Friday, February 1, 2013

To Get Certified, or Not to Get Certified ... That Is the Question

Ahh... to get certified or not, that is the question!

Today, I responded to a LinkedIn Group question from Jessica Smith of Resume Butterfly, who was wondering if she should pursue certification. A quick check of my blog posts revealed I haven't addressed this specific issues on here (although I've tackled the question of fake certifications and which organizations offer certifications). And I've certainly answered this question many times in direct emails.

But it's time to write about resume writing certifications on here.

I have known great writers who are not certified, but I've also known SOME certified writers who aren't great writers.

A couple generalities:
  • I don't know anyone who hasn't earned one of the mid-level or higher certifications (NCRW, ACRW, MRW), that ISN'T a great writer. Some certifications are relatively "easy" to obtain (the CPRW, for example, isn't tremendously rigorous), and competency certainly doesn't mean "mastery.
  • If you ask certified resume writers whether the certification is "worth" it, the answer is generally "Yes," although their answer WHY varies. (See below.)
  • Not all certifications are "equal" -- obviously. Figure out WHY you want the certification, and there will be one that is a fit for those reasons. (Prestige, exposure, validation, expert status ... these are just some reasons.)
Here's my guide to certifications (however, it's from 2007 -- guess it's time to update that!!)

Certification by itself is a minimum benchmark, but more importantly, it's a confidence builder and marketing tool. It also can help you land certain kinds of projects — for example, some contracting firms only work with certified writers (and some specify the type of certification required — for example, NCRW or ACRW). And some book authors require certification for submitting samples to include in their compiled works.

Entry-level certifications (CPRW and CARW) are the easiest and least expensive to obtain. They require self-study, preparation by reviewing the specific requirements (certification resumes aren't necessarily the way you'd write an actual client resume, but you must meed the certification standards in order to pass), and a writing project, which is reviewed by peer graders.

Advanced certifications require that, and much more -- often a portfolio (multiple documents meeting certification standards), and often more preparation (an initial grammar test or other assessment). They are also more expensive, harder to obtain, and require recertification.

I received my CPRW more than 10 years ago, and the only requirement from PARW is to keep your membership current. (I dispute whether my CPRW requires this, however, because that requirement wasn't in effect when I earned the credential.) However, many of the other certifications do require continuing education and recertification (portfolio submission, for example).

Honestly, I hear some of the same comments about joining professional associations. In many cases, the value is in the eye of the beholder (the resume writer), NOT necessarily the client.

If you asked clients, most of them have no idea that certification is available for resume writers, and they certainly couldn't tell you the difference between a CPRW and an ACRW (although there is a huge difference!).

But I have successfully used certification as a way to win clients, and sometimes that can be what makes it worthwhile for you to pursue it. Listing that you're a certified resume writer can help sway a prospective client who is considering several resume writers (if all else appears equal — which we obviously know it's not, but ... — they will focus on the one thing that is different).

And, as I mentioned, it can also be a confidence booster, especially for new writers. Entry-level certifications are NOT really a training tool, but they do provide guidance on certain standards and expectations. Advanced credentials (NCRW, ACRW in particular), do have more of a "training" component, and that can boost your confidence and your writing skills. With the NCRW, for example, the first-time pass rate is abysmal. But practice makes perfect! And the confidence you get by earning one of the more difficult-to-earn credentials is priceless.

Leave me a comment below: What are YOUR thoughts about certification? Which certification(s) do you have? Which do you find to be most valuable? How has being certified helped you? If you're not certified, why not?


  1. I have been pondering this myself. At this point, it seems arbitrary. I have also seen great writers and poor writers in both groups.

    There are more than a few writers online who claim to be certified and are not.

    I am able to keep up with the latest trends without adding to my bottom line and passing the extra cost on to clients.

    I have had a handful of clients ask but I cannot remember the last client I lost to a certified writer.

    I will reconsider the issue when, and if, these circumstances change.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Sara!

    The certified writers who you can't verify their credentials might be CPRWs, like me. I earned my CPRW from PARW at a time when membership was not a requirement for keeping the CPRW (you only had to be a member to *apply* for certification). That was changed after I earned my designation, so I promote my certification, but you can't "verify" it through PARW, since I'm not currently a member.

    As to certification with prospective clients, you likely wouldn't get the call in the first place. Prospects looking for certified writers only contact certified writers (the same is true for resume writers seeking contracting writers for subcontract gigs).

    As I mention, the decision is ultimately up to you!

  3. My long time mentor held fast to the belief that such certifications are "bought". And I can't help but feel that way when I read how to become certified with the NARW.

    Is there a certification I can obtain by taking a test or submitting a resume for review without paying for membership first, and every year just to maintain certification, or taking classes they offer for a fee?

  4. In this industry, most certifications are tied to associations. There is no state licensing requirement for resume writing (although there is, in some states, for career counseling/career coaching).

    There is ONE EXCEPTION for a resume writing credential -- the Master Resume Writer (MRW) credential, which is administered by Career Thought Leaders, but does NOT require that you be a CTL Association in order to apply, receive, or renew it.

    It is one of the most rigorous ones awarded in the industry, however, so you've got to be GOOOOOOD to get it. If you don't have another certification, you have to submit additional resumes for review in your portfolio. But it sounds like it would be perfect for what you're asking about -- no membership requirement for applying or renewing, and you don't have to take any classes.

    Details here:

  5. Thank you! I will definitely look into that.

  6. Thanks for featuring my question!

  7. Thank YOU for allowing me to feature you, Jessica!