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The Value of a Professional Certification

by William F. Blake, MS, CPP, CFE

Many private investigators and security professionals do not realize the value of having a professional certification. While there are many investigators and security professionals without a professional certification, there is no way to know if the individual is working with information and standards originally learned years previously or currently.

Professional certifications are important for personal development and adding credibility to your expertise. While continuing education and certification is for your specialized knowledge or skill set, a continuous thirst for knowledge is key to building a growing and thriving business. Although continuing education and certification programs can be an investment of time and resources, they help recognize your specialized knowledge or skill set, which can be a significant benefit when it comes to landing certain clients or projects.

The Benefits of Certification
A certificate—awarded by an educational institution—recognizes a student who finishes a focused, industry-specific training course within an academic setting.

A certification—awarded by a professional organization—recognizes a working professional who has completed an assessment that evaluated their ability to do their job.

There are many benefits to keep in mind if you’re considering pursuing a professional certification:

1. Gain a Competitive Advantage  
When you have training that your competitors don’t, it sets you apart. Certifications can differentiate you from other professionals in your field, showing that you have a demonstrated commitment to understanding and excelling in your profession. This can give you an advantage, which is particularly important in today’s competitive market. Stay on top of trends and learn how to use that new software or social platform before it becomes a household name.

2. Boost Efficiency
Professional certification can also help give your business a solid foundation. The advanced training, information, and knowledge you gain from specialized coursework can provide you with up-to-date tools and technical strategies that will serve to guide and direct you in the execution of your projects, allowing you to manage all aspects of your work more effectively.

3. Increase Earning Potential
The time and effort invested in professional certifications often result in increased income. Most clients will understand the higher costs associated with specialized training and are willing to pay for consultants who have industry certifications. Some certifications report median salaries that are 26 percent higher than those who do not possess professional certifications.

4. Grow Knowledge and Skills
By acquiring new and updated industry information or techniques, you can hone current work habits that may be causing inefficiencies or quality issues with your output while increasing your competencies—giving you the skill and confidence to try something new, such as establishing the groundwork to implement a more sophisticated working environment for your business.

5. Establish Professional Creditability
When working with independent consultants, an increasing number of companies, non-profits, and government organizations want or may even be required to engage those with certain certifications from recognized programs. Certification demonstrates your commitment to superior professionalism, upholding industry standards, and continued learning. These merits can help boost your professional credibility and prestige within your network, with current clients, and when pursuing new business opportunities or bidding on projects. Certifications are often worthwhile investments because of the many advantages they can provide throughout your career. As you move forward and your business evolves, keep your certifications up to date so you can continue to realize these benefits. Also, publish your certifications on your website, your market profile, and all marketing materials.

6. Trust and Credibility
When customers first approach you for the first time with a business inquiry, they don’t know you or how you operate. One of the most effective ways to attract them, reassure them, and win their trust is through certification. If the certification comes from a well-known awarding body, then the customer will feel like they know what to expect, which will make them more comfortable.

Knowing that your practices meet industry standards is an excellent boost to your credibility. It also demonstrates your commitment to the profession, which will impress your customers and other companies you partner or collaborate with.

7. Stand Out From The Crowd
If your field doesn’t require certification, you can use it to your advantage to stand out from the competition. When there are many other practitioners offering similar services, it can be challenging to compete for the same customer pool. While you may want to channel some of your budget into marketing, other routes should be considered. Professional development, and in particular, certification, can differentiate you from other businesses and give you an edge. Your certificate will act as a badge of excellence. It will also demonstrate that you keep up with industry standards and use the latest tools and technologies to offer a service that can help your customers.

8. Improve The Way You Work
Achieving certification is about more than just saying what you’ve done. Any tests you complete or courses that you attend will have their benefits. Understanding the practices in your industry will give you a new appreciation for your profession and how you can support your customers. You will likely learn new techniques and skills—not only those associated with your field but also transferable skills—these could include discipline and communication. By being successful in your work toward certification, your confidence in your abilities will likely grow. Throughout the process, you might find other opportunities to enhance your standing in your industry. You’ll come into contact with others in your industry, including experts in your field. Make the most of these occasions to network and seek ways to support and gain assistance from your peers.

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9. Increase your Earnings
It’s crucial to consider the possibility that certification might promote your business to a new level. You’ll be attracting new customers and applying advanced techniques, so you should also look at your pricing structure. Expertise has value, and certification is an achievement that warrants revising what you have to offer. If your standards are beyond the normal industry level, then you might want to consider a different rate for the advanced services you provide.

Clients are willing to pay for quality, and you have found a way to guarantee them the service they want. Even if the cost of your services does not increase dramatically, certification will likely increase your earnings through the additional business you will receive.

10. Improve your Resumé.
It’s difficult to explain just how good a certification can look on your curriculum vitae (CV). Earning a new certification can change the entire look and layout of your CV. It will allow you to add a special section to your CV to list the certifications and qualified skills you have. Having a piece of paper to prove that you know the ins and outs of a certain skill is invaluable in the workplace.

Having a chance to improve your CV in such a big way is just another one of the benefits of certifications. Adding a professional certification to your CV and whatever education you already have will make you look well-rounded and capable as a security consultant.

Businesses are quick to hire a consultant who shows that they are qualified. But they are even quicker to hire someone who shows not only that they are qualified, but that they are committed to always improving their skills and learning more. Taking professional certification courses in your free time is evidence of a dedication to lifelong improvement. Your CV will never stay stagnant or stale. You will always look for opportunities to further your knowledge and skill set.

Not All Certifications Are Equal
When considering working toward a professional certification, it is necessary to determine the “real” value of the certification. Some businesses basically “sell” a certificate, while legitimate groups and associations have mandatory requirements for their certification based on experience and education. A certification that is based on no realistic requirements and qualifications is a waste of money. The value of a professional certification is predicated on a minimum amount of experience, education, and training. The difficulty in meeting the minimum requirements demonstrates the actual value of the certificate. Most professional certifications have a recertification requirement over a period of time.

Before pursuing a certification, evaluate its value and whether it will help you achieve your goals. The value of a certificate can depend on several factors:

1. Difficulty
Requirements for getting certified can vary. Some certifications require paying a fee and taking a test, others may require work experience and other eligibility requirements. Many certifications require you to take a test periodically to maintain your certification. Difficulty is an essential factor, but don’t avoid certifications that are more difficult to earn and maintain or require more experience—as they may be valuable long term.

2. Reputation
Just about any organization or individual can create their own certification program. Certifications that are widely recognized by the industry are more helpful than ones that aren’t. Certifications from well-known organizations such as Intellenet demonstrate an elevated level of knowledge in your field.

For example, Intellenet has the Board-Certified Investigator certification that requires a minimum of 10 years of experience to apply for membership in the program. To become a Board-Certified Investigator, the applicant must take a 100-item test based on an Intellenet-based BAI Study Guide with a required passing score of 75 percent. The applicant is also required to produce a 1000-word minimum white paper from original information that is not a recitation of an investigation. After successfully passing the written test and acceptance of the white paper, the applicant will be interviewed by selected, experienced BAI members and asked to provide a detailed response to several situational questions. Upon completion of the peer review, BAI membership may be offered to the applicant.

Professional certifications indicate the professional’s dedication to responding to a client’s needs through the use of the latest strategies and technology. Failure to provide services with current strategies and technologies may result in litigation between the professional and the client. If this happens, the professional will probably suffer a significant business loss and their personal reputation. Don’t be fooled by certifications that can be obtained with little effort and a check that does not bounce. You get what you pay for! A certification with nonviable requirements may indicate that you are a nonprofessional.

About the Author
William F. Blake has over 60 years of experience as an investigator and security consultant. He is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer, where he was a Criminal Investigation Special Agent field agent, Operations Officer, Unit Commander, Staff Officer, and Criminal Investigation Instructor. He was certified by examination in 1986 as a Certified Protection Professional by ASIS International and in 1990 as a Certified Fraud Examiner by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. He is a member of Intellenet.

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