Why certify?

Organizations in all sectors are being challenged to do more with fewer resources. The competitive job market has raised the proverbial "bar" for job seekers and is forcing security practitioners to differentiate themselves to employers and their peers. While many avenues are available, earning a board certification has proven to be one of the single most effective ways to prove your security knowledge, skills and abilities.

"Companies are looking to get more value from the same or reduced amount of security staff. says Roger S. Dixon, CPP, CFE, CISM, CISSP. "There is an expectation that security professionals should have a more holistic view of security management issues, and there is a push for greater interaction between information and physical security disciplines."

The security industry has seen a proliferation of new certifications in subjects ranging from physical security and investigations to homeland security and disaster management. There are an abundance of certifications that motivated security professionals can earn to enhance their skills and provide evidence of their expertise. Two of the more established, recognized and respected credentials are the Certified Protection Professional (CPP) established by ASIS International in 1977 and the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) developed by ISC2 in 1994.

"Due to the heavy reliance on IT infrastructure and services, security professionals must understand IT and find an effective way to display their knowledge competency," says Dant‚ I. Moriconi, CPP, PSP, CFE, CSSM, CPO, Physical Security Supervisor, L-3 Communication Systems-West, "Earning a IT-centric certification is an effective way of doing this and could be the difference between sitting at the planning table or having to deal with the resources IT thought would best serve your program's needs."

Professionals pursue and obtain a security credential for many reasons - chief among them are establishing credibility, career advancement, long-term development and higher income potential.

First and foremost, certification provides evidence of subject matter expertise and demonstrates that you possess a standard level of core competency and expertise in your job field. This is especially important for consultants seeking new business opportunities and security contractors during job bidding. Contract staff can also directly demonstrate their job skills are superior to others by obtaining the appropriate certification.

Credible certification programs require applicants to have minimum levels of education and work experience. In addition, applicants are required to know key subject matter and industry standards/best practices and be able to demonstrate evidence of that knowledge by passing a written examination.

Another important characteristic and benefit of certification is life-long learning. The learning and developmental process does not end once the applicant passes the examination. Best-in-class certification programs require certificants to enhance their subject matter expertise by re-certifying at certain intervals (usually every 2-3 years). Individuals must obtain a minimum number of training and educational hours, often called Continuing Professional Education hours or CPEs, during each time period to ensure they maintain their expertise and also adjust to industry changes/trends.

"The certification process is all about continuous self improvement - it demonstrates proficiency and exposes deficiencies - both of which are key components in developing a true security professional," notes Kevin T. Doss, PSP, CPP, president, Level 4 Security LLC.

The median compensation for security professionals in the United States increased 6 percent from 2009 to $93,000, according to the 2010 ASIS International "U.S. Security Salary Survey." Holding a core industry certification correlates to compensation substantially higher than the salaries of peers without certification. Those holding a CPP, for example, report an average compensation of $118,000 - 18 percent higher than 2009 - and a median salary of $100,000. Those without a certification reported an average compensation of $100,000 and a median salary of $85,000.

The benefits of earning a certification can be both intrinsic and external. Certifications in the IT industry are often viewed as essential career builders and may lead to easier acceptance of the physical security practitioner within that discipline. Similarly, an IT professional may gain equal footing with their physical security peers by obtaining a certification such as the ASIS Physical Security Professional (PSP) certification. The end-result is that the employer gains by having individuals who are cross trained in several areas.

"As a hiring manager I look for those professionals who hold cross-discipline certifications - for example, information security, physical security, fraud, forensics and project management," Dixon says. "While these certifications don't necessarily mean an individual is right for the job, it is an indicator that the individual probably has a broad breath of knowledge around security related topics, and even more importantly has a willingness to learn new concepts."

Professional certification can profoundly shape and impact your career. While achieving certification requires a great degree time, effort, and personal commitment, it is a lifetime investment that yields many benefits and rewards. Ask yourself why not certify?

Darryl R. Branham CPP is the Regional Director, Security Systems for the Travelers Insurance Company. He is responsible for field office networked security system installations, Control Center operations and is the technical systems expert for the Corporate Security Department. Branham started his ASIS leadership career by serving as the Central Minnesota chapter certification coordinator. In 2009, he was President of the Professional Certification Board (PCB) and Chair of the Integrated Physical Security Systems Task Force. He joined the PCB in 2004 and has served as Vice President, Certification Committee Chair in 2005 and has chaired the Physical Security Professional Test Committee and Strategic Planning Committees during his five year tenure.