So you've decided that you are going to be a welder. Great, good for you, but do you know what kind of welder? Are you going to be working underwater? Are you going to be freelancing? Are you going to be doing it as a career, or are you going to keep it strictly casual as a hobby? Well, if you answered yes to anything but the very last one, and even if you did you may still want to take heed, you will want to get certified. What does that mean? Well, gone are the days when simply the know-how and experience are enough to get you the perfect job and get you earning that profit we all know we need. The truth is that welders are becoming more and more in demand and the positions are highly sought after. That is good should this be your career path of choice, but it also means that those hiring you can be selective due to the fact that there are more and more tests and welding certifications available. While in essence it may only be a piece of paper, and you may very well be 'better' at the job than say Joe Schmo with all his fancy certs, but employers are going to see what's on his resume, and more likely than not, opt for Joe over you if you aren't certified.
Okay, so what do you need to take and where do you go? That's where it gets even more tricky because there is not a single test that will cover all your bases. There are way too many niche markets for a single test to cover the entire spectrum so you will want to then pick a course that is in line with what you are interested in pursuing. You can find all that information here from the AWS resource guide (PDF). As you can see there are tons of tests available but what you want to keep in mind is that the more complicated or expansive a particular certification test is it may not always be the best. The truth is you will want to start out with something that is more specific to your direct needs and then build from there. Taking on something too hard for your current skill level is a great way to fail the end test because there may just be too much to take in and cover. It might be nice to have something saying you are certified to take on any kind of job position but it isn't really all that realistic because if you don't ever see yourself working in a scuba suit why get a test geared towards that kind of job?
Instead of aiming to pass for each kind of joint types or metal thicknesses you should instead hone your focus and master one item at a time. If you provide a perfect (or near perfect) 2F fillet weld break test and then you send that to the respective testing lab that will allow you to record it as passing on the AWS form you will have a certification for fillet welds for horizontal and flat positions. If this is your niche then you're good to go and covered. If not, you can start there and then build on that. Don't rush and try to tackle everything at once because you could wind up in over your head and not passing anything. Time (and money and resources too) will be lost and instead you could have followed the example of old Mr. Tortoise who in the end beat Mr. Hare to the finish line.