The debate’s been raging for several years now: Are IT certifications worth the time and money they take to earn? Some argue that certifications, while nice to have, aren’t worth the effort and won’t make a difference when it comes to landing a new job or getting a promotion. They feel experience and degrees are more valuable, and will go much further.
While it’s true that more people than ever before are working to earn or have earned certifications, and that not all hiring managers value them equally, there is no doubt that certifications do still make a significant difference for people looking to advance in their IT careers — and they are well worth the time required.
Increased Skills, More Money: The Benefits of Certification
Earning a certification gives you more than a notation for your resume or a certificate to hang on the wall. It provides a number of real, measureable benefits:
- Expanded knowledge base. While a certain level of experience is required to even apply to take a certification exam, there is still a certain level of training and education involved to successfully take the exam. By completing certification-focused online IT training, reviewing preparation materials, and practicing skills that will be tested, you will naturally increase your knowledge, allowing you to do your current job better.
- Increased job opportunities. Think a certification won’t help you in the job market? Think again. IT headhunters specifically look for people who hold certifications, and 72 percent of employers use certifications as a specific job requirement. And when it comes to comparing candidates? More than 60 percent of employers use certifications as a “tiebreaker” between equally qualified candidates.
- Increased salary. According to ISC(2), the organization that sponsors CISSP and several other major certifications, the average salary for an IT worker with a certification is $25,000 higher than those who don’t have certifications.
- Certifications help you specialize. While some of the entry-level certifications are designed to provide a base measuring stick for people new to IT, more advanced certifications are more specialized, and require you to focus your learning. When you choose an in-demand niche and seek the knowledge/experience validation that a certification provides, you increase your chances of landing highly coveted spots.
- Certifications replace some experience. We offer this point with caution: Some employers will not consider applicants that don’t have experience, regardless of their certifications. However, if your resume is a little light on experience right now, a certification can show that you know your stuff and that you’re committed to a career in the field. In other words, if you only have a few months of experience and a certification, it may be better than a year of experience without certification.
Which Certifications Are Hottest?
So now that you know it’s worthwhile to get certified, which certifications should you go after? While again, certain specialty certifications can help you land jobs in those areas, the following three certifications are proven to be big winners when it comes to job opportunities, earning potential, and career advancement.
CompTIA Security +. CompTIA offers a number of different certifications, including the CompTIA A+, which is highly sought after for entry-level IT professionals due to its focus on foundational skills. The CompTIA Security + builds on that foundation, offering a vendor-neutral certification in the basics of security. This is designed for those in the early stages of their careers, as a second level certification, and requires at least two years of network experience, preferably with a focus on security.
CISSP. ISC(2) sponsors the Certified Information Systems Security Professional credential, which is becoming a must have for anyone who wants to be a leader in cyber and information security. The exam, only available to those with five or more years of experience in IT security, tests your competence in a wide range of security topics, including mobile security, application development security, and more. With this certification, you can expect to earn in the low-$90,000 to well over six figures.
CCENT. A Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) certification shows that you have the skills for entry-level network support positions; with it, you should be able to install, manage, and secure a small enterprise network. This certification is a stepping stone to more advanced Cisco certifications, something that is in high demand by many employers.
There will always be those who question the value of certifications for one reason or another. However, if you want a successful career in IT, certifications are bound to be a part of your life. If for no other reason than your own sense of accomplishment, they are still very worthwhile.