Licenses and certifications show that a person has the specific knowledge or skill needed to do a job. Typically, you earn these credentials after you've completed your education. Sometimes, you become licensed or certified after you've gained practical experience, such as through an internship, residency, or time on the job.
Earning a license or certification involves meeting standards, which often includes passing an exam. Licenses and certifications are usually valid for a limited term and must be renewed periodically. An employer may require either credential.
However, there are a few key differences in the way BLS uses these terms. As shown below, one of the biggest distinctions between these two credentials is that licenses are legally required by the government to work in an occupation; certifications are not.
- Awarded by a governmental licensing agency
- Gives legal authority to work in an occupation
- Requires meeting predetermined criteria, such as having a degree or passing a state-administered exam.
- Awarded by a professional organization or other nongovernmental body
- Is not legally required in order to work in an occupation
- Requires demonstrating competency to do a specific job, often through an examination process.
Sometimes, these credentialing terms are used interchangeably. For example, some states may refer to the credentials teachers need as certifications while others refer to these certifications as "add-ons" to general state licenses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics would define them all as licenses because they are issued by a state government and are legally required for many specific teaching positions.