Advancing Your Career: Certifications, School, or Climb the Ladder

To certify or not certify, that is the question. Certifications, go back to school for Masters degree, work ungodly hours until I climb the ladder, there are so many choices and it’s difficult to tell if you’re making the right choice. It’s been weeks and weeks and I’m still suffering from the aftermath of trying to decide what to do.

Which Certifications Should I Take?

Do you even need certifications? There’s a certification for everything. In HR alone, there are 7-8 different certifications not counting the semi-borderline certifications which cover a specific branch of HR.

There’s the PHR, the SHRM-CP, the CEBS, the aPHR, the GPHR… you get the point. And that’s just HR, I haven’t mentioned APTD and CPLP which are offered by the Association for Talent Development Association (which can be great for HR professionals too).

I will have a separate post just on the certifications and a breakdown of what they are for. But the way I look at certificates is the same way I look at school now. What is the best ROI (return on investment)?

If I spend $1000 on a certification (prep, books, certifying) and another $250 every other year after to maintain the certification ($2500 over twenty years), then I better make sure I earn an extra $3500 over the next 20 years to pay for that certification!

And the more I can make using that certification, the more valuable that certification is to me.

Take the Certification that Pertains to You

If you’re an expert in HR, take a certification in HR. Certifications are great ways to break into an industry or transfer your experience from another profession into HR.

Sometimes a certification will establish your expertise in a particular field. Say you have 5 years of experience and a Bachelors degree in a different field from HR, it would be great for you to have a certification in your career path of choice to show your dedication.

Don’t Take Random Certifications

Don’t take every certification just to have every certification after your name. Take the ones that will really make a difference. Like the levels in a Super Mario game, certifications can be addicting to take. But you want to make sure that you’re not taking more and more certifications without getting some return on your investment.

Certifications cost money. And unless your certifications are going to really help you in your career, there’s no reason to waste money on something you don’t need.

The only exception to this rule is if you want to show off your certification like your latest consumer purchase. In which case, knock yourself out!

John Smith, MA, MPH, MBA, PsyD, Ph.D., etc…

There are a million different programs for higher education and a lot of reasons to continue studying. Higher education is a big decision. But deciding to go back to school for additional education just to earn more money is not always the correct way.

Don’t Go to College Without An End in Mind

I grew up in a family where going to college was a requirement. But the problem with being eighteen and going to college is you don’t know what you want to do with life. A lot of us were thrown into college with no end in mind and just majored in whatever was most interesting to us at the moment.

If you’re going to college, make sure you know why you’re going to school. Go to school for something that you are really interested in and that will pertain to what you’re doing in the future.

Calculate the Costs

Make sure to calculate the costs of an advanced degree. With people going millions into debt for a degree, make sure that you calculate the ROI on a degree. A certification might put you a few thousand dollars into debt, but an advanced degree could put you tens of thousands into debt.

Think carefully. If being a Professor in college teaching Philosophy is your lifelong dream, maybe a Ph.D. in Philosophy is the way to go. However, if your end goal is to be an HR Director in a SAAS Company, a Ph.D. in Philosophy may not be the best way to go.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Sometimes a certification or degree is not necessary to advance your career. It really depends. Maybe your career path is dependent on working on the extra hours and learning how to lead the extra projects. Or maybe your career is dependent on public speaking…

No Career is the Same

Every career path is different. Some career paths require extra certifications or education. Some really require for you to put the time at work, working the long hours.


Every person who climbs the career ladder will advance for different reasons. A good rule of thumb is to figure out what is missing at your Company. How do you make the Company more money or save the Company more money?

Maybe you can make a process more efficient. Or you can cut down on expenses by obtaining supplies more efficiently. Perhaps you can make the most sales of the year.

How About None of These?

That’s a choice that’s been made many times before too. If you are happy where you are in your career and don’t want to have more responsibilities, it’s not always necessary to get a degree, a certification, or try to climb.

However, keep in mind that as AI takes over more and more jobs, a critical part of advancing or keeping a job is being willing to change with the times. In 1975, Apple donated computers to schools. Now, it’s pretty much mandatory for most positions to know how to use some sort of technology.

Technology will keep changing and advancing, in some fields, the methods and advancement will change faster than other industries. However, in order to continue to be a valuable employee or asset to the Company, it’s mandatory that you continue to change with the times.

But what do I know? I’m…

~Just the HR Girl