Whether you're seeking your first entry-level certificationor attempting to obtain a more advanced credential to add to your list of accomplishments, the question most often asked is, "How will this credential help me?"
It's useful to view a certification or credential as an investment in yourself and your future. As with any investment, investors need to understand the return on investment (ROI) before committing time, money, and resources to any endeavor.
Certifications are no different. Certification seekers need to know that their investment will pay off in the long term—that money spent for training, preparation, and exam costs, along with the time required to earn the credential, will result in a net gain at the end of the certification process.
Certifications offer numerous benefits that range from increased job opportunities to higher salaries, salary stability, and more respect from peers and management. Let's examine a few of these benefits in more detail.
Increased Earning Power
Let's face it—IT may be a knowledge-driven industry, but we live in a cash-driven society where purchasing power matters. The more money you get for base salary, bonuses, stock options, and other benefits, the more purchasing power you possess. While the desire to gain new knowledge and skills may be a powerful motivator, most certification seekers want to know how, or if, a certification enables them to earn more. The simple answer is "yes."
Furthermore, certifications can and do increase earning potential. According to the Certification Magazine 2013 Salary Survey, more than 90 percent of those surveyed held at least one certification, and almost 50 percent of individuals surveyed made more than $70,000 per year (18 percent between $70,000 and $100,000; 28 percent between $100,000 and $200,000).
Sixty-six percent of those surveyed reported receiving a raise after obtaining new certifications to which they directly attributed that raise. (This survey drew on information and responses from more than 17,000 IT professionals in 33 countries.)
In addition, less than 12 percent of those surveyed saw a pay decrease in 2013, whereas 66 percent reported receiving a raise, and 45 percent reported receiving some bonus or incentive payment.
Whether you're seeking an entry-level position in IT, making a midstream career move to a different company, or working toward a promotion or other step up the career ladder, certification is an excellent tool to maximize your career progression.
For job seekers, certification often makes the difference between being the "right" candidate who lands the job versus the candidate whose resume is kept on file in case something becomes available in the future.
Certifications are also excellent leverage when seeking promotions. They send a clear message to your employer that you've mastered concepts and technologies required for the credential, and that you possess skills and qualifications to perform essential functions on the job.
Almost as important, employers recognize that credential holders possess the initiative and drive to gain skills when they're needed. Twenty-two percent of those responding to the Certification Magazine 2013 Salary Survey attributed recent promotions to obtaining new certifications.
Knowledge and Reskilling
Because the IT industry is knowledge-driven, IT professionals often maintain multiple certifications, including advanced credentials. IT professionals must embrace an attitude of lifelong learning to keep up with changing (and new) concepts, skills, and technologies.
Certifications, along with their associated preparation activities, are a great way to sharpen existing skills and take them to the next level. They're also a good way to learn new skills in areas where you may have only limited hands-on experience.
In addition, many use certifications as a reskilling tool to expand potential career paths on today's ever-shifting economic landscape. Almost 80 percent of respondents in the 2013 Salary Survey reported obtaining a new certification, whereas an additional 22 percent added four or more certifications to their credentials portfolio. In addition, nearly 90 percent of respondents plan to get a minimum of one new certification in 2014.
Standard of Quality
All certification programs contain some type of assertions or statements regarding a minimum standard for the information, concepts, skills, and technologies that credential holders know and must master.
Many certifications must also be renewed every two or three years, either by taking a current cert exam(s) or through continuing education credits, to keep knowledge and skills up to date.
Many certifications are recognized globally. To verify an individual cert or certification program in the global marketplace, some organizations seek ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024 accreditation. This designation validates that the certifications offered meet quality and compliance standards.
The Cisco CCNA and CCNP for Security and Routing & Switching certifications are ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024-accredited, as well as certs from the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) program, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), and (ISC)2, among others.
Employers rely on certifications because they provide a reasonable assurance that the credential holder possesses the skills and qualifications necessary to do the job required with minimal on-the-job training or hand-holding.
In today's tight economy, strong evidence of sharp, current skills and knowledge is not just worth money; it can also make the difference between a job offer and a trip to the file cabinet for your resume and cover letter.
While not always as tangible as a promotion, new job, or raise, IT certifications also bring with them many professional benefits to aid career progression. Many vendors offer credential holders ongoing access to their websites, in which they can find current technical and career tips and resources, training opportunities (both formal and informal), social media and online communities, and the latest industry news.
Earning a certification often grants a credential holder the right to use vendor logos or credential acronyms in their bylines and sig lines, on business cards, on stationery, and so forth.
Used properly, credentials and certifications make an excellent tool to boost your career progression. Certifications open doors into new employment opportunities and can put you ahead of peers when seeking promotions. Certification credentials also have a direct and positive ROI and can translate into raises and added earning power.
Take the time to research various credentials related to your areas of IT expertise and determine which ones are right for you and your career path. Read the latest salary surveys from publications such as Certification Magazine or other online sources to learn about high-paying IT certifications, certification market trends, and what kinds of ROI you can expect from your certification investments.
Remember that certifications can improve your career and brighten your future. They may be time-consuming and difficult to earn, but you'll find the end results well worth the time, effort, and money involved.