Certifications are creating lazy hiring managers

A certification is not a marker of excellence.

I can say this categorically from the viewpoint of someone hiring testers.

It’s a viewpoint often ignored, dismissed and unheard by those extolling the virtues of the certification as an effective tool for hiring.

I’ve interviewed 100s of testers and I’ve yet to see any direct link between excellent candidates and their possession of a testing certification. Period.

certification of awesomeness
Certification of Awesomeness

To print your own certifications of awesomeness – visit Certification Magic.

Don’t rely on them for your recruitment as they won’t provide you with candidates who have the consistent level of experience, knowledge or aptitude that many people promoting this angle of certifications would have you believe.

If recruiting excellent testers was as simple as pre-filtering candidates based on them possessing a certification, then every software company in the world would have awesome test teams – but this simply isn’t the case.

You cannot presume someone with a certification is a talented tester.

You also cannot presume someone with no certification is a rubbish tester.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you a certification, lying, misinformed or easily mislead in to spouting a message they have not thought critically about.

This doesn’t mean that certifications are bad. They could have their place. In fact I’ve heard some very compelling reasons recently for using the certification schemes. They seem to solve some people’s problems.

But they create problems in recruiting.

Certifications have created lazy recruiters (hiring managers, HR and recruitment agencies) by providing a seemingly easy way to filter applicants. This in turn has given lazy candidates a simple route to getting through the filters.

Candidate no longer need to excel at anything, nor up-skill (other than sitting more certifications) or learn how to sell themselves effectively (Testing Club link to a thread discussing selling yourself) in order to get an interview, and presumably, also land a job.

Overall it’s creating a vacuum of fairly average people all playing certification inflation to keep up with everyone else.

I believe that certifications are not improving our craft in the way many believe they could, or should, and they are negatively affecting the recruitment of testers.

A certification is a business transaction. Lets not pretend it’s anything more. You pay for a course, you get a certificate (and a short amount of coaching/training/lecturing/reading etc).

Certifications are not education and they are no substitute for on-the-job learning, but they may be a useful source of learning and a useful introduction to testing for some.

A certification tells you nothing about the candidate themselves. It tells you nothing about their soft skills, aptitude, motivations, self learning ethos or work ethic. This is important because being a good tester is more about the person than it is about the skills. Most skills can be taught and learned – aptitude, thought patterns and work ethic are much harder to change.

Recruitment is not supposed to be easy. It is hard work finding good testers. Your job as a hiring manager is to find good people. This means your job is going to be hard. Embrace the challenge.

Instead of relying on certifications why not try other innovative ways of getting the right people? It’s not as tricky or expensive as it may first seem. (I’ll be sharing many of these ways over the coming months).

But of course if all you want is another bum on a seat then certifications may be your more efficient way of recruiting.

If however, you want a test team that can help your business adapt to the changes and evolutions it will inevitably go through then you will have to drop your reliance on certifications as a way of recruiting testers; certifications are making both you and the majority of candidates in the testing industry lazy.

12 thoughts on “Certifications are creating lazy hiring managers

  1. Rob,
    When I was teaching scuba diving there was a saying we instructor’s had about other instructors and divers. “Certified doesn’t always mean qualified.”

    Meaning someone may appear to be book smart and able to pass the test, but they don’t have any real world application and experience from it.

    I’ve done the CSTE twice in my career; first when it was petition based (and actually meant something) and second time when they went to the exam based method after aging all of us original people out. It turned into money & certification mill in my opinion. Just like the MCSE did in the early 2000’s.

    The only real thing my CSTE did for me was get a reaction from James Bach when I interviewed with him at ST-Labs in Seattle in 1997. His comment was “how nice”.

    1. Hi Jim,

      Genius “how nice” – great statement about “Certified doesn’t always mean qualified.” – I like that a lot.

      I think most of these schemes start out with good intentions and then turn in to a money mill – I guess it’s human nature for some people to start seeing £/$ signs rather than the intrinsic value something once offered.

      Thanks for your comments – always good to hear from you 🙂


  2. Nice post – Yes Certifications should not be taken a shortcut,
    The top 2 advantages they have given our profession are:
    1. More people try to learn at least something about testing – earlier on and still in some places – you could walk right into a testing job with no basic knowledge what so ever.
    2. There is a common vocabulary which is taking a better grip from day to day.

    I wonder why MCSE or Cisco certifications do not get that much opponents… (but maybe I just don’t hear about these)

    I guess if more work places would have initially taken the effort to send their new employees to a foundation course (and later on to advanced ones and conferences) – there was less need to encourage these candidates to take it themselves on their own budget.
    Yet – many still don’t (as opposed to other Technical & SW courses).

    Instead of criticizing the whole thing – we need to take the advantages, and work to reduce the side affects.

    @halperinko – Kobi Halperin

    1. Hi Kobi,

      Thanks for the comments.

      The big question is how much does a certification teach you about testing? If we assume that certifications do teach a lot then we can see value in the scheme as a means of recruiting good testers. If they don’t teach people how to test (which is my view point) then it’s a pointless practice to rely too heavily on them for recruiting. The problem I have with the certification scheme is not in the scheme itself, but in how recruiters rely on the certifications as a marker of excellence.

      I’d also challenge the concept of common vocabulary. Most companies have a common language within the business which often does not match the vocabulary of the ISTQB et al. Trying to change that wide spread common language within an established business is almost impossible. So to believe that you can talk to testers all over the world and be using a standard industry jargon is somewhat misleading; in fact, the biggest problem with most gathering (conferences etc) is the fact that most people there would not even be able to agree on what software testing even is let alone much of the vocab included in the syllabus 🙂

      I do think there are advantages to the scheme for some people, with some sets of problems, but there are much better ways of recruiting testers than relying on certifications 🙂

      Thanks again for commenting.


  3. Good article and agree with comments Multi choice tests are not a good evaluation of a good software tester

  4. Great post Rob.
    You’ve certainly hit the nail very hard on the head!

    I found the ISTQB ‘exam’ pretty pointless and as such, anyone who rates the exam has, in my view, a very shallow understanding on what testing is all about – more so if they have never heard of the BBST course, or UTest.

    Furthermore, I have sat next to testers who have paid £100’s for courses in Agile and their understanding (or lack of it.) of Agile is frightening – In some cases they didn’t understand what the manifesto was about, or that they didn’t understand the difference between a Feature and a Story!

    What I have found to be incredibly useful is attending the various workshops that are often held in the testing community (expense permitting!!), reading numerous blogs such as yours and the many interesting books by interesting people.

    I do find it incredibly hard to find a tester who can actually test!

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for the kind comments. It’s very sad indeed that people are spending £100 of certifications and still lacking in some of the fundamental ideas and concepts.

      Blogs and meetups are the very best ways to get the knowledge in my opinions, second only to working with talented and experienced testers to learn from.

      Thanks again for commenting.

  5. Fantastic post Rob. My hiring policy is “keep your certs hidden or at the bottom of the CV so that I don’t see them”. You must have noticed that in my LinkedIn post too.

    Certifications are damaging the credibility of our craft. As you rightly said, absence of certification does not mean someone is a rubbish tester; and presence of certification does not mean talent or qualification.

    1. Thanks for commenting Rajesh and many thanks for the kind words.

      You’re right – they are damaging the credibility of our craft, yet many companies flock to them like they’re going to somehow magically improve quality 🙂


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