According to hiring managers, HR professionals, technical recruiters, and other people who look for candidates and make hiring decisions, the biggest single factor in evaluating a job candidate is experience, especially experience that direct, relevant, and current as it relates to the position being filled. This means you're absolutely on the right track in seeking boost your experience levels; by being willing to work in a lab at home, you're also indicating a willingness to go out and get experience by exercising the necessary effort to learn by doing. But to a large extent, the value of certification depends on the credential involved and the kind of job being sought. The more advanced the credential, the more valuable, but the more experience it also usually requires and denotes. Because you don't tell me what you studied or what technical specialties or job roles interest you most, I'm at a loss to provide a more detailed recommendation to you other than this: set a job target, research its technical requirements. If certifications make a difference to those who hire for such jobs, consider pursuing such certifications. But remember that the experience you gain in that pursuit is what really matters, not so much the credential itself.
This was first published in January 2004