Over the 20+ years that I have worked in IT, I have had the opportunity to speak to a great number of Microsoft-certified professionals. One thing that almost all of them seem to have in common is that they pursue certifications as a way of furthering their careers.
This isn't to say that everyone who gets certified does so so that they can get a promotion or a better job. Certainly I have met people who have gotten certifications just because they are inter ested in specific topics or because they derive a great deal of satisfaction from passing certification exams. And that's okay. For the vast majority, however, earning certifications seems to be a stepping stone along the path to achieving career goals.
If your primary motivation behind getting certified is to further your career, then I think it makes a lot of sense to think about certifications not just in terms of technical knowledge, but also with regard to what the certification can do for your career. If you really stop and think about it, a Microsoft certification is an investment. You are taking money that you could spend on something else and instead investing[md]not in stocks or bonds, but in yourself.
Once you start thinking of a Microsoft certification as an investment, then the next logical question becomes what kind of return you can expect on that investment. This can be a somewhat difficult question to answer, because everyone's employment situation and career goals are different. That being the case, I can only speak from personal experience.
When I first started earning Microsoft certifications back in the mid-90s, I can honestly say that my certifications were not initially good investments (speaking purely from a monetary standpoint). At the time I had a good job. I was making decent money and working in a fun environment, and I had no intention of leaving the company.
When I earned my first Microsoft certification, I had to pay for the certification exam and the study materials out of my own pocket. There was no corporate reimbursement. Furthermore, the company that I worked for did not give me a raise or any sort of promotion as I accumulated certifications. That's what I mean when I said that my certifications were initially a bad investment. The process of preparing for the certification exams taught me a lot, and that knowledge proved to be invaluable on the job, but there was no extra monetary gain.
That isn't to say that you can't make more money by getting certified. Eventually I left that company for unrelated reasons and went to work for the Department of Defense. Upon doing so I was able to negotiate a higher salary than I otherwise would have been able to had I not been certified. As such, the investment I made in my certifications did eventually pay off.
I tell you this story to help paint a realistic picture of what you might be able to expect when pursuing Microsoft certifications. When I first made up my mind to get certified, I was delusional, because I believe that all I had to do to make more money was to pass a few exams. This proved not to be the case. In retrospect, passing the exams was the easy part. Seeing a return on my certification investment proved to be much harder.
Today the economy is in far worse shape than it was back then, and it can be even more difficult for IT pros to realize a return on their certification investment. This is further compounded by the fact that there are far more Microsoft Certified Professionals today than there were back then. In the mid-90s when I earned my first Microsoft certification, the certification program was still somewhat obscure. Today, certifications have become almost a check list item on an IT pro’s resume.
So what can you do to get the best possible return on your certification investment? Well, as cliché as it might sound I recommend that if you currently have a job that you start by talking to your boss about your career goals. Some of the more important questions that you might ask include:
- Will earning a Microsoft certification do anything to advance my position with the company?
- What certifications would be the most beneficial to the company?
- Does the company offer any incentive programs (such as exam fee reimbursement, education milestone bonuses, or retention bonuses) for earning professional certifications?
- Is there money in the IT budget for training?
Having this type of discussion with your boss will accomplish a couple of things. First, it will give you a chance to make your boss aware of your career goals and ambitions. More importantly, it will tell you exactly what you can expect after you earn your intended Microsoft certifications.
In some cases you may discover that you will need to search for a new job in order to realize any benefit from your certification. If that is the case then there are several good resources that you can use. Microsoft actually offers something called the MCP Career Center. The MCP Career Center is a Microsoft portal, powered by CareerBuilder.com, which allows Microsoft Certified Professionals to post their resumes and to search for jobs from employers who are specifically targeting employees who hold Microsoft certifications.
I also recommend checking out the Microsoft Certification 20th Anniversary website. This site contains resources such as tweet chats and an Ask a Certification Expert forum. These and many of the other resources on the site are specifically designed to help IT pros to use their certifications to further their careers.
No matter how you approach it, achieving career goals is never easy[md]especially in IT. However, doing some strategic planning can make all the difference between having a well defined career plan and just going through the motions while you wait for your career to advance on its own. Earning Microsoft certifications is a great way to further your career, but earning a certification alone isn’t usually enough. The real trick is getting an employer to reward your hard work, and that is where the MCP Career Center and the Microsoft Certification 20th Anniversary website can be helpful.