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How to Decide Whether Certification Is Right For You

Getting a certification may not always be the perfect next step for your IT career. Here are some points to ponder before you invest the time and money required to train and certify.

TCNC business discussionInformation Technology (IT) is a specialized and skill-driven industry, and IT workers are constantly challenged to keep abreast of the latest technologies and trends. One very popular way to stay current is to earn certifications relevant to your work domain.


These days, thanks to the side effects of business intelligence and social media, a lot of information regarding an IT professional’s skills and work experience is readily available in the public domain and accessible by certification and training providers. IT pros are often bombarded with cold calls and advertisements saying: “Get this certification and see yourself at the top,” or “The reason your career is not rocking, is that you lack a certification.”


This deluge of enticement, while occasionally providing useful information, can sometimes overwhelm. It’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Certifications require an investment of time, money, and effort. Any person considering one has to carefully weigh these factors to decide on the most suitable credential for enhancing skill and professional growth.


It’s also the case that not all certifications provide an optimal return on investment. And making this scenario murkier is the fact that a certification often does not lead to a direct, tangible outcome like a promotion, or an immediate pay hike.


There are even naysayers who decry certifications altogether, often contending that no amount of study and drilling will be as worthwhile as hands-on work experience in a given field. This is why there is no direct or scientific method of calculating whether a certification will yield one’s hoped for returns.


To find the answers to our original question on whether a certification is relevant to you personally, let’s first see what the current context around certification looks like.


Generally, an entry level certification costs considerably less than an educational degree and will increase the chances of landing a job in a related field. In contrast, higher-level certifications not only cost more, but may not directly augment one’s career.


Take the case of certain certifications offered by Cisco. The cost of taking the Cisco Certified Technician certification exam is a modest $125, and the likelihood of landing a job with just this certification is high.


On the other hand, at the far end of the Cisco spectrum, some credentials are hugely expensive, and not all of them will immediately increase one’s chances of better employment or a pay hike. The Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) certification carries a mammoth $15,000 price tag — $3,750 U.S. for the initial interview, and $11,250 U.S. for the exam itself. (To say nothing of study and training expenses.)


Of course, CCAr is the costliest certification around and one of the most difficult to attempt. So far, only a handful of people have cleared the exam and all of them just happen to be employed by Cisco.


A perhaps better example of rarefied certification air is the Oracle Database 11g Certified Master Exam (OCM). It will set you back $2,498 U.S. It does provide a third-party stamp of approval on one’s skills and knowledge, and could increase one’s chances of securing better employment. By the time you’ve worked with database technology long enough to have the skills required to think about taking and passing the exam, on the other hand, you may already have passed the point at which you really need the professional validation it offers.


Similarly, while PMI’s PBA certification is a good way to start a career as a business analyst, their PgMP certification alone isn’t enough to land a job as Program Manager. Getting a job most likely requires that you already have gained a high degree of actual experience managing large teams and programs to be effective.