Getting Certified - worth it or not?
Thanks to those readers who responded to my Surviving the Weeding Process series. I had one good piece of feedback from a guy who wondered if my advice of getting certified really was a productive thing to do when in fact experience is probably much more important and useful to future employers.
I would agree with him 100% that experience beats certification in this current market, especially since I'm a high-school drop-out myself! However, the point of the series was to simply give those struggling to get their resumes noticed one more string to their bow in order to attract attention.
What is my advice about getting certified? We've all heard about people who're great at taking exams, but once armed with the piece of paper, and able to bluff their way through the recruiting process, then proceed to wreak havoc on the teams they're assigned to, once it becomes clear they don't have any idea what they are doing.
I'd say that getting certified is part of the evolution process. It's no use learning how to fly if you can't run fast enough to get a takeoff. Thus, the certification track should definitely be a trailing activity, undertaken to prove your ability, rather than one to try to establish it. Besides, if you get the job first, you may be able to have your employer pay for it.
Naturally, this advice doesn't hold for every profession. Professionals need to be certified to even participate in an industry, but even there, I would suggest interning in an industry before committing to education and certification. Also, in some technology and finance roles, certification may be a requisite for your company to become a distributor or reseller of a product - so again, you have no choice but to put reality before competence.
Let's look at three common forms of certification for foreigners working in Japan, and whether they are necessary.
First, the IT field. There are many certifications out there for Microsoft, Cisco, Java, Oracle, mad many more. One of the problems is that unless you are an advanced speaker of Japanese, you may not actually find any appropriate courses here in Tokyo. What options does that leave you with? Well, the cheapest way is to buy a correspondence course, and see if the local testing center will make an exception and let you sit the tests in English. I believe that Microsoft Japan will do this as will Cisco Japan and Oracle Japan. You could also take off overseas and do a compressed "sandwich" course. These can be expensive, but at least you get everything done all at once. The danger with such courses is that it will be far too advanced for your practical skills, and thus most of it will be forgotten later. Courses that are paced with your actual work are the best reinforcement for learning.
Next, what value does an MBA give to your resume? Does that significantly improve your future job prospects? Honestly, I'd have to say no. However, what an MBA will do for you is to both increase your chances of senior promotion 10-15 years from now, and of course it will give you the extra edge if you're up against a similar candidate with practical experience. Also, an MBA can give you a personal network of alumni, although apart from those graduating from a course locally, such as at Temple University, Hitotsubashi, or the International University of Japan, the level of dilution for of alumni from famous universities overseas is quite high. For example, I attended a Columbia University alumni event several months ago (I gate-crashed) and was told that there were about 100 alumni in all Japan. Not probably the strongest base to build a network.
Lastly, language certifications. Again these are not absolutely vital for experienced workers, however, for those people entering the job market for the first time, or into a new sector, you need all the advantages you can get. I would say that particularly for sales and customer support jobs, any employer spotting a JLPT Level 1 (1-kyuu) rating as well as 2-3 years practical work experience, even if not directly related to the current job, is bound to take a second look at your resume. There is also the JETRO ranking, which I think is useful for further defining your expertise. There is such a big gap between the JLPT 2-kyuu and 1-kyuu ratings, that a JETRO rating provides an extra level of granularity.