OK, you got your college degree years ago, probably in a broad topic such as business, communications or political science.

Is it time to get more specific -- to add a professional certificate to your resume? Perhaps three or four little letters to follow your name?

Not only does a professional certificate add a bit of gloss in your current employer's eyes, it also positions you for the next big move to another company or profession.

A professional certificate announces that you've deepened your expertise -- and are up to date -- in your field. As a bonus, you'll feel proud of knocking back yet another life accomplishment.

High-tech employee Charles Vines used his new Project Management Professional (PMP) designation immediately: "Right after I got it, our department reorganized, and we all re-interviewed for our current positions. My certificate helped me keep the job I had."

Certificates and credentials come in two flavors.

The first -- a pure academic certificate -- is granted by a college or university just as it would grant a degree.

The second, and stronger, certification is granted and administered by an independent standards board or professional association.

For example, the PMP is managed by the Project Management Institute. And many are familiar with the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation granted by the Certified Financial Planning Standards Board.

Many of these credentials require tests or skill development beyond the academic space. And as a skill standard, they translate well across employer boundaries.

Click here for the video version of this story from Jennifer Openshaw.

Here are five certificates that might further your career:
  • Project and Program Management

    There's hardly a job out there these days that doesn't require some form of project management. So why not get certified? The Project Management Institute offers the PMP certificate, and as you read this, a higher level Program Management Professional (PgMP) credential is being added to its offerings.

    Offered by the Association for Operations Management, CPIM stands for "certified in production and inventory management." CPIM certification helps those working in factory operations, logistics and related activities. Check online for information on Webinars, national conferences and self-study programs.
  • Certificate in Electronic Business

    This certification, offered online by National University, builds standardized e-business expertise by requiring five courses on topics such as Internet marketing and electronic payment systems.
  • Marketing Certificate

    University of California Berkeley Extension offers a certificate program in marketing that "equips you with a solid understanding of marketing's most up-to-date concepts and techniques." It's also available online.
  • Nonprofit Management

    Maybe you're in the nonprofit sector, or would like to be there some day. Many business schools across the country offer extension programs in nonprofit management. For instance, Duke University offers the Duke Nonprofit Management Certificate.

These five examples just scratch the surface -- it's worth checking out the entire array available by typing "professional certificates" into your search engine.

While not as time-consuming as a four-year degree, most certificates offered by universities require between five and 10 courses taken over a period of several months to several years.

Depending on testing, books and other requirements, certification might set you back $2,000 to $5,000. But your company may cover this through a tuition reimbursement program, and most students will qualify for individual education tax credits and deductions.

Certificates, of course, can do much more than extend your current career -- they can help you launch a new one. Try these:
  • Certificate in Civic and Community Leadership focuses on collaborative leadership, conflict resolution and community power systems -- just the thing if you're considering public office. It's offered by the University of Wisconsin.
  • Garden Design, available from the University of California Berkeley Extension.
  • Meeting and Event Planning is one of the fastest-growing professions and a good base for an independent career. It's available from Harper College in Palatine, Ill., and many others.

So is this the year you'll become certified? It might well be the career boost you've been looking for.

Jennifer Openshaw, a passionate advocate for helping Americans improve their finances and build their personal fortunes, is CEO of The Millionaire Zone and America Online's personal finance editor. In addition to appearing regularly on TV shows such as "Oprah" and "Good Morning America" and on CNN, Openshaw is host of ABC Radio's "Winning Advice" and serves as an adviser to some of America's top corporations. Her new book, "The Millionaire Zone," will hit bookstores in April 2007.

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