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IT Certifications to Get as an Entry-Level Pro

In today’s high-speed, hyper-connected tech scene, seeking out the most relevant and useful career insight into the industry can seem a daunting task, especially when innovation in the field can change the name of the game in a nanosecond. Where do you start?

Many aspiring candidates looking to enter the IT or computer science workforce have questions about entry-level industry certifications, and the best sources for career advice are almost always the professionals with real-world experience. To get you the best insight into certifications and their place in the IT and computer science world, we conducted a recent survey of information technology and computer science professionals currently working in the field, and made sure many of the questions they were answering centered on career advancement.

Specifically, for our entry-level audience, we wanted to know more about the worth of certifications: How are they perceived in the workplace? Are they worth the time and money investment? What else do students of the industry need to know? Here‘s a look at some of the survey questions we asked current professionals, with a detailed analysis of their responses to give you a better idea of what it takes for long-term career success in the tech field.

When do you need IT certification training?

At which professional level do you need a certification if you don't already have one?

  • 17.6 percent of the professionals in our survey believe that the entry-level career stage is when candidates should have an industry accreditation

We wanted to ask this to figure out at which stage of an IT or computer science career current workers in the industry think you should have an industry certification, and our findings are consistent with the accepted notion that entry-level certifications help to make up for limited experience when entering the IT industry.

An industry-relevant cert can help a candidate distinguish themselves from the competition, and it may even be a prerequisite for certain starting positions.

To drill down further into the survey data concerning entry-level certifications, the next section features the responses of those survey participants who emphasized the importance of entry-level IT and computer science career certifications.

Which tech field are you currently employed in?

To get a clearer picture of the survey participants, we asked them to identify the category of IT or computer science they work in. As it turns out, we ended up with a very mixed population of professionals. Here's a breakdown of the tech specializations for the professionals who endorsed entry-level certifications:

  • Networking: 21%
  • Programming: 19.4%
  • Support: 12.9%
  • Web/Ecommerce: 11.3%
  • Database/Server: 9.7%
  • Hardware: 9.7%
  • Security: 9.7%
  • Other: 6.5%

Which vendor offers the best certifications?

We wanted to find out which certification vendor has the best reputation with IT professionals, and the survey responses revealed which cert vendors are perceived to have the most valuable certifications for candidates looking to break into the industry:

  • Microsoft: 50%
  • Cisco: 19.5%
  • Oracle: 16.1%
  • Project Management Institute: 6.5%
  • Citrix: 4.8%
  • Other: 3.2%

Given the broad spectrum of survey participants, it's not surprising to see several different tech specializations in this question's results, with virtualization (Citrix), networking hardware (Cisco) and database systems (Oracle, Microsoft) all represented.

What certification should you get even if it doesn't directly benefit your career?

We asked this for insight into what type of certification is viewed to be complimentary to any IT specialization, even if it isn't specifically related to a person's current job. The responses were spread across a wide spectrum of industry segments:

  • Networking: 21%
  • Programming: 19.4%
  • Project Management: 14.5%
  • Database/Server: 11.3%
  • Hardware: 9.7%
  • Support: 6.5%
  • Web/Ecommerce: 6.5%
  • Other: 4.8%
  • Security: 3.2%
  • None: 3.2%

So what do these results show? It might be worth considering the extra certification when mapping out your career path, as industry pros believe knowledge of networking technology, programming and project management methodologies are important enough to be considered valuable secondary disciplines.

What certification should be required to work in tech?

We wanted to find out if current tech workers think there should be a baseline certification, a credential that new employees should be required to earn before entering the industry. The results were interesting, and a little surprising:

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): 25.8%
  • There are no must-have certifications: 21%
  • Certified Information Security Manager: 11.3%
  • Certified Information Systems Auditor: 6.5%
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional: 6.5%
  • CompTIA A+: 4.8%
  • Project Management Professional: 4.8%
  • Other: 4.8%
  • Certified Ethical Hacker: 3.2%
  • ITIL v3 Foundation: 3.2%

That the MCSE credential was most picked by respondents reflects the major presence Microsoft has made for itself in the enterprise space. However, we were surprised by the relatively low numbers for security-related certs, like the CISM and CISA credentials from ISACA's certification program. We would have guessed that a greater number of professionals would want to see new employees with a pre-established foundation knowledge of security concepts and skills before entering the industry.

IT degrees vs. certifications

Next, we wanted to hear from the survey participants who identified themselves as entry-level professionals, defined as having less than one year to three years' experience. What would this group have to say about the certs aimed specifically at their career stage?

How important are certifications relative to IT degrees?

  • Certifications are just as important as degrees: 60.9%
  • Certifications are more important than degrees: 26.1%
  • Certifications are not important: 2%

We were interested in how entry-level tech employees perceive the value of certs in comparison to college and university degree programs. It turns out (not unsurprisingly) that this group of workers places a premium on industry certifications.

Which vendor offers the best certifications?

The preferred cert vendors identified by the entry-level group is a close echo of those indicated by the larger survey sample:

  • Microsoft: 60.1%
  • Cisco: 15.2%
  • Oracle: 8.9%
  • Project Management Institute: 6.5%
  • Citrix: 4.3%
  • VMware: 2.2%

It’s interesting to note, however, that entry-level professionals have an even higher level of recognition for Microsoft's popular industry credential program.

Do you have a certification?

  • Slightly over 67 percent of the entry-level respondents reported having a technology certification.

This two-thirds majority reflects the steady climb in popularity of cert programs following years of recovery after the high-tech bubble experienced in the early 2000s. Over the last 15 years, the value of certifications has been wildly exaggerated, and then brutally and unfairly reduced, and today, the value of certifications is at a more stable middle ground -- for both employers and workers.

How relevant is your most recent certification to your job?

Of the 67.4 percent of entry-level employees who reported having a certification, we wanted to know what their opinion was of the relevance of their most recent industry credentials. The results were strongly positive:

  • Very relevant or required: 58.1%
  • Somewhat relevant: 32.3%

A large majority (over 90 percent) of entry-level respondents said that their latest certification was somewhat relevant, very relevant, or required by their employer.

Did your salary benefit from having a certification?

This subject is always a hot topic when it comes to discussing certifications, the tech workforce and compensation. The survey results were remarkably encouraging. Over 80 percent of respondents said that they saw a salary increase after earning an industry certification:

  • 80.6% of all entry-level workers with certifications say they got a raise.
  • 81.8% of the workers with 1-3 years' experience got a raise.
  • 77.8% of the workers with less than one year experience got a raise.

This information is consistent with other recent industry reports showing a direct correlation between earning a certification, and increased compensation.

For other insight from the CTS Annual Tech Industry Survey, check out our additional feature on certifications for mid-level tech employees, 4 Ways to Upgrade Your IT Career.