I read job postings from time to time to keep up on who’s hiring what.  Recently, I came across a job posting that listed a “required” qualification so ridiculous I almost laughed—until I stopped to think how symptomatic it is of what’s wrong with hiring practices.  In this job description, in order for a potential candidate to be considered, to make it past the first hurdle, he or she must be “certified” in salesforce.com administration.

In order for it to hit you how absurd this requirement is, you have to know a little about the product.  Salesforce.com is a useful, robust “customer relationship management” system.  It’s for keeping track of current, potential and past customers, as well as what business your company has done with them, hopes to do with them, is doing with them and—most important—how much money is associated with those deals.  It lets you track how “hot” a prospect is, also how close you are to “winning” the business, and if you really exploit the heck out of it, it can be a vast repository of information associated with all customers—everything from exactly who their money-spending decision-makers are to every email exchange you’ve ever had with that customer.

For a marketing person or a senior manager tracking marketing progress, it’s quite a system, and using it to its fullest extent can keep a mountain of details well-organized.

But it is not rocket science. 

The kind of information in salesforce is hardly specialized—things like name, contact info, dollars, a little marketing vocabulary.  No knowledge of anatomy, nanotechnology, physics, Mandarin Chinese, advanced math, or medieval history is required.  Just English, basic math, common sense and some knowledge of human relations, like how to distinguish a “warm” exchange with a customer from a “cold” one.

But back to our “required” job qualification, if you’re not a certified, stamped and sealed expert in this relatively simple product, you’re outta here, quickly relegated to the reject heap.  (The must-have certification class, by the way, is only four days long.)

Now here we are in the most complicated business environment that’s ever existed in human history, trying to navigate a treacherous and unpredictable path which we hope leads us out of a deep recession.  Meanwhile, recruiters, desperate not to take chances, are making “required” job qualifications something as trivial as “salesforce.com certification required.”

I don’t believe that recruiters represent hiring managers’ and company leaders’ opinions on the subject.  Steve Jobs has been quoted often lately because he recently championed the liberal arts, saying that, at Apple, “…it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”  But good luck going on the Apple website and finding a job description for which a degree in the humanities is required.  I tried.  I read job descriptions in many categories they’re hiring for (administrative, applications, HR, facilities, finance, IT, internships, legal, marketing, operations, retail, sales), in every country.  I didn’t find one.

I know what you’re thinking:  Okay, then, what’s a literate, analytical, informed, culturally savvy English major to do if the recruiting world has gone certification-hoopy?

First, go ahead and apply for jobs even when you don’t have the precise qualifications.  But in your cover letter be sure to address what they’re asking for that you don’t have.  In this example, you could go online to the salesforce.com website and learn about the product, even take a free demo cruise to get an idea how it works, what the salesforce-specific terminology is, and then share your familiarity with the product in your cover letter:

“I have some knowledge of salesforce.com and would welcome the opportunity to apply my analytical abilities to the data you maintain in salesforce to help your company win future business.”

If you were feeling really bold and bratty, you could in your cover letter say something about how, although few jobs specifically require your major, many business leaders have had that very same academic credential—Michael Eisner (former Disney CEO), Mario Cuomo (former Governor of New York), Sally Ride (astronaut), Kathryn Fuller (Chair of the Ford Foundation), and Herb Scannell (President of BBC Worldwide) to name a few.

Just so recruiters can start to picture the future leader you may indeed turn out to be.

3 thoughts on “The Certification Craze

  1. Thank you for the post, Susan. I want to agree with you but I have some doubts.

    I am currently unemployed with a background in Liberal Studies and social sciences so I have minimal experience in more technical/business/management roles. I’d like to someday be in a position that combines my interests in social change, and business. I’ve been doing what you’ve suggested, and sending out my resume for positions where I lack certain certification, or experience but have felt strongly that my unique set of skills could sell me as someone serious to tackle issues, and support the organization. I’ve hardly gotten any call backs with the approach. I feel sometimes I’m just setting myself up to get rejected because of my lack of direct experience. I’ve considered that maybe I just do lack the credentials to get hired for the types of roles I want; it’s a competitive market right now, so why would a recruiter waste time reading a cover letter from someone who has to explain how her mismatched education is what they’re looking for versus someone who has exactly what they’re looking for??

    In your experience, how often have you taken the chance to hire someone who didn’t fit every qualification? And what really draws the attention of a recruiter who has to deal with hundreds of resumes/cover letters all-day?


  2. Great article Susan. This applies to so many areas with expectations for a candidate looking for that just right spot. I enjoy reading your work.. Hope to reconnect with you some day soon. Angela

  3. I remember seeing this requirement sprinkled across a number of job descriptions. It was something like, “MUST be familiar with Salesforce.”

    Truth be told, very few people have what I would call an expert knowledge of any piece of software aside from product managers and the person whose position is dedicated to software support.

    Very few people use Outlook, Excel, or even Word to its full potential. Nine times out of ten, a recruiter is looking for basic, functional use – which is a skill that can be picked up in a very short span of time.

    Also interesting is Salesforce own copy, which reads: “Learn how to use Salesforce CRM in just 45 minutes and 5 easy steps.” (Source: http://www.salesforce.com/customer-resources/learning-center/details/video/geting-started-with-salesforce.jsp)

    Maybe there is some sort of word count they have to meet? You know, something similar to a police quota.

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