Just want to throw in my two cents. Im in the industry for just under two years now, and I found it most difficult to get my first job. I know I have my pick of many jobs now, but Its the first one that is the toughest. I also learned that even though I have a degree in computers, I knew diddly squat when it came to real work!!! You think when you leave college you know it all, only to find yourself at the bottom of the learning ladder again. All that got me the job was the piece of paper that is my degree. It proved I have the patience and dedication to study and learn. I believe the main role of the certifications is similiar. You can have a candidate that is very knowledgeable and sits quite happily on their knowledge, or you can have a similar job candidate , but with a certificate. The cert proves that the 2nd guy has the drive, patience and dedication to push himself further than the other fellow. Of course its not black and white, and technical interview are required, but the certification definately helps to find people who want to be more than they presently are, people with dedication. And I learned tons from doing the cert that I did not know otherwise so it was an excellent learning opportuinity. I definately would look more favourably at candidates with a certificate, but also use technical interviews to screen out the folks who dont know the stuff, but just have very good memories.
Oddly enough, my first real SQL DBA job was the toughest to get for me too. No one wanted to hire me because I didn't have enough SQL Server experience, but as soon as I got hired, the recruiters decided I was legit and started calling me.
Yup, that's about right. Hence the reason most people recommend you get in with a not-for-profit or something of that sort during the college or job transition years in order to have work experience on the resume.