How to Vet Professional Training Providers

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

Training is an extremely effective way to increase yours and your teams’ skills and remain competitive, but failing to ask a few key questions can mean the difference between genuinely becoming better at what you do and wasting your time and money. This year, a majority of us will buy some type of training, either for ourselves or for our organizations, either in hopes of filling a gap in our knowledge or achieving a goal. Whether it’s learning to bid on more government work and successfully win more contracts, understanding how to implement or administer a new piece of technology, or working on your soft skills – the same risks and rewards hold true.

I have sat through many, many training classes – great, terrible, and everywhere in between – and have found that with a bit of upfront investigation, you can avoid a training disaster and, instead, take a class that will have a dramatic, positive, and lasting effect on your career. Here’s the thing: Our time is our most precious commodity. Who wants to waste it sitting in a classroom and not learning a whole lot? Not me – and you probably don’t either. Unfortunately, many of the training classes we will attend over the years will fall short of our expectations. However, a great training class can change your day, week, month, or career – I’ve even seen them change entire organizations.

Every training provider will claim to be the best. However, looks can be deceiving. Here are four revealing questions to ask of a training organization before you ever step into the classroom:

1. How interactive is this class?

If the training organization leads with explaining that students get a workbook and that their instructor will review slides, that should raise a red flag. Most training organizations fall into that ineffective, behind-the-times way of adult learning where people will fight to stay awake throughout the day. They look at training as the act of filling your brain with water until it’s full, rather than bringing forth your creativity and having you learn by solving problems. The best training organizations innovate and improve with each class they teach. So, how do you spot these kinds of organizations? If they say there are interactive group activities throughout the day and more of a focus on practical, hands-on application, that is going to be a much better class. And if they mention that you will be playing games, drawing, and using Post-its/Legos/pipe cleaners and the like to creatively learn and discuss concepts, you are in store for something pretty darn cool (and effective too)!

2. What is your organization’s philosophy on adult learning and development?

This is another great follow-up question that will stop a few folks in their tracks. I am shocked by how many training companies don’t really know how adults learn or how to make sure learning sticks after the class is over.

3. What can you tell me about your instructors? Who will be the instructor for this course, and are they a full-time employee?

These are also enlightening questions. Most organizations have their A-, B-, and C-string players, and you may not get one of their good instructors (when instructors are contractors, consistency and messaging can be all over the map). Be sure to ask who is teaching your class. Ask to see their resume and/or look at their background online. I have heard horror stories of students showing up to a PMP prep course only to learn on the first day that their instructor HAD NOT PASSED THE EXAM THEMSELVES. Yep, that happened. The other reason these questions are worth asking is because just about anyone can read and lecture about what’s in a book. However, if you are looking to really learn and begin to implement the concepts from your course, you want an instructor with real-world, in-depth knowledge. You wouldn’t ever want your kids to have a bad teacher. Don’t settle for one yourself.

4. Where can I find customer testimonials and/or reviews? 

This question should be followed up with a bit of your own due diligence. (Pro tip: If you ask what a company’s pass rate is for a certification class is, they will often lie to you and exaggerate their success rates – or cherry pick certain students’ reviews. There aren’t really any training or certification police, so the best way to handle this is to ask them for data to back it up and do your own research). Start by Googling the provider to see what their reputation is like (Yelp, Trustpilot, and Google Places are good places to start). Great training companies and instructors will have LOADS of students singing their praises. You don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on a terrible class that wastes your (or your team’s) precious time.

With some training companies, it is also a common practice to post classes in multiple cities where may never run, are cancelled at the very last minute, and where students have a hard time getting their money back. (Another pro tip: If you reside in the United States, make sure the training company is based in the US, as well. If you buy a course from a training vendor in another country and your course is cancelled, you will likely never see that money again. Sad, but true).

BONUS QUESTIONS (specific to ITIL training)

We teach a number of IT certification courses, particularly one called ITIL Foundation. In this case, some other questions you MUST ask include:

1. Are you an Accredited Training Organization (ATO) with AXELOS? 

There are a number of grey market providers out there that provide a sub-par experience. If, for example, a training vendor tells you the course includes a “voucher”, they are probably a grey market provider. ATOs provide the exam as part of the class, administered by an accredited instructor. Don’t be scammed into buying the fake Louis Vuitton purse of the training industry.

2. Is my instructor ITIL Expert certified? 

This certification is the highest in the ITIL certification path. You want to take a class from a bona fide expert, not someone who has only had the same level of training as you and may (or may not) have any industry expertise. Feel free to ask for a copy of their resume and/or do a bit of light stalking on LinkedIn.

3. What happens if I fail the exam? Also…What happens if I fail more than once? 

If an ATO believes in the quality of their classes, they will include an exam pass guarantee. Ask to see it and read the fine print before you hand over your money.


Originally published May 05 2016, updated December 12 2019