What Certification?

The question ‘what certification’ is a very popular question that is asked daily by thousands of people. I hear this from colleagues, family members and students all the time. Fresh graduates are asking and experienced employees are pondering. It is a difficult question to answer and there is definitely no single answer to this important question.

My intention with this article is to provide some help that I hope will help you answer the “what certification” question. Closely linked to this question is another difficult question – what will I like to do in the future? A four year old will say it more directly – ‘what I want to be when I grow up?’ If you are reading this, you are probably too old to regularly use the phrase “when I grow up”. My four year old son changes his mind as often as he wants even though being a doctor, a firefighter and a pilot ranks very high on the list. And even though we refuse to acknowledge it, we are all like him. We want to be many things. But unlike him, we believe our options are not that open – why will a 23 year old finance graduate wish to be a surgeon?

So what do you want to become when you grow up?

A few people can answer this question clearly. I want to be an equity research analyst, a project finance specialist, a business analyst or securities trader. However, a lot of us are unable to provide a clear and simple answer to this question. It is really difficult to know exactly what you will be doing 5 or 10 years from now but we tend to have short list of likely career choices or a sense of our area of expertise. Other times, you know the things you don’t want to be. “Whatever I do, I think I will be talking to and helping clients with their finances.” “I love analysis and problem solving and my dream job must require these skills.” “I have had such a wonderful experience studying accounting and I don’t want to be at a job where my accounting skills are unutilized.”

Certifications are marks of endorsement by a credible institution acknowledging that you are fit to practice a given profession. One of the critical tools that ensure that you are able to practice a profession is getting the appropriate certifications.

Do you have a short list of what you dream to become, is there a relevant certification(s) that potentially helps you to achieve your goals. It is always a good sign if a single certification helps you on the path to achieving a few of the goals on your short list.

Where do you want to be when you grow up?

We already covered the fact that a certification helps you along the path to your career goal but you should also consider the geographical scope of your dream and what certification might help you achieve this dream. If you plan to practice accounting in Europe a few years from now, you should be thinking of a global accounting certification. With the world fast becoming a global village, national and regional certifications are taking a back seat, you should pursue a certification with a global appeal.

Do you really want to be a fire-fighter when you grow up?

In the 1990s, people were training and obtaining certification to become a typist. Who gets hired these days because of their typing certification? As young people, you don’t want to lock yourself into a narrow field or function too early in life. Your first certification should be generic enough to allow you change your current job for something else if it turns out that you want a change in career. Yes, you interned at a stock broking firm and you loved it, but it does not mean you should enrol for the certified stockbroker’s exam.

You want a certification that offers you enough flexibility to change functions and industry.

Do you really want to be a gladiator?

Everybody loves the winning gladiator but we forget the price he pays to become who he is. No credible institution will hand you their mark of excellence on a platter. You have to work hard to get it. In making your choice of certification, you should make an independent and sincere assessment of yourself. Two good questions to ask – Am I able to pass these exams and am I willing to pay the price? Ability speaks to your capacity to understand, to study and practice for the exam and willingness is about your attitude towards prioritizing the need to obtain the certification.

It’s apt to remind you of the conversation between Alice and Cheshire cat in the famous book ‘Alice and the Wonderland.

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to

Alice: I don’t much care where.

The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.

The Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

In conclusion, I believe you should start with an image of what you will like to do, outline the certifications that potentially will get you closer to your dream role. Then look out for industry and geographical relevance, flexibility, your capacity, the cost and time it will take you to earn the certification.

My name is Ayokunle Ojo. I can be reached at ayolope@gmail.com. I live in Lagos and work for an international bank. I am CFA Charterholder and a chartered accountant. I teach and mentor CFA students at New Frontiers Learning Centre in Victoria Island, Lagos.

1.The exception to this rule is when your first choice of career requires a narrow certification as a prerequisite to doing your job.

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