I recently read a discussion thread on AHIMA’s LinkedIn group page about the importance of certifications. In coding, it’s a reality: employers want their employees to be certified and that prerequisite has been embossed in the position requirements within the job description. But how can an employer be sure that the certified coder is really an experienced, qualified coder, and not just a good test taker? In short, they don’t. But if you have the coding credential, at least they can be assured you have some knowledge that goes beyond the basics and it’s the beginning to getting your foot in the door.
Coding credentials should be viewed as the key to the screen door of the coding industry. While it unlocks the outer door of the employer (i.e., human resources) and may get you an interview, you won’t be able to get all the way into the building until someone opens the main door and invites you in. Consider your interviewer the butler answering the main door with the chain lock in place. During the interview, it doesn’t take long for an experienced manager with a coding background to weed you out and decide if you’re worth removing the door chain. I’ve run into my fair share of coding applicants who try to pass themselves off as experienced coders and all I can say is, you just can’t fake it. As a hiring manager, I had more respect for the people who could tell me which areas they needed more education in than those trying to impress me with what they think they know – and inevitably don’t!
How do you get the butler to dislodge the chain so you can walk right on in? You take a test. Again. I know, it’s redundant. Most employers looking to hire coders offer their own coding test so they can assess your skills as they relate to the position you’re applying for. And a good employment test will be written to trick you and hopefully get you thinking. While your coding certification test will be graded solely on your answers, your employment test is a chance to show that you not only know the answer, but you can explain how you arrived at that answer. I applaud anyone who makes notes about their thought process in the margins of a coding test because it helps me determine their critical thinking skills. And that’s the hardest thing to assess in a good coding applicant. Of course, this can backfire too! I’ve seen many people arrive at the right answer for the wrong reason. But if you’re confident your thought process is right, then go for it! It could mean the difference between you and another applicant.
And don’t think you can just put that coding credential on your resume without having to provide prove that you earned it. Most employers these days require updated copies of your coding credentials. That not only means being certified at the time of hire, but maintaining that certification during your employment. Coding credentials are also an investment in your future employment. At this point in my career, my boss knows I can code, but since I work as a consultant, it’s important for my clients to see the coding credentials behind my name. For some, it’s more valuable than even my RHIT. So while it may seem like a waste of time and money when you’re just getting started, I have to say, it’s still a tried and true method of getting your foot in the door.