Are Online Professional Certificate Programs Useful?


The competition for a promotion or an entirely new job is fierce. To level up and stand out from the applicant pack, you might consider obtaining an additional certification. But if taking time away from work is not feasible, or you’ve already attended graduate school, then looking online for training opportunities could be your best bet. Online professional certificate programs can offer enrollees a shorter and more focused course of study with a much lower price tag.

How employers view online professional certificate programs

This Indeed.com article outlines four benefits for those who obtain professional certificates: 

  • Higher pay
  • Advancement opportunities
  • Competitive edge 
  • Tuition reimbursement (your employer may reimburse you for the cost of the certificate)

But do employers really find them valuable?

Jamie Saxe is the founder and CEO of Mend Consulting. She believes online certificates can be integral to businesses today, since the digital world continues to transform the way businesses operate.

“With a continued evolution of rapidly changing software program development, applications and the demand for evolving skill sets within the workplace, online certifications can assist employee education needed to operate within today’s fast-changing business community,” Saxe explains.

She also believes they provide a win-win proposition for employers and their employees. “They can give employees and contractors the opportunity to enhance their knowledge, remotely or on-the-fly, while also shaping the future of a dynamic workplace,” she says.

Not instead of a degree… but a supplement 

A certificate program can be a great option for those looking to change careers or deepen their professional knowledge. The certificate alone may not be enough to qualify for employment, depending on your career choice, but it can supplement your skills.

“Our company values any type of education and certification a potential or current employee has or maintains,” Saxe says. “With the demand for digital aptitude within the workplace and generally among businesses today, the education from Coursera or Google certificate can only add value to our business.”

Do online certificates make interview candidates more appealing?

It can. Coursera surveyed 5,000 students and employers about the motivations, needs and challenges they face, and released the results in February.

Students believe what they referred to as “industry micro-credentials make them more employable,” with 90% agreeing or strongly agreeing “that earning an entry-level professional certificate will help them stand out to employers and secure jobs when they graduate.”

Their potential employers backed up these findings. Eighty-six percent of U.S. employers agreed that earning an industry microcredential strengthens a candidate’s job application, and 74% say that it would positively influence a hiring decision. Thirty-nine percent said they had hired at least one candidate with a microcredential.

And an even more telling statistic?

“In choosing between two degreed candidates, 63% say the presence of an industry microcredential would positively influence a hiring decision,” the survey reported.

Saxe says, depending on the type of role her company is interviewing for, all education and certifications presented are considered as part of the interview process.

“Additional certifications are considered in the candidate selection process, yet still generally should be applicable to the role description the candidate is applying for,” she adds.

Online certifications for jobs: next steps

So what’s next, if obtaining an online certificate piques your interest? The first step should be self-reflection. What are your goals when it comes to an online certificate? Are you trying to get promoted, get a new job or enter a new field? You’ll need to understand what you want to get out of this commitment, and then you’ll be able to better find the right certificate for you.

Next you’ll want to conduct some research. This article breaks down the value of Google professional certificates through Coursera. One of their unique features? The Google Career Certificates Employer Consortium. It’s an exclusive network of 130-plus participating companies (think Google, Target and Deloitte) where you can apply to open positions upon completion of one of the Google certificates.

You’ll also want to look into what types of online certificates are even available in your job field. If you’re angling for a promotion at your current company, then consider talking to your manager and/or human resources department about the value your company places on additional education opportunities. You could then explore the possibility of tuition reimbursement.

Finally, remember that just because obtaining an online certificate will be less time-intensive than attending graduate school doesn’t mean that you won’t have to put in the work. You may be required to attend classes, complete assignments or engage in discussions. Make sure you have the bandwidth to handle these additional responsibilities.

Photo by ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com

Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.

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