Female sitting behind her laptop with a professional certification icon popping out of the screen

Are professional certificates worth it? Many students, job seekers, and professionals ask this question when exploring career options.

We’ll help you decide whether they’re right for you by considering their benefits and weighing them against traditional degrees. You will also find examples of valuable certifications and recommendations of the best online platforms for obtaining them. 

Our goal is to provide you with all the details to make an informed career decision, no matter where you are in your journey.

What is a professional certificate?

It is a formal recognition awarded by a university, organization, or company that signifies you’ve completed a course or series of courses. Unlike a traditional degree, they focus on specific skills and knowledge relevant to a particular industry or occupation. They generally take less time and money to pursue than bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Professional certificates come in a variety of forms. Some enhance skills you already possess, while others will introduce you to new ones. They can range from highly technical programs, like coding boot camps, to soft skills courses, like project management and human resources.

What differentiates a professional certificate from other forms of education? Unlike diplomas and degrees, which cover a broad range of topics, professional certificates focus exclusively on the skills needed to succeed in a specific area. The right certification could give you a competitive edge in your industry or help you master a particular skill set.

Benefits of professional certifications

Separate yourself from the crowd

Many managers will only hire candidates who have a certification in their area of expertise. Recruiters know this and will prioritize or potentially only consider candidates with certificates listed on their resumes. Having successfully recruited candidates into thousands of open jobs over the years, I can confidently say they provide an advantage in the job market.

Enhance your skills

Professional certifications are a strategic investment in a specific skill set. They blend advanced training with practical applications directly relevant to your job. By complementing your current abilities and introducing new ones, you elevate your work performance to a new level.

Boost earning potential

Specialized skills and earning potential often go hand in hand. Certifications indicate to employers that you possess a certain level of expertise. Your newly acquired skills may help you get promoted or receive a salary increase, as they add value to your team. According to a Human Resources Certification Institute survey, certified professionals earn up to 29% more than their uncertified counterparts.

Advance your career

It takes more than tenure and good performance reviews to climb the corporate ladder; you must also differentiate yourself. Regarding job promotions or career transitions, professional certificates can make all the difference. These credentials verify your specialized knowledge, giving employers confidence in your abilities and making you a strong candidate for promotion. Some roles may even require or strongly encourage a relevant certification.

Expand your network

Many accreditations provide access to exclusive industry groups, online forums, and special events. These platforms offer networking opportunities with industry leaders, mentors, and peers. Connecting with professionals in your field can lead to collaboration, mentoring, and job referrals. According to a recent LinkedIn survey, 85% of all jobs are filled through networking; a certification program might be the key to landing your dream job.

Job security

The job market is rapidly changing, so staying relevant is an absolute must. Earning professional credentials demonstrates a commitment to your career development, making you more valuable to your employer and less likely to suffer during a layoff. Certifications also show you are up-to-date with current trends and technologies, making you an indispensable asset to your organization. Ultimately, certifications can’t guarantee job security, but they can definitely enhance it.

Should you pursue a professional certification instead of a degree?

Numerous factors, including career goals, time commitment, and financial resources, should be considered when choosing a professional certification over a degree. Earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree can give you a comprehensive understanding of a particular career area and increase your recognition and credibility. Also, keep in mind that some professions require a degree as a baseline educational requirement even for entry-level positions.

Conversely, professional certifications are career-oriented, don’t take as much time, and cost considerably less. These courses benefit those looking to upskill quickly, change careers, or gain a competitive advantage. As employers increasingly recognize them as valid credentials for specific roles, they can effectively advance your career.

If you are choosing between the two, consider what you hope to achieve in your career. A degree may be more appropriate if you’re starting out and need a foundational education. Professional certifications, however, can be a valuable tool if you are already in the workforce and want to specialize, climb the career ladder, or switch career paths. So, evaluate your situation, weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision that aligns with your goals.

How to decide if a professional certification is right for you

Assess your career goals

First and foremost, consider your long-term career aspirations. Are you seeking a managerial position? Is there a particular niche in your field you want to specialize in? These goals can be achieved through certifications, offering specialized skills and knowledge to make you a stronger candidate for specific jobs. An accreditation that aligns closely with your objectives could be an excellent choice for you.

Examine industry demand

Before you enroll in a program, find out what skills are in demand within your industry. Is this certification in high demand by employers? Possessing certain certified skills is beneficial and almost necessary for career advancement in some industries. You can learn whether a particular certification is in demand by researching job postings, reading industry reports, or talking to mentors.

With artificial intelligence (AI) becoming commonplace, consider how it will impact future career opportunities. While nobody can accurately predict how quickly AI will impact one profession to the next, the job landscape is evolving rapidly.

Evaluate time and financial commitment

Earning professional certifications requires time and money. Courses can take anywhere from a few months to a year to complete. There are also wide variations in costs, ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Consider whether you can devote the time and resources required to complete the program. Becoming certified could be a good investment when the return on time and investment are favorable.

Consider credibility and recognition potential

Certification from a well-known and respected organization will likely be more impressive on your resume than from an unfamiliar group. Look into the institution’s reputation and accreditations, and ask professionals who have completed the program for testimonials on its credibility and recognition.

Weigh the alternatives

Last but not least, weigh your options. Can similar career advancements be achieved via on-the-job training, mentorship, or other educational paths like workshops or webinars? You may find that other methods can provide you with the skills and recognition you need at a lower cost or with a shorter time commitment. Certification, however, can be a compelling option if it offers specialized knowledge and skills that are otherwise difficult to obtain and highly valued in your field.

Examples of valuable professional certifications

Project Management Professional (PMP)

The PMP certification, issued by the Project Management Institute, is globally recognized and highly sought after. This certification validates your ability to manage projects efficiently, from conception to completion. Financially, PMP-certified professionals typically earn up to 20% more than their non-certified peers. Thanks to this certification, which is not sector-specific, your skills are transferrable across various industries. Anyone looking to advance in a management position can benefit from obtaining a PMP certification.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

The CISSP certification, offered by (ISC)², is one of the most widely recognized cybersecurity credentials. It covers many topics, including risk management, asset security, and network security. CISSP-certified professionals are often considered cybersecurity experts, making them ideal candidates for information security leadership roles. It’s also worth noting that these professionals often earn more than those without it.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

The CFA certification is regarded as the most prestigious in the finance industry. Several aspects are covered in this rigorous program, including investment management, financial analysis, and portfolio management. Obtaining this designation opens doors to investment banking, portfolio management, and financial planning careers. Over 70% of those who pass CFA exams report immediate career benefits, including promotions and salary increases. 

Google Analytics Individual Qualification (GAIQ)

From tracking website traffic to making data-driven decisions, the GAIQ certification from Google provides an in-depth understanding of Google Analytics. This certification will benefit most from marketing professionals, data analysts, and small business owners wanting to optimize their online presence. By completing the GAIQ certification, you will be able to measure, analyze, and optimize the performance of websites, directly contributing to the growth of your organization.

Six Sigma Green Belt Certification

Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for improving an organization’s process performance. A Six Sigma Green Belt Certification indicates proficiency in these methodologies, including data analysis and project management. The certification is applicable across various industries and can lead to roles focused on quality control, operational excellence, and process improvement. Those with this certification often hold leadership and management positions, overseeing projects that allow operations to run more efficiently.

Top online platforms for obtaining a certification 


Coursera partners with top universities and organizations to offer high-quality courses. The certifications you earn here often come directly from these reputable institutions, adding significant credibility to your resume.


Udemy certificates are not accredited, but they are widely recognized in many industries, especially for tech-related skills, and can boost your career prospects.

  • The Complete Digital Marketing Course: This comprehensive program covers SEO, social media, email marketing, and more and leads to a Udemy certificate.
  • Microsoft Excel—Excel with The Ultimate Excel Course: This course covers every aspect of Excel and results in a certificate upon completion.


EdX courses typically come from top universities like Harvard, MIT, and other prestigious institutions, making the certificates highly respected among academics and businesses.

LinkedIn Learning

With LinkedIn Learning, you can integrate these certificates into your LinkedIn profile, showcasing your new skills immediately to recruiters and connections in your network.

  • Become a Software Developer: This learning path offers a series of courses with a LinkedIn certificate at the end, perfect for those just starting in software development.
  • Strategic Human Resources: This course is designed to enhance your HR skills and offers a LinkedIn badge that can be displayed on your profile


With a focus on technology-related courses, Pluralsight is an excellent platform for IT and software developers.

  • JavaScript Core Language: This certification tests your foundational knowledge of JavaScript, one of the most widely used programming languages.
  • Ethical Hacking: This certification is intended for cybersecurity professionals seeking to develop ethical hacking and penetration testing skills.
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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn