Build your competitive edge with certifications

Certifications are a great way to help you stay competitive in a changing market. Sure, if you have a lot of experience (or have been previously vetted by major industry players), you probably have enough leverage to contract higher-paying jobs. But if your networks aren’t yet developed or if you need a quick refresher, an added certification could be just what you need to get your foot in the door. Likewise, if your specialty is in a field that is always changing (like tech), then it helps to get certified in new programs as they become available.

Pursuing a certificate can also help you build out your specialty and can show how you are actively updating your expertise. Ultimately, it’s what you do with it that counts but a certification can help validate proficiency in a certain area and some sources suggest your salary could jump quite a bit by having one.

Here are some common certifications to help get you noticed:


Having an innate talent for grammar is one thing. Getting down to the technical nitty-gritty of great writing can be difficult without additional training. There are a number of well-regarded programs including the certificate at the University of California, San Diego extension, MediaBistro’s distance learning program, and New York University’s Certificate in Professional Editing. The UCSD certificate can be completed online in 12-15 months, while MediaBistro’s six-course program is self-paced and takes about a year. The NYU Certificate in Professional Editing is a five-course on-campus program with fields as varied as online media, book publishing, and magazine publishing. For more industry-specific copyediting courses (medical writing, science writing, etc.) have a look here for ideas.

Graphics Certificates

Any freelance graphic designer knows that mastering advanced programs like Photoshop and InDesign is an intensive process, which is where formal training can help. While there are a number of graphics programs out there, you might want to consider getting Adobe Certified. There are four kinds of certifications available and the exam costs about $50: Adobe Certified Expert (ACE); Adobe Certified Expert for Developers, and Adobe Certified Associate (ACA). Find more information on the Adobe website, here.

Programming and IT Certificates

The most common IT programming certificates are the Sun Certified Java Associate (SCJA), the Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD), and the Zend Certified Engineer (ZCE). Acquiring a technical certification will help you stand out among programming hobbyists. You’ll also be able to add a bunch of intimidating-looking acronyms to your resume, which is always a plus.

Bookkeeping Certificates

If you work as an accounting professional, a bookkeeping accreditation might give you a competitive edge. You can become a certified bookkeeper through the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. Requirements include two years of experience and taking a certified bookkeeper course that meets the guidelines of the AIPB. When you take the official test of certification, you must pass with at least at 70% and to maintain certification, you must obtain 60 hours of continuing education over three years. Learn more by downloading the AIPB’s free info-booklet.

Remember that obtaining a certificate of any kind is ultimately your call but should you decide to go for one, make absolutely certain that you vet the certificate vendor (and the preliminary course, if there is one). There’s nothing worse than finding out the certificate you paid and studied for was whipped up in five minutes by some thirteen-year-old with design mastery in Microsoft Paint.

We’d love to hear your secret to staying at the top of your game, what’s your study plan?

image credit: flickr/pennstatelive

about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.