Certifying Talent Acquisition Professionals: An Independent Path

There are at least 4 possible paths for ‘certifying’ a Talent Acquisition professional.

Two of them are obvious:

  • Testing the knowledge needed to perform (and measuring whether those with the knowledge perform better than those without).
  • Testing how the ‘practice’ is performed i.e. competency, observed behavior (and measuring the result):

Wikipedia, as well as many other sources, clearly indicate that Certification isn’t about learning, it’s about demonstrating what you’ve learned. It’s a confirmation of characteristics about those who consider themselves TA professionals “provided by some form of external review, education, assessment, or audit.” I especially like Wiki’s statement that

“According to the National Council on Measurement in Education, a certification test is a credentialing test used to determine whether individuals are knowledgeable enough in a given occupational area to be labeled "competent to practice" in that area.”

For me, the critical component is not debating whether a test of knowledge is good enough (or whether it's better to measure behaviors through simulation, scenario, observation or apprenticeship, etc. ) but, whether the learning and the testing phases are both controlled by the same organization. The former can be discussed and agreement found. The latter is more basic. It's a worldview that resists compromise.

Certification that is independent of the Learning model(s) is/are essential to avoiding abuse and gaining broad acceptance.

A casual search today surfaced any number of current Recruiting Certifications competing for attention- all offered by training organizations. Many are based on completion of a knowledge-based learning curriculum. A few incorporate activities requiring learners to demonstrate their skills as well as knowledge. I’ve no judgment pro or con about any of them other than to say that by definition they each set their own standard. There is no standard approach currently agreed upon for Recruiting. ATAP members have been discussing this issue for some time and hopefully will soon move down one or more paths. Some Training organizations offering certifications are, I’m sure, excellent and could serve as a starting point for our profession although a few others make claims that would make any of us in the space roll our eyes in amazement...not the good kind. All of these vendors, however- whether for-profit or not, own the entire pathway. They determine the what content constitutes the body of knowledge, the method of teaching it and how paying participants will demonstrate their mastery. There is no independent audit I can discern ensuring the tested participants or reassuring those who would hire them that they are 'Competent to Practice'

Given this total control, my concern is that every Training organization that calls the mastery of their program a “Certification” (rather than  a certificate of completion or mastery of their material), is mistakenly conflating what they do as representing the body of knowledge of the recruiting profession (or a part of it) when such body of knowledge not only hasn’t been agreed on, it is evolving as we speak. While it’s a natural Marketing tactic, it doesn’t rise to Certification for a profession unless the participants in that profession as a whole agree or at least a significant portion recognize and accept their 'standard'.

Here are a couple questions, in no particular order, I would want to know from any one of these organizations:

  • Is there a real or perceived conflict of interest in having the training organization also perform (or control) the testing? What % pass? What are the implications if 90%, 60%, 40% pass? How variable is the pass rate? How are those who fail handled? Would an independent assessor consider all those who pass as “Competent to Practice"?
  • What Standards are met in developing tests to cover the material i.e. background and training of those creating questions for the test, determining the consistent variations in test questions and answers from one test to the next or, ensuring full coverage, establishing an expected versus actual % of those who pass? (Let alone the standards for determining the content to be learned and tested or auditing existing content systematically for changes in how practitioners execute what they’ve learned.)
  • What % of those that haven’t participated in the training but who are recognized as successful recruiters [based on performance evidence] pass?
  • What is the methodology to ensure that the knowledge of recruiting practices taught & then the resulting ‘certification’ correlates to actual practices that are currently considered ‘competitive’, ‘best’, ‘common’, innovative’ etc. in the recruiting ecosystem?
  • Does this certification infer that the knowledge tested covers every aspect of strategy and tactics for sourcing, engaging, branding, screening, assessing, selecting, offering, onboarding for local, regional, global positions at every level whether the Talent Acquisition Professional is working inside, 3rd party, etc. or, are all certifications by default “Micro-certifications”?

Needless to say, any that answer these questions well would be interested in involving them in establishing an independent

Many professions (Professional Associations) prefer to partner with an independent certifying body that separately takes the professions’ ‘body of knowledge’ (or some part of it), trains practitioner volunteers to build a catalogue of questions (or scenarios, or practical exercises) under the guidance of experts in each form of testing.

Existing training and education vendors and suppliers should, of course, be involved but not to the degree that they control the decisions on what or how to test.

Those decisions should be based on a partnership between relevant (read this as invested) members of a professional association (like ATAP who in the end directly benefit by learning from one organization and being certified by another in a way that corresponds to what they commonly know and do). The Association acts as a ‘Steward’ for the body of knowledge to advance the profession and the independent testing organization they partner with is held accountable for the professional and scientific manner in which it curates that knowledge as a ‘test’. Again, it’s the members of the Association and the practitioners who submit to the Certification who in the end would assert (or not) that the test has a practical advantage as well as the source of their learning…both being independent.

This Independent path, over time, will show what training (whether they are called certifications or not) enhances the likelihood of passing an Independently supported and tested mini-certification. And, those certified, who publicly attest to the value of the certification will reinforce the need and continually help the training to stay relevant.

Until then, there will surely be more and more Recruiting Certifications sold under the guise of training. Nothing wrong with any of them- especially if ATAP members that have experienced the training crowdsource their value.

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Gerry Crispin
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Gerry co-authored eight books on the evolution of staffing and has written 100s of articles and whitepapers on similar topics during a career in Human Resources that spans more than 40 years from HR leadership positions at Johnson and Johnson; to boutique Executive Search firms; a Career Services Director at the University where he received his Engineering and 2 advanced degrees in Organizational/Industrial Behavior; and, GM of a major recruitment advertising firm even as he launched CareerXroads 20 years ago.

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Certifying Talent Acquisition Professionals: An Independent Path

by Gerry Crispin time to read: 4 min