Use Your Head

Put what you learned during certification prep to work

by Luis Echeverria

This article was featured in January 2016’s Best Of Back to Basics edition.

Are you a quality professional who recently passed an ASQ certification exam? Or, are you preparing to take an exam soon? Many organizations reimburse or pay for their employees to prepare for and take certification tests. Numerous professionals pay out of pocket. Either way, it is a serious effort and investment. Have you ever thought about the return on this investment? Passing the test and getting a certification to display shouldn’t be the only end goal.

Throughout my career in quality, I have been professionally recognized as an ASQ-certified quality professional. I obtained my first certification, certified quality engineer (CQE), in the early 1980s when I worked in the computer industry. Later in my career, I provided training for this rigorous exam.

An ASQ certification provides the confidence of accomplishment and the knowledge for applying the concepts, tools and resources available in the quality field. This knowledge is instrumental in our daily contribution to society through products and services.

I have noticed two behaviors that quality professionals exhibit after passing an exam. One is business as usual. As soon as the day after the test, the incentive and motivation of becoming a CQE, or a certified quality auditor, for example, disappears. Other professionals take a new path in their respective jobs with a renewed energy and attitude, and they display more pride and confidence. Results are amazing not only for that professional, but also for the organization they work for.

Leveraging the benefits of being certified must be the responsibility of management and the certified professional. The certified professional must show initiative and define how and when to apply his or her new knowledge. By doing so, the opportunity to grow professionally multiplies. Every individual who decides to take the exam is already demonstrating a desire for professional and personal growth.

It is a mistake to solely focus on the act of preparing for the exam without giving any thought to applying the knowledge gained. Maybe applying for another job is the path that some will take. But the rewards of certification could begin sooner and last longer.

Plan up front how you will use the knowledge you gained. Try applying the knowledge acquired during the study period. Review the different topics the respective body of knowledge covers. Form a list of potential projects and opportunities while reviewing the different concepts. Make a mental correlation with your current job or processes at your current organization. You can name this list the "put it to practice list" and log your ideas and potential improvement applications while you review the tools and methods for the test.

Ask yourself questions such as: "How can I use the theory of hypothesis testing in my job? Why not implement statistical process control on a specific process at work? How about confidence intervals? How can I apply leadership and team building concepts on a project?"

Approach management with the ideas you’ve generated and put your recently acquired knowledge to practice. This move can be the stepping stone to your next promotion. Remember, knowledge without application is waste. Also, don’t stop professional learning and development after you received that initial certification. Aim to acquire other certifications to enhance your career portfolio and keep you motivated to grow in quality. Certifications are not only helpful in the quality field. If life takes you to other fields, your credentials will follow you, and you can apply the concepts there.

Luis Echeverria is a program quality manager at Northrop Grumman Corp. in El Segundo, CA. He teaches graduate courses at California State University (CSUN) in Northridge, and is a consultant and trainer at his consultancy, Quality Training and Solutions. A senior member of ASQ, Echeverria earned a master’s degree in engineering management from CSUN and is an ASQ-certified quality engineer.

This is very true. Very good article.
--Josef Slany, 09-01-2015

--Long T. Nguyen, 01-20-2015

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