Professional certifications often come with certain benefits, which are very apparent in the information technology industry. For many IT professionals, certifications are not just a valuable way to boost their skills — certifications can give them an edge in the job market or the corporate ladder. Here is a quick review of these credentials and their perks.
IT certification primer: know your options
PMP®s. CWNAs. CCNAs. IT certifications can be as diverse as the professionals who earn them, but most fall in one of two categories: vendor- or skill-specific.
Vendor-specific IT certifications usually target specific skills that correlate with that vendor’s products or services. For example, IBM offers certifications in areas such as systems administration and application development, while Microsoft offers product-specific certifications, such as Windows OS and Server credentials. Some popular vendors offering IT certifications include:
Skill-specific IT certifications help validate certain career skills linked with certain industries or job functions, such as project management, security, networking and more.
Many IT certifications, regardless of their focus, are tiered. New or less-experienced professionals generally begin with an entry-level credential, sometimes called an associate certificate. As they hone more skills and gain more experience in the industry, candidates can earn higher, more advanced credentials, sometimes called expert or professional certifications. Most — but not all — certification providers require candidates to earn all credentials progressively. Professionals should research certification requirements and contact vendors directly to identify which certificates best suit their experience and professional goals.
The benefits of IT certification
1. Established expertise
IT certifications allow professionals to validate their skills for current and future employers. According to R. Brooks, a Microsoft-certified senior database developer, these credentials establish a baseline of knowledge that is consistent not just across the industry, but throughout the world.
“Many, if not most, certifications are backed by specific companies,” Brooks says. “[Anywhere] that particular company has a large presence in the market, [those] certifications would be of significant value.”
2. Employability and job security
Certifications do more than validate professional expertise — they affirm a professional’s commitment to career-long learning. For employers, this matters. According to a 2012 study from Microsoft, 91 percent of hiring managers consider certifications when evaluating potential candidates. Another 86 percent said they considered IT certifications of high or medium importance.
This is not to say that certification guarantees your job. Brooks warns that certifications are only as good as the employees who hold them; job security ultimately depends on day-to-day performance.
“A certification can get your foot in the door,” Brooks says, “but it is up to you to prove that you can use it and grow that knowledge.”
You should also keep in mind that some certifications may be more in demand than others. Publications such as CIO Magazine occasionally publish lists identifying some of that year’s highest-demand IT certifications.
3. Bigger paychecks
IT certifications do not necessarily carry automatic salary increases, but they can still quite literally pay off. According to a 2010 report from IBM, professionals who had earned an IT or project management certification within the last five years earned an average of $5,242 more than their uncertified counterparts. Keep in mind that earnings tend to vary from one certification and location to the next. Various resources can provide more insight into the value of specific certifications within certain geographic markets.
Certified IT professionals are a club all their own, and membership has its benefits. IBM reports that some networking communities and events are managed through specific vendors; others are established by motivated professionals online or through conference networks. Certified professionals may also have more leverage on social networking sites, notes IBM. Each of these networks can hold value for those looking for new employment opportunities or support on certain projects.
5. Career flexibility
According to Pearson IT Certification, which offers certification training tools and materials, many IT professionals maintain multiple certifications. These credentials do not just sharpen and certify their existing skills, but also serve as a means of diversifying them. This can open up new career doors for those who might want to switch gears. According to Brooks, skill diversification can be the antidote to a career rut.
“I’ve seen certifications end up as a way of pigeon-holing people,” Brooks says. “It is up to the individual to ensure their experience is well-rounded and that they pursue growth opportunities both through career experience and further education.”
You are certified! Now what?
Professional IT certifications have their perks, but they are not necessarily a one-and-done affair, especially in an industry as changeable as technology. Many certifications require continuing education as a condition of re-certification, and many employers prefer to promote workers who keep these skills current.
“I think some people would like to see certification as an end goal in and of itself,” Brooks says, “but I think it is really best viewed as the starting line.”
“18 Hot IT Certifications for 2014,” CIO, December 2, 2013, Rich Hein, http://www.cio.com/slideshow/detail/130807/18-Hot-IT-Certifications-for-2014
Benefits of IT Certification,” Pearson IT Certification, January 17, 2011, Ed Tittel and Mary Kyle, http://www.pearsonitcertification.com/articles/article.aspx?p=1665782
“College and career readiness,” Microsoft, http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/certification-benefits.aspx
IBM Professional Certification Program, IBM, http://www-03.ibm.com/certify/
Interview with R. Brooks, February 2, 2014
“The value of IT certification,” IBM, 2010, http://public.dhe.ibm.com/partnerworld/pub/certify/valuecert2010.pdf