The demand for certifications comes ultimately from hirers—in particular, from hirers who need to hire and retain highly skilled practitioners, and who are not themselves able to assess practitioners’ skills. Though certification programs may serve other needs, the hirers’ needs are the heart that pumps life into any certification.

Imagine a certification that no hirer cared about, that no hirer ever used as a factor when determining whether to hire someone, or how much to pay them. Would such a certification thrive as a certification? Would it survive? If the certification offered sufficient prestige, some practitioners may seek it as a badge of honor, a point of pride. But as a certification per se?

Hirers who can accept moderate or low skill don’t need certifications. Hirers who can assess skills themselves don’t need certifications. Certifications matter because hirers need help assessing skills that matter.

I offer this test of the value and legitimacy of a certification program: To what extent does it help hirers make high quality hiring decisions?

Whatever benefits of a certification program may provide for others, they are secondary. Any certification program that serves other needs for other people, but does not help hirers make high quality hiring decisions, is a swindle. Any certification program that serves other people’s needs at the expense of those hirers’ needs is a fraud.

I propose The Certification Prime Directive: Above all else, help hirers make high quality hiring decisions.