College Classroom CERTIFICATES
Certification Magazine|April 2020
Evaluating the Merits of IT Certifications When Recruiting CS/MIS Students
NAVEED SALEEM, GOKHAN GERCEK, FAIZA ZALILA, JIAN LIN, AND MICAHEL WU

Higher education academic programs emphasize equipping their graduates with some practical experience in their field of study through projects, internships, practicums, and so forth, to better prepare them for the job market. Computer Science (CS) and Management Information Systems (MIS) programs, however, have also been increasingly incorporating IT professional certifications into the course and program curricula in order to provide some edge to their graduates in securing internships and employment.

An IT certification is considered an external, objective evidence of one's knowledge and practical experience in a specific technology or domain. A student, however, may possess only nominal practical experience, if any at all. Consequently, this raises the question of how one should interpret an IT certification earned by a student.

This paper presents a case study that should help an interviewer/recruiter better interpret the relevance and merits of an IT certification held by a newly minted graduate whose academic background is in a Computer Science or Management Information Systems field of study.

Introduction

The Computer Science and Management Information Systems departments at institutions of higher education employ varied strategies to ensure that their graduates possess readily marketable IT knowledge and skills upon entering the job market (Husinger and Smith, 2008; Rajendran, 2011).

Typically, these strategies include: 1) equipping students with high-demand IT skills (Yew, 2008; Wittman, 2010); and 2) enhancing students’ practical IT knowledge and skills through internships, industry projects, on-campus work projects, or simulated projects (Yew, 2008; Coes and Schotanus, 2009; Janz and Nichols, 2010; Tan and Venables, 2010; Wittman, 2010).

In recent years, however, these programs are increasingly employing another strategy: amplifying student knowledge and skills by integrating IT professional certifications into their curricula (Husinger and Smith, 2008; Hartley, 2008; Rajendran, 2011; Greene, 2015).

An IT certification represents external, objective evidence of an IT professional’s knowledge and competence in a specific technology or area of expertise. As such, it stands to reason that most IT professionals attempt to earn certifications after acquiring some level of practical experience. Some certifications, in fact, require that a candidate have prior work experience before attempting the certification exam.

A typical student, however, may possess only nominal on-the-job experience, if any at all. This consequently raises questions about the proper interpretation and merits of a student’s IT certification. Stackpole (2016) in fact suggests that a student’s IT certification may represent nothing more than book knowledge and, therefore, should be considered with caution in hiring decisions.

Given the significance attached to the IT certifications in the hiring process, it becomes imperative to develop a better understanding of the merits of an IT certification of a student. Unfortunately, there is hardly any research conducted on this specific topic. This research is an attempt to fill this gap and the authors believe that this paper will be useful to any professionals involved in recruiting and evaluating applicants for IT positions.

Relevance of IT certifications in academic programs

The body of IT professional certifications comprises two primary categories. The first category includes certifications that are technology independent and stress general, non-proprietary skills and concepts, such as Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Usability Analyst (CUA), and Certified E-Commerce Consultant (CEC).

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