by Mark Cummuta

Job Search: Four Ways to Stand Out and Differentiate Yourself In Today’s Market

Sep 02, 2009

The first of a four-part series on ways to differentiate yourself as THE candidate employers are seeking. 1) Certifications.

With the economy still sending out mixed signals and layoffs still being announced at major companies including IBM, Microsoft and American Airlines, standing out in today’s job market remains critical for job seekers.

One way to stand out in this tough, crowded job market is with accredited certifications. Industry certifications tell potential employers what kinds of technologies and methodologies you are trained and experienced in. Employers are increasingly seeking candidates who are already certified in the specific technologies, methodologies and processes they use to ensure that a candidate can quickly get up to speed in their environment.

Although some critics argue that certifications are becoming more critical for a job seeker’s resume than their experience, the reality is that this job market is unforgiving. I’ve noticed that of the very few opportunities for CIO jobs that are available, most require certifications in specific technologies and/or methodologies. Even CIOs have to prove themselves to get past the recruiter and HR gate-keepers.

Another reason to continue your education through certification is that it demonstrates your self-motivation to prospective employers. They like to see candidates who care about keeping their skills sharp and staying current in their profession.

I know of one independent consultant who was recently offered a job overseas leading a new IT operations center for a NATO-allied government because his list of technical and managerial certifications demonstrated his commitment and dedication.

Deciding on what certification(s) to attain is just as critical as actually accomplishing the goal. Numerous studies identify which certifications are “hot” for each industry – based on job ads; hiring managers, HR and recruiters; highest salary, etc. [Here are some for 2009: Foote Partners, Certifications Blog, Channel Insider, Tech Republic.]

However, the best way to determine which certification to attain is to research what the positions, firms and industries you’re targeting are looking for. For example, I’m focusing my job search in the financial, defense and management consulting industries. In these industries, my research shows a significant increase in the positions requiring ITIL (“Understanding the ITIL Framework“), Lean (“Applying Lean Techniques to IT“), Six Sigma (How IT Benefits From Six Sigma“; “Six Sigma, ITIL, BPM Cut IT Costs In Lean Times“), PMP and security certifications. So while I’ve been trained in and have significant experience in these and numerous other quality improvement, project management and security protocols and methodologies, I am now re-training and/or updating my skills for these certifications. I completed my Lean Six Sigma certification back in March 2009, and I just completed my re-certification to ITIL V3 last week. I am currently in training for the PMI PMP certification, and I am considering if I should get re-certified in security (such as the CISP or CISM).

There are several ways to attain your certification, so I recommend selecting accredited organizations based on your preferred learning style – self-study or instructor-led. You can self-study with books or online, including VOD (video-on-demand) and webinars. Firms like Career Academy are also starting to offer free introductory webinars to their certification tracks.

I personally prefer instructor-led courses, which give me the opportunity to interact with and ask questions of the instructor. For my ITIL v3 certification training, after researching New Horizons, Global Knowledge and others, I selected Five9 Technologies based on their affiliation with TLA (Technology Leaders Associations) and recommendations from various IT executives I am networked with on Twitter. Further, Five9’s discount for TLA members in Chicago was very helpful, as well (note that this discount is being offered again for their ITIL v3 class in Chicago September 28-30 2009, for $995).

Which brings me to my final point: How to pay for certification training while unemployed. With the economy as it is, software vendors, certification and training organizations, industry associations (e.g., CompTIA, TLA), and industry publications are offering all kinds of discounts, financing plans and even free training. For example, Global Knowledge has a free PMP certification practice exam. Microsoft has both its Elevate America program for free technical training, and its Career Campaign for 15 – 25 percent off dozens of selected certification programs. Most major IT vendors and industry publications host free ˝- and 1-day seminars on topics critical to staying abreast of latest technologies and methodologies. created the Dice Learning Center search engine to help find technical training programs. Finally, the federal and state governments have all increased their training budgets significantly for unemployed and laid-off workers, with numerous programs for prior and transitioning military veterans.

This is a difficult job market, so you need to do everything possible to stand out and differentiate yourself. Even if you’re already doing all the right things, you still need to have all the skills and certifications that your targeted employers need and want.

In part two of this four-part series on Ways to Stand Out and Differentiate Yourself In Today’s Market, I will cover how best to market your expertise so that employers can find you.

As always, thank you very much for all of your comments, emails and input!!



Mark Cummuta

CIO Job Search: A Real Life Chronicle