their loss.

And so even if I knew nothing about and I don’t know a lot about gradient boosting and x be boosting and negative one to the 10th degree boosting whatever, I don’t need to, I would say to the candidate, you know, Hey, Chris, it sounds like you really think that regression analysis is the way to go explained to me as if I’m the executive who needs to make the decision, why you chose that methodology, and not a different one, and what the other options were.

And so giving the candidate the opportunity to flex their muscles a little bit to say, here, I do know what I’m talking about, let me explain it to you in a way that you can now understand it.

Christopher Penn 20:59

I really liked that, because a lot of people are really bad at explaining things.

Katie Robbert 21:03

And if it’s something that you know a lot about, you should be able to at least get someone part of the way there to explain it to you understand what it is that you’re talking about.

And that to me demonstrates you actually know.

So if I were to if you said to me, Chris, Katie, I need you to explain Tag Manager, I can explain it to you, I can give you all of the components, I can tell you how they work together, I can talk through the governance.

So I would be able to demonstrate my knowledge of how Tag Manager works.

And I can put together simple tags, I know how to put the code on the website, and the containers and all that good stuff.

So I’d be able to explain it to you.

It’s the deep technical pieces that I was struggled with.

But I as a candidate would be the first to admit that, because that’s also half the battle is admitting what you don’t know.

Christopher Penn 21:55

How much of a hiring signal is that? When somebody is is honest about not knowing something,

Katie Robbert 22:03

it depends on what you need out of the person, it depends on what you need for the job.

And it depends on how much time and resources you’re able to give to this person to learn that.

You know, so if there’s some more senior person on the team that they can learn from, that’s great.

If you have dedicated training time or training budget, that’s also a good use of that.

But if you don’t, you know, it’s then that’s when you can start to look at well, how self motivated is this person.

And that’s when certifications at least can signal someone who has the initiative to find the answers on their own.

Christopher Penn 22:40

Interesting because, to me, someone admitting that they don’t know something, you know, point blank in into actually is pretty rare, because most people try to be SS because they are trying to, you know, to to tell you what you want to hear.

So to me from a cultural perspective, that would actually I think, be a pretty strong indicator, this person, culturally might be a good fit.

Katie Robbert 23:06

I’m gonna say with confidence, I might have said, I don’t know multiple times in my interview with you back in the day, which is why you hired me in the first place.

Christopher Penn 23:16

Actually, that plus in the interview, you were just straight up honest, like you’re like, here’s, here’s, here’s what here’s what’s in the boxes, which again, which a lot of other people because we had just come off of having a, an account manager who badly misrepresented himself to the point where we had to fire him in the middle of a client engagement, which which was a Trust Insights after dark show, we can tell the gory details on the dark web, exactly.

I noticed that the bar but in some ways that was you know, the the counterpoint, you were the counterpoint to that person, like, here’s what you’re getting, here’s what I can and can’t do kind of thing.

And again, that’s something that you can’t see in a certification.

Katie Robbert 24:11

Well, and that, you know, it’s an interesting, it’s a certification can be a misrepresentation of the skill set that you actually have, which is why then it’s on the hiring manager to start to suss that out of are these certifications just, you know, a bunch of checkboxes? Or is this person really deeply interested? So that’s where other follow up questions of.

So it looks like you have, you know, a certification and Google Analytics, you know, what blogs, you read what shows you follow? So trying to see how well rounded they are? Or are they really just checking a box?

Christopher Penn 24:44


So if you are looking at candidates, are you thinking about this as as becoming a candidate yourself for a job, maybe you’re part of the great reshuffling certifications don’t hurt.

They don’t hurt your chances for getting a job.

But They are a proof of of enthusiasm, they are a proof of minimum level of competence but they are not by any means a declaration of mastery, and they probably will not make you hundreds of 1000s of dollars extra per year.

So, be be cautious of any course that is declined that although if you do want to take your course go take our Google Analytics 4 Course I promise you, it will make you 2% better looking.

Christopher Penn 25:33

Only 2% though.

If you have stories that you want to share about your certifications, please pop on over to our free slack have go to trust insights.ai/analytics for marketers, where you in over 2400 other marketers are asking and answering each other’s questions every single day.

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Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll talk to you next time.

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