Day 48: Odd Interview Question

I was on the receiving end of a weird question in an interview the other day. At least, I thought it was odd, but maybe this is perfectly normal. The recruiter asked me why I had pursued the degrees and certifications I have listed on my résumé.

Since I’m sure you haven’t seen my résumé, those are

  • B.A. English Literature
  • Copyediting Certificate
  • Technical Writing Certificate

No one has ever asked me why I pursued a college degree or why I include it on my résumé, and I don’t think he was actually asking that. I think he was more interested in the certifications. They are a bit controversial, but I’ll get to that.

In response to his question, I explained that these are tasks or fields that are relevant to the day-to-day of every job I’ve ever held. However, I’ve never filled any positions strictly in those fields or held any titles that reflected these areas of expertise. Earning a certificate in them adds some validation to those anecdotal experience lines on my résumé.

Do I think that having “technical writing certificate” on my résumé is going to get me a job on a communications team? No.

Do I think that seeing “technical writing certificate” on my résumé will make a recruiter back up and check my experience column again? Yes.

Why do I think that? Because multiple recruiters have told me that that’s what they did when they saw the certificate listed. (It’s empirical knowledge, maybe, but I don’t know why they’d lie to me.) And every single one that I’ve spoken to has asked about one of the certificates in some manner from contextual interest “Why were these two certificates so recent?” to this guy, who wanted to know why I’d gotten them at all.

My answer to him was a bit longer than I mentioned above. I did tell him that I’ve performed those roles daily in every job I’ve ever held. I told him that I love to learn, so I’ve been continuing my education since I graduated from college. I mentioned that I also have certifications in other disciplines, but that, ultimately, I had decided I didn’t want to pursue careers in those fields.

He seemed satisfied with that answer. And he did ask a few other questions about the specifics of those roles in my previous positions.

But none of those are the real reason I list them. In my opinion, almost anything that gets your résumé more than the average 6 to 10 seconds of Skim Time while crossing a recruiter’s desk is pure gold. (Particularly if your office has a tuition reimbursement plan, and they’re willing to sponsor you in those courses.)

But the certifications themselves are a bit controversial, and here is the main reason why: Who’s certifying you?

Sure, you graduated from a well-respected copyediting program at a major university. You know Chicago back-to-front, and you have an online subscription to OED and Merriam-Webster. But…who certified you?

Your professors? That seems pretty subjective, right?

There’s no centralized Copyediting Review Board somewhere who makes you defend your certificate, unless you’re in a very specialized field like the Life Sciences. And while there is an American Copy Editors Society, the membership page makes it sound like a union. You pay your fee, prove you’ve worked as an editor, and you’re in, no testing required. (If you belong to it, and I’m wrong, please do let me know.)

Several online programs allow you to earn a copyediting certificate. You sign up, take your classes, do your assignments. If your professors pass you, once you’ve completed the courses, you’re certified. But the curricula vary from school to school and obviously so do the professors; there’s no final standard exam that every copyediting student every has had to pass. So what does certification mean?

None of this is me saying that I regret earning either certificate — I really enjoyed both of the certificate programs I mentioned — or that I think either is useless. I am, however, pointing out that this is why most companies give potential editors a copyediting test as part of the hiring process.

The copyediting certificate was pretty rigorous, actually, particularly since it’s designed to be completed while holding down a full-time job. I learned a lot in those courses, and I feel like it really prepared me for the workforce in that field.

In fact, having that copyediting certificate on my résumé has helped me land freelance jobs in copyediting. But they still give me the in-house copyediting test before they hire me.

The Technical Writing curriculum was less helpful, but that’s because I’ve literally been doing that since I joined the workforce. This isn’t like doing a post-bacc in Communications or anything.

Note that not everything I’ve said here holds true for all online certifications. The Project Management Certification (PMP) is actually well-respected. Several HR certifications are taken pretty seriously as well. I’m sure there are others. I’m not familiar with many more beyond the ones we’ve covered here.

I’ve never had anyone ask me why I bothered with one of them, though. That was just a tad surprising.

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