Choosing the Right Certification
Before you decide to invest time and money on a tech certification, ask yourself whether it aligns with your interests, professional objectives, and industry trends. It's important to know what you want and research the various options available so that you can get the best return on your investment.
In 2019, Global Knowledge reported that 85 percent of the more than 12,000 IT professionals who participated in its annual survey hold at least one certification. You will be one of many, not few who have credentials, which is why it's all the more important that you choose wisely.
While relevant bachelor's or master's degrees are a requirement for many roles in the IT industry, university curricula are generally short on applied skills. Credible certification programs have a significant practical component. Also, certification providers continuously update their programs to cover current technologies, tools, and domains.
There are solid reasons why tech certifications are considered valuable by both professionals as well as employers.
Benefits of Certification: You
A certification makes a statement about you as an IT professional, and provides a number of other benefits. The right credential can contribute to all of the following:
Validation: A certification affirms one's level of expertise regarding a particular technology, set of practices, or product. Some credentials require years of experience and the exams can be difficult. Such certifications demonstrate that the holder has both a deep understanding of the subject matter and substantial hands-on experience.
Compensation: A certification can improve one's chances (sometimes dramatically) of earning a salary hike or a promotion.
Education: Any certification provides an opportunity to enrich or add to one's knowledge in a given area of specialization. A certification is also a useful measuring stick to benchmark one's expertise against industry standards.
Specialization: Is one of the factors that can increase the likelihood of being hired for a specialist role. For some positions, relevant credentials are essential.
Motivation: A certification provides tangible evidence of your ability to self-start, make plans, and follow through. The fact that one has worked hard toward achieving certification proves that one is serious about one's career and understands the value of continuous learning.
Benefits of Certification: Your Future Boss
For employers, the value of relevant certifications is reflected in the following:
Expertise: Credential holders have current knowledge and skills in specific technologies, tools, and specializations. Organizations stand to benefit from having a technologically-savvy workforce.
Skill Gain: Certifications can help business train incumbent employees to develop new skills, or help them identify potential new hires who already have key skills the organization needs to succeed. Both methods provide help in addressing common skills deficits, particularly in cybersecurity, cloud computing, DevOps, data analytics, and IT architecture.
Partnership: Some technology vendors require partners who market their products and technologies to have certified employees.
Choose Your Path
Sometimes tech professionals need a certification that is specific to the tools or technologies of a particular company (such as Cisco, Microsoft, and so forth). If you need to develop and demonstrate technical expertise in a specific vendor's software, platform, or technology, selecting the right certificate is fairly straightforward.
You need to identify which technologies, products, or platforms you want to specialize in. Tech firms such as Microsoft, Cisco, Amazon, and Google, in addition to offering credentials for professionals who use their products and technologies, generally also provide advice to help you choose the right path. Certifications for different levels of expertise are available from these vendors.
On the other hand, you may just want to learn or study a certain type or niche of information technology, in which case there are several options. You need to consider multiple factors in order to ensure you select a credential that helps you advance your career.
Here are some tips and questions to consider to help you select a credential that will take your career forward:
Know Your Objectives
How do you decide on the right certification? First, you must know what you want from certification. Professionals have different objectives for pursuing certification programs. While some pursue certification as a route to a promotion, others earn credentials in a new technology in the hope of moving to a different role at another organization, and still others devote time and effort to learn a new skill, augment their skill set, and stay up-to-date.
What Do You Want to Achieve?
If you're aiming for a substantial increase in salary, take a look at the highest-paying certifications and shortlist those that suit your level of experience, background, and aptitude. Once you've done that, you can select the credential that suits you best.
Who's Paying for Your Certification?
Some employers encourage employees to learn new tools and technologies, and reimburse the cost of certification. If your employer doesn't provide such reimbursement, then you need to plan out how you will pay for your training and certification efforts.
Are You Looking to Move Up?
If getting promoted is your goal, then you want to develop skills that your organization needs and that align with your strengths and interests. It's worthwhile considering certifications for managerial roles, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) or the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) both offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI).
Other management-level certifications include Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP) managed by (ISC)2, the Certified information Security Manager (CISM) offered by ISACA, and the ITIL series of certifications.
Which Goal is Most Important?
Your main objective might be to upgrade skills, advance your career, or to change jobs. You could consider the next level of expertise in your area of specialization, or opt for a credential in rapidly evolving technologies and domains, such as cybersecurity, cloud computing, data science, and tech architecture. It's important that you choose a subject that you find interesting.
For beginners, CompTIA's A+ credential is a solid entry-level credential that covers the technical fundamentals of hardware and operating systems. Microsoft offers MTA certifications in various fields. If you're interested in a networking career, Cisco has entry-level certifications.
Bear in mind that you are likely to perform better and be satisfied with your job if you learn and work with technologies that interest you. Your career could suffer if you opt for a field or practice that you have no curiosity or passion for.
The Value of Industry Recognition
Not all credentials are recognized equally. It's important to consider only those certifications that are widely respected in the industry you want to be part of (or already work in). Certs that are widely recognized make it easier for you to change jobs, or get rehired in the event of a layoff.
Industry-leading certifications will also enhance your r�sum� and help you connect with like-minded professionals. Professional experience is generally the most important consideration in catching on with a new employer, but personal connections can be highly advantageous.
On top of everything else, you need to take into account the amount of time it will take to earn a particular credential, prerequisites, if any, cost, and recertification requirements. This is important because you need to be sure that you will be able to complete the credential program.
It's worthwhile to weigh the cost of earning a certification against the benefits you expect from it. Calculate the cost of certification, which would be the sum of registration and exam fees, study materials, training, and any other fees. Do you expect a substantial pay hike or to get a rewarding job relative to what you plan to spend?
Consider the opinion and experience of your colleagues, peers, superiors, and domain experts before you decide. Apart from your co-workers, LinkedIn, online tech communities, and prominent IT blogs are good sources of information. This will help you assess which of your shortlisted certifications are most valuable.
Choosing the right credential is somewhat easier for those beginning IT careers. It's relatively straightforward to pick a career path and choose a foundational certification. If you're experienced and considering different technologies or areas, then you need to spend time researching to ensure you make the right choice.