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2C | !2C – about certificates…

I was asked -again- about the advantage or disadvantages of certificates that expired versus those that don’t… and my answer is: what does “expire” mean and why would you care?

Why certificates at all?

Just a quick background info: I am an Agile Coach & Trainer with many years in this field and quite a collection of certificates… or better in my view: long-term and continuous high-quality education and learning, controlled and accredited by independent experts and professionals who ensure quality in content and delivery of the classes I take. That’s the big advantages I see in certificates: independent quality check.

Yes, I said independent expert… make sure you know what the certificates entail: how are the contents of the course and the learning objectives defined, how is the course material created, how is the trainer assessed according on their skills, experience, topic expertise, and trainer qualities. This defines what the certificate is worth.

Apples and Pears…

As an example, let’s have a look at Scrum Master certificates: you can find all sorts of processes to attain one:

  • just do an online test
  • do self learning and online test
  • attend a training from a random person and do the online test
  • attend a training from a person who is trained and accredited to deliver this certification class… with or without an online test
  • do it in a 2 or 3 day training
  • or attend a multi week (or even month) mentoring 

… and there are probably many more variations on that.

So, if you plan to take an education on Scrum Mastery look out what you are buying! This surely applies to other training topics. 

If you look from an organizational perspective and ask for a certificate from your employees or applicants, also make sure that you know which one you are asking for or ask them how it was achieved: for some there are different ways and you don’t see the difference from the certificate alone. This helps you understand the quality and commitment of their education.

Expiration dates

Did I mention expiration date? Nope. Not yet.

As defined by the certification body, some certificates expire, others don’t. In real life the difference is that some certificates show an expiration date printed somewhere on the bottom and others don’t. How does this relate to the certificate holder’s knowledge or skills on the topic? Not at all. The certificate states that a person has fulfilled defined requirements at a given moment. Not more, not less.

Let’s have a look at that example: according to my very first certificate I am a “Sun Certified Java Programmer (SCJP)”. I got this in 2001 by preparing myself and passing a test in a cheat-free environment. This certificate does not expire. So I can still call myself a SCJP. And for some time this made sense, as I did a lot of Java programming, ran a User Group, did talks, kept my knowledge up to date. Since more than 10 years I am in the Agile Coaching field. No way should I call myself a “Certified Java Programmer”. 

So the real difference and value about the expiration is really the question if I keep learning to preserve or improve my knowledge and skills, no matter if there is an expiration date.

Renewing the certificate or not?

Of course, if a certificate is expired, the holder is legally no longer authorized to use the related title. But when in real life would you do that? Typically the one situation is when applying for a new job. Use this trick and list the certificate in the CV with the year when you got it: this shows that you care for that knowledge at that time and that you had the fulfilled the requirements at that time: what else do you want to say?

Before renewing a certificate make sure you understand the benefit of it: are you just asked to pay some money? Yes, call this a money-printing-machine. Is there a membership included? Check out the advantages of this membership before you renew it. If you didn’t use it in the last year or two, you probably won’t use it in the future. Is there more behind the renewal process, like demonstrating that you keep on learning? Then that’s your chance to show it and distinguish yourself from others! A chance that people with a non-expiring certificate don’t get!

Same here for the perspective of an organization: what’s the difference in an applicant presenting proof of an ever-lasting certificate versus a newly refreshed one where the neutral certification body defined the hurdle to overcome.

Invest in your learning!

And one more twist: I hear people say that their employer does not want to invest into certificates that expire… think twice… this means that the employer does not want to commit and invest into continuous learning. I would know my next step.


On purpose I did not point out individual certificates or certification organizations as I want to point out different aspects and invite you to decide for yourself without pushing you to either direction. If you have questions or need specific examples or advise feel free to contact me and we chat: