Grow Professionally by Earning Career Certifications

By Paula Brand

A spirit of life-long learning is critical for success in today’s world of work. To be effective, we must continue to grow and develop in our field. This requires a thoughtful approach when seeking more formal types of education, including deciding what you want to learn and how you want to go about it. In particular, it is important to do some investigating as you consider whether to complete a new degree program or earn a certification. Since pursuing a degree may require a great commitment of time and money, many career practitioners are opting to earn certifications instead.


Deciding on a certification program can be overwhelming. Besides the fact that so many different certifications exist in our field, there are also a variety of training providers. Additionally, some key skills in our industry overlap with other fields, so expanding your search for certifications into human resources, workforce development, personality assessments or other areas of counseling/coaching may also prove worthwhile. The first step is to decide the primary topic area that you want to explore and the competency you most want to gain.


Target Audience

Is the expertise you desire broad or specific? Who are the people you are trying to help? For example, the Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) curriculum gives an excellent overview of career development, including specific tools to use with clients. It offers a strong foundation if you are new to the field of career advising and would be a smart choice if your client base is varied. However, if your business focuses on résumé writing, you may attract more job search clients with a résumé writing certification.


Training Provider

Once you have decided on your preferred area of expertise, you need to identify a training provider. Utilize online information, testimonials from trusted colleagues, and research the organizations offering training in that specialty. As you gather information, consider the aspects below.


Certification programs are often connected to certain organizations that may even oversee and regulate the training. One example would be the GCDF certification. The National Career Development Association (NCDA) offers training to become a Career Development Facilitator (CDF) Instructor and gives links to approved CDF training providers on its website, but NCDA doesn’t offer the training directly. Once trained as a CDF, the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) accepts one’s application to become a GCDF, confers the credential, monitors continuing education requirements and collects the annual fee. This is unique as, more often, the organization offering the training and conferring the credential are one in the same. Research the organization (or individual trainer) offering the certification program. Look to others who hold the credential and ask about their experience in the program. Also, consider these questions:

  • What, if any, organization stands behind the certification?

  • Is it a state, national, or international organization? What is the reputation of the organization (and their leaders)?

  • How long has it existed?

  • Does the organization/trainer offer resources to those they certified?

  • Where is the certification recognized?

  • Are there minimum experience requirements for entry into the certification program (and do you meet them)?


Costs to Earn a Credential

Costs can range from several hundred to a few thousand dollars for the training program itself. Some providers offer discounts, so it’s wise to get on their mailing lists to be notified of any opportunities. Often there are additional costs beyond training, such as an annual fee to maintain membership in the credentialing organization, a fee for initial application, or a periodic renewal fee. The location of the training might require travel or lodging costs. Because of these factors, you should be thorough in your research to best predict the total cost required to reach your goal.

Beyond the financial piece, you should also consider the cost of your time. Programs vary widely in length, from a few hours, weeks, or even months.  Are there required steps toward completion or phases beyond the time you are in training? For example, some coaching programs expect you to hold a minimum number of client sessions after the training to prove your competence before conferring the credential.  Is there a post-training application process and how long does it take to complete?  As with monetary costs, consider the entire commitment to assess your future investment.


Training Format

What type of learner are you? There are many formats to consider, and you should think carefully about which will work best for your preferred style of gathering and retaining information. Is the format online, in person, over a conference call, or a combination of these? Is the training led by a live person or is it prerecorded? Do you decide when to cover the material (self-paced) or is each class conducted at a specific time? What are the attendance requirements and are you able to make up missed sessions? Regardless of format, will there be an opportunity to connect with fellow attendees and is there additional support provided by the instructor if needed?


Commonalities Among Certification Programs

Most formal career-related certification programs require these elements, beyond the actual training:

  • An application fee and a renewal process (with additional fee)

  • Adherence to a code of ethics

  • Maintenance of membership and good standing in the certifying organization

  • Completion of continuing education requirements


Staying on top of trends and pertinent developments in the career counseling field is an ongoing commitment, and formal training programs can be a great way to stay current. This article should give you a framework to make quality decisions on certification programs in the future. Remember to consider your audience, the organization behind the certification, the costs involved, and the format offered. And of course, don’t forget to have some fun while you are learning!



Paula BrandPaula Brand, MS, GCDF, JCTC, CPRW is a Career Consultant and LinkedIn Trainer with Brand Career Management and she will be presenting a roundtable on this topic at the annual NCDA Career Development Conference, in June 2015 in Denver. Combining a background in career counseling, human resources, workforce development and training facilitation, she has inspired hundreds of people to successfully manage their careers. Paula has served in leadership roles for the Maryland Career Development Association. In 2014, she received awards from two career associations and released the first edition of“The Essential Guide to Career Certifications”, a definitive resource providing detailed information about many career industry certification programs (http://paulabrand.com/the-guide). You can find out more about Paula on the web at www.paulabrand.com, www.linkedIn.com/in/paulabrandcareers, www.facebook.com/BrandCareerManagement and on Twitter @brandcareermgmt.

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Elizabeth Craig   on Sunday 03/01/2015 at 09:50 PM

Excellent article and framework Paula! I hope your work and presentations on this topic will encourage everyone in our career development field to continue to grow and develop. As you have emphasized it is an ongoing commitment to stay current. Those we serve are seeking personally relevant and useful information. Best wishes on continuing great work! Elizabeth Craig, MBA, NCDA MCS & CDFI, GCDF® Instructor, DCF, CCM, MCD, BCC, Reach™ Certified Personal Brand Strategist and Social Branding (LinkedIn) Analyst

Paula Brand   on Monday 03/02/2015 at 12:33 PM

Thanks for the positive feedback Elizabeth! I also hope this article encourages others to continue learning since it is so important in our field.

Kudos to you. You exemplify the ideas in this article by all of the certifications you have earned.

See you soon in Denver!

Jim Peacock   on Tuesday 03/03/2015 at 08:01 AM

Nice job on highlighting the importance of credentialing but also the need for continual learning in our profession. Credentials enhance the work we do and emphasizes a need to have some standards so consumers get a sense of value.

Paula Brand   on Tuesday 03/03/2015 at 01:06 PM

Thanks Jim! I agree with you on both accounts.

Michele Coleman   on Wednesday 03/04/2015 at 12:51 PM

This article is terrific! It would be so helpful to have a list of endorsed providers and options. As a college counselor who was formerly an outplacement consultant. I am looking to connect the pieces that I feel are missing for most people from high school through encore careers and am currently expanding my practice. I am searching for a practical knowledge and experience based certification. I will keep looking!

Paula Brand   on Thursday 03/05/2015 at 06:16 PM

Michele, Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure if you mean you are looking for lists of certifications in other fields or our field? I created one for our field because I didn’t see something else out with this detailed information (paulabrand.com/the-guide). I am not aware of other lists that exist for other fields but I’ll let you know if I come across any.

Karol Taylor   on Saturday 03/07/2015 at 05:25 PM

Well done, Paula. Helpful insights and considerations for deciding on a certification that's right for me. Hope to hear more from you on this essential topic!! You are quickly becoming THE EXPERT in this arena.

Paula Brand   on Monday 03/09/2015 at 03:00 PM

Karol - thanks for the compliment. I"m glad you found it helpful. See you in Denver!

Ebony Tara Scurry, SPHR, GCDFI   on Wednesday 04/01/2015 at 05:25 PM

With all the career development related certification options out there, this is a great overview of all of the most important aspects someone should consider. Thank you for putting this article together; I will definitely refer it to others!

I often get asked, "what's the best certification to get?", but the answer is a personal one based on a number of factors; which I feel you addressed perfectly.

I'm especially a big advocate for considering Format. I think it should play a larger part in the decision-making process then most people realize, so I appreciate that you covered that. As you said - people "should think carefully about which will work best for your preferred style of gathering and retaining information. " That is so very, very true!

Ebony Tara Scurry, SPHR, GCDF-I
Eidolon Career Solutions

Paula Brand   on Thursday 04/02/2015 at 03:08 PM

Ebony - thanks for reading, commenting and future sharing! Funny enough, I was just talking with Elizabeth Craig and it seems we all often get the question "What is the best certification to get?" and we all agree that it depends on many factors. I hope this article and the book I created help people sort all of this out.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.