This content is part of the Essential Guide: Get ahead of the game: How to be a more technical tester
Evaluate Weigh the pros and cons of technologies, products and projects you are considering.

How useful is QA certification for career advancement?

If you're new to the field of quality assurance, you might find having QA certification helpful for career advancement.

For a substantial fee, numerous organizations provide quality assurance (QA) certifications. If you do an Internet search, you'll find several in roughly three different flavors: QA organizations, training centers and university courses. There are several QA organizations, including the American Software Testing Qualifications Board (ASTQB), and its International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) certificate and Quality Assurance Institute (QAI) that have been around for a long time. The next group, training centers, offer software testing training or their own QA certifications in combination with one of the QA organizations. University certificate programs are newer, but encouraging for the future of the profession.

I have a certification -- Certified Tester Foundation Level (CTFL) from ASTQB. The only reason I have it is because the company I worked for at the time paid for it. We used it as a team building exercise for those who wanted to take the exam. Although the exam was free, only about half of a 40-member QA group took the exam. We used it as a training exercise and it helped the team understand common terms, processes and procedures. It is valuable information, but we never used any of it in our organization beyond a few testing types. Again, I stress it is valuable information to have, but it likely doesn't translate directly into actual QA job experiences. Would I pay the $200 to $500 fee myself?  No, I would not.  

Has the QA certification helped me find and secure a job?  It's possible. Having the CTFL certainly didn't hurt. Organizations reviewing résumés like to see a certification. When I was let go in 2013, I think it helped me get more contacts for job openings and interviews.

Why? I have no idea, except that having a certification helps employers feel confident you understand the job. I am excited to see a number of universities offering certificate programs in software testing. I believe this is a positive step. And for newbies graduating from college, it's a really good idea to add to schooling. But for those of us that have been around a long time, there is probably not as much value.

My advice is to get the QA certification if you plan to look for a job in the future and you can afford the cost. Otherwise, in my opinion, experience is of higher value. A wide variety of software development QA experience is likely more valuable than any number of certifications. However, the people reviewing résumés aren't going to see your experience; they see the QA certification. Although QA certification gives employers more confidence in your abilities, having more than one certification can be a mask for a low-performing employee. Adding numerous certifications for the same job function should be a warning sign.

Do your research and pick the best QA certification for a reasonable fee. Personally, I prefer the ASTQB or ISTQB. The training is well-defined and the examinations are tough, but by no means impossible. A QA with 3 to 5 years of experience should pass the CTFL by reading source materials and various books on QA and software testing.

Next Steps

Readers speak out about certification

Making sense of Agile certifications

Dig Deeper on Topics Archive

Join the conversation


Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

All true but seems to skip the important element that certifications are an indicator of training, which is what your time and money mainly go for. Hopefully one values and finds value in training, although ironically many organizations are willing to pay for it only when it produces some form of certification. Although technically QAI and ISTQB multi-hour exams can be taken without taking their respective three-or-so-day courses, as a practical matter you need to learn their take in order to answer their exam questions. Since some ISTQB franchised trainers guarantee their course attendees will pass the exam, its certification seems essentially no more than an attendance certificate. In contrast, universities and IIST award certifications based on taking relevant education, typically way more than three days worth; and IIST also requires passing a 30-minute exam for each of the ten required days of training to get credit toward it certifications.
Amy, you missed a very important aspect of certifications. All certification programs you mentioned are what is called exam-based certifications, where individuals get certified merely by paying a fee and passing an exam. I am sure you agree that passing an exam by itself does not make you a better professional. Education-Based Certifications such as those offered by the international institute for Software Testing, which totally excluded from your discussion, are different. Those certifications are only granted after a person completes a well-thought course of study and passes an exam in each course they take. The course of study covers a very comprehensive body of knowledge for each certification. This is the real value of certifications. As I have always said, individuals should NOT just seek a certification to get a job but they should seek a training program that gives them better ways to do their job, which also leads to certifications. In my opinion, the value of any certification program is in how to helps individuals become be better professionals. The difference between exam-based certifications and educations-based certifications is well explained at the IIST web site.
Magdy Hanna, Ph.D.
As a hiring manager I find that it’s not so much having a certification that helps with career advancement, but rather the effective application of the knowledge gained, whether it was gained while pursuing a certification, a college degree, or other training. When I look at resumes, I don’t even glance at the listing of certifications, but instead look through the applicant’s description of how they have applied the knowledge they have, as well as for signs of how in-depth that knowledge may be.
I have never held any QA certifications. It hasn't held me back in my current role at all. If I were to begin job searching, I would consider looking into certifications only to have that additional qualification on my resume that might help me land an interview. 
The answer in my opinion is Yes as well as No. A certification can help you (rather make you eligible) for getting shortlisted for some jobs in case they have XYZ certification recommended kind of thing attached with JD. But this usually works where organisation is already working with certification zombies (ask my friend Ben Kelly for more details). 

So, it might help at a place where having certifications and average testing intelligence is an acceptable standard. It is most definitely not going to make any difference if you happen to work in a place where skill based intelligence and caliber is  rewarded more than anything else. My personal experience is that, certifications are meant for those who are stuck with 'certification zombies' on their heads or who don't know how best to develop and demonstrate they skills.
For me the certification is like the ones you get from some technical schools. They may help get your foot in the door but I have found real world experience and a college degree will take you further. 
Forgot to add one thing. Companies hiring policies can be very unorthodox. About 30 years ago, right out of college, I applied at a company for a job as well as a few friends of mine. On the entry exam they give I scored higher then my 2 friends. I received a letter saying I would be brought in for an interview. I never was called. The reason ?  I only had an A.S. in data processing. The job required a B.S.. They knew that fact when I applied and they still let me take the test knowing I did not qualify and could not be hired. The real kicker here is one of my friends was hired for the position as an entry level programmer.. Her B.S. was in liberal arts. Go figure their logic..
If you are brand new to the career, and have nothing else to point to for experience or credentialing, then I will concede that, maybe, having a testing certification may help you. Having said that, I would consider an engaged blogger discussing their findings, an active participant in Weekend Testing events, and someone having spent some time, if nothing more than at the community level learning about and engaging other software testers, to be more qualified than the majority of people with a certification. Why? Because the blogger, weekend tester and community involved individual will have demonstrated actual skill in testing. The same cannot be said for the tester whose certification is based only on a multiple choice test. 
The key words here are Career Advancement.

They don't help with that at all.

In fact, they aren't necessarily always helpful at the entry level either.

Certifications are often peddled alongside a day long or week long training to cram data into your head, but real skill, and experience with testing well has to be practiced, a lot.
Does it seem ironic how many of these comments essentially are advocating ignorance, especially for a supposed knowledge industry? I fully agree that some hiring managers make all sorts of seemingly unsupportable decisions and that a certification alone, or for that matter mere years of experience on a resume, does not guarantee skill at testing. But certainly the absence of certification is a totally specious indicator let alone guarantee of testing skill.

Being a professional means more than merely getting paid to do a job. Taking personal responsibility for one’s own continued professional growth and development is a key characteristic that I think most expect of a professional in any industry, including I hope testing. Certifications are one indicator of such professional development, for both newbies and also for those with many years in the business. I’d say one reliable basis for not hiring/promoting someone is their demonstrated perception that they do not need to or cannot learn from organized training.

QA certification is a good way to start if you are new to Testing. Certification does not guarantee that you are skilled at testing but it will give the tester the baseline professional training in QA. Teachers have to be certified but that does not mean they are skilled teachers. It means that they have been given the training to start their career in teaching and become skilled with practice and experience.

This is such a great topic, and one that has crowds of people on various angles around the topic.

I used to say that certifications are like driver's licenses.  And the reason I said this was that I wanted to stress what we all know --- having a driver's license does not make you a great driver.  It only means you have studied HOW to drive.  But as I thought about writing this here today, I realize that is not a good example, because in our countries a license is REQUIRED for you to be able to drive.  And that should never be the case with testing.

As many have commented already (and I especially like Michael Larsen's comment) being a good tester comes from experience, learning from others, doing weekend testing events, reading blogs, understanding how to become and be a great tester.

It's important to understand the schools of testing - and if you don't know what "schools of testing" means, or you don't know the schools of testing, then you need to read about it and understand it.  The world is moving a a much faster pace than it was 10-15-20 years ago.  The demands of IT and the testing profession is not only higher, but its 'different' than years ago.  The rise of agile testing requires a more focused attention for testing techniques to deliver the highest quality product.  

I know that many companies in the past have sought after certification for testers just like they look for certain degrees or accomplishments on resumes.  Neither should affect a person's ability to be a good tester, or to be given the chance to show their skills.  If I'm interviewing someone, I'm looking at their soft skills, how they handle pressure/stress, how they would approach a situation where they have to test and the requirements are not finalized, where there are no "test cases" and they need to validate the product.  If certifications are truly driving decisions for organizations to select someone, then we need to strive to change that perception and process.  It's a person's own judgement to get ANY certification, but it should be for their own satisfaction and education, not for helping them be a better tester or get a new job.

The last thing I will leave here is the term QA.  So many organizations call themselves "Quality Assurance".  Testing organizations should not be striving for this title, because it insinuates that the testing group is the team responsible for "assuring quality".  Quality assurance is the responsibility of all of the players delivering the product (development, business stakeholders, testing, etc).
I'm going to disagree with Robin here.  If you are a beginner, or looking for a way to grow, they can seem like a deceptively tangible place to goal, but let's be clear, I've never once heard of anyone having a certification revoked for malpractice of testing.  In fact, I'm not sure I've actually heard of anyone failing a so called 'testing' or 'quality assurance' certification.  (I'm sure it has happened, I just have yet to run into anyone who would actually say that they have.)

If you look specifically at the ISTQB, which is the chief certification body that most people who are anti-certification point to, you see many ISTQB certified selling training that basically is certified as being 'effective' at passing that test for the certification.  See the following from the ASTQB's website:

"How does a course become accredited?

Software testing training companies that offer ISTQB certification compliant courses must first undergo an application process. Three members of the ASTQB review their course materials regarding coverage of the ISTQB certification syllabus. This ensures that someone taking a course with this company has a reasonable chance to pass the exam. The ASTQB also requires that courses be taught by an ISTQB Certified Tester. Other factors, such as experience in training of software professionals and experience in testing, the provision of adequate facilities, and documentation of quality assurance procedures within the applicant’s company, also influence the ASTQB’s decision on accreditation."

At the foundations level, its a multiple choice test a 40 question one at that, and 65% is considered passing, but so many of the advertisements for the courses that teach it advertise these high rates of passing that always make me wonder.  If a 4 day training is sufficient training to get that certificate, how valuable is it really?

This is not like Professional Engineering, where engineers take a Fundamentals exam, then practice under a mentor to build skill before taking final examinations to confirm their skill.  Most of these testing certifying bodies do not appear really to do that at all that I've seen, and I'm sad to say, I took some prep course work that was skillsoft for the Foundations course years ago, and I must say, I wasn't impressed.  Much of it was covered in 3 hours, in a College Software Engineering course I had in college, and was a repeat. Which explains why so many treat Testing as some kind of commodity product of development.

Well, this quotation would fit nicely here.

Gayle Laakmann McDowell is the founder / CEO of CareerCup, and the
author of Cracking the PM Interview, Cracking the Coding Interview, and
Cracking the Tech Career.

Certifications may or may not be worth it, depending on where you're applying.

"elite" software companies -- Microsoft, Google, Amazon, etc -- are
generally not neutral about certifications for software engineers;
they're actually negative
. Yes, that's right. If you have a certification and you're applying to one of those companies, just don't list it on your resume.

reason is that while certifications do demonstrate some degree of
knowledge, that's not what those elite companies are looking for. They
don't really care about what you know. They assume that if you're smart
and know the basics of computer science, you'll be able to learn
whatever knowledge is missing. A certification, however, suggests that you
care about knowledge over improving your actual skills.

importantly, however, the types of people who get certifications tend
not be the right caliber of engineer. I, for example, have never
considered getting a certification, and nor have any of the coders I
know at these companies. If I want to learn more, I'm going to focus on
taking classes on Coursera or building stuff on my own. I might even
explore Top Coder and list that score on my resume. I'm not going to go
memorize Java facts just so I can show that I've memorized Java facts. I
wouldn't do that because I know that no employer I'd want to work for
would care about that. (Yes, this is all circular. I recognize that. But
that's part of how this system stays in place.)

The same argument can be made of most of the Silicon Valley startups. They look down on certifications.

Does that mean no
employer cares about them? Not exactly. Some do. The lower tier
employers -- particularly non-tech companies -- sometimes do care about
certifications. These are the types of companies which attract
candidates who see themselves as a Java 2.whatever programmer, rather
than just a great software engineer who happens to have been working
with Java.

Great software engineers are not tied to languages or technologies, because picking up a new one is easy.

I personally have never obtained a certification, and I don't feel that I've missed out on anything, in regards to my current position, by not having a certification. If I were to start job hunting, I would consider certification simply to have it on my resume.