Certificate programs offer a quicker, more skills-based path to proficiency than an advanced degree. But do these programs actually help people get jobs?

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Working as a customer service rep wasn’t working for Sophie Wallway. It was time for a change.

After moving from her native France six years earlier, she had found a job using her language skills, and wanted to pursue it further. So she enrolled in the translation certificate program at Bellevue College.

“I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was going to work out,” says Wallway, 35, who admits that she didn’t really research the job market before plunging in. Two quarters in, she was hired as a bilingual text editor, and two months after finishing the program she landed a job as a program manager at Seattle’s Academy of Languages Translation and Interpretation Services (AOLTI).

Having the certificate definitely helped, she says. “I feel like I got what I expected,” Wallway says of the program. “I feel like it prepared me pretty well. There are lots of jobs in the industry if you’re good at what you’re doing.”

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Certificate programs are growing in popularity, both locally and nationally. The areas of study range from fiction writing to software development. They offer a quicker, more skills-based path to proficiency than an advanced degree, and many programs are at night and on weekends. But do these programs actually help people get jobs?

In Wallway’s case, definitely. Her boss, Olivier Fabris, says it gave her the edge. “If we see that someone has a formal education in the translation industry, that means they’re really committed,” he says. “If they have the certificate, they know enough to get started.”

Still, he adds that the certificate alone isn’t enough to land a job. “If you’re fresh out of high school and you have no work experience … I don’t know if that’s going to help you,” Fabris says.

There are a few different types of students in certificate programs, says Teri Thomas, spokeswoman for the University of Washington’s continuing education program. Some are out of work, for various reasons. Others are looking for an “encore career,” explains Thomas: “As employees [work] longer, they have multiple careers.”

John Harbaugh, 57, had been working at Boeing as a software engineer for 30 years when he decided to get a certificate in information security systems at UW. For him, the well-recognized program “filled a very nice middle ground between cheap webinars and a full degree.”

Harbaugh didn’t have an immediate need for the certificate, but Boeing pays for continuing education, so it seemed like a no-brainer. And it was the deciding factor in Harbaugh landing a job in security engineering at the company a couple of years later.

Boeing works closely with many tech colleges and universities to develop its pipeline of tech talent, so the company regularly hires candidates who have completed certificate programs, says Boeing spokesman Stephen M. Davis.

“Education makes a difference, no question about it,” he says.  Though a certificate isn’t an “automatic ticket [into a job] … it’s a piece of evidence that shows us, ‘Yes, I can demonstrate my competence in the skills that you’re looking for.’ ”

To keep certificate programs on trend and relevant, schools such as UW and Bellevue College have advisory boards composed of industry professionals who know which job skills are in demand.

“We boil down the certificate to focus on job descriptions that people need to fill,” explains Radhika Seshan, executive director of programs at Bellevue College.

While recruiters often contact instructors in these programs about potential job candidates, she says students aren’t promised a job upon completion.

“Well-connected instructors have contact with recruiters, but the more general case is that they have a large network,” Seshan says. “Ultimately, these students are adults, and they will make their own contacts.”