How to Choose the Right Certification to Advance Your IT Career

Making up your mind about a career in IT

Information technology (IT) is an exciting, rapidly-growing field with many opportunities for individuals who are willing to work hard, and who are passionate about technology. With so many different career paths available and specific specializations contained within IT, picking the right IT discipline is both important and can sometimes be a fairly difficult task. Moreover, different jobs and fields within IT will require (or not require) certain certifications for an individual to become qualified, making choosing the right certification for you an incredibly important task.


Picking Your Career Path

Before you can begin the process of deciding which certification(s) are right for you, you need find an area of IT where you are willing to invest the time and resources to become proficient. When choosing a career discipline in IT you should consider two things: 1) what you enjoy and could see yourself doing as a career in the long term, and 2) market demand and both the present and future job prospects for the IT career path you have chosen.

From database administration to web development, IT has many diverse and dynamic disciplines. Taking the time to figure out now what it is that you want to do can save you headaches down the road: The realization that you've settled into an IT discipline you dislike, or one in which cannot find gainful employment, can be a rude awakening. Many, if not most, IT certifications are highly specific to a particular field and may help you get involved in other IT realms. Thus, it's important to first figure out what your long-term plan is, and then begin mapping out a certification path that will help you achieve it.


Starting Out

Once you've completed your due diligence and decided upon a potential IT career path, it's important to obtain the foundational certifications that most employers and organizations deem mandatory. In particular, CompTIA's A+ certification is a good beginner cert to pursue before going on to specialize in a particular domain. Additionally, entry-level networking certifications such as the CompTIA's Network+ certification can help you climb the IT ladder toward a variety of destinations. These certifications and others like them essentially serve as the industry's baseline, signaling to employers that credential holders possess the basic skills and expertise necessary to work in IT.

Most accreditation programs in IT are structured in a vertically hierarchical manner, where each certification has multiple steps that must be completed sequentially in order for a candidate to advance to the next level. An A+ certification and an entry-level networking cert, regardless of the specific IT realm that you're aiming at, are generally the first rungs on your career ladder. Whatever foundation you decide to put in place, sure that you've given yourself a good leg up before looking to specialize.


Finding the Right Certifications

Once you've obtained the necessary entry-level accreditation and skills to get your foot in the door, and pointed yourself in a specific IT direction, it's important to determine which particular certifications and accreditation will allow you to find employment in that field. IT is an incredibly competitive, merit-based sector, and having the right certs will make you significantly more appealing to potential employers.

There are several steps you can take in order to determine what specific certifications you should pursue in order to become a sought-after IT professional in your field:


IT career clarity

Talk to Employers

No one knows what certifications employers want better than employers themselves, and sometimes it's best to hear it straight from the horse's mouth. When asking employers what certifications they require, it's important to consult a variety of different businesses and organizations. Many potential employers have more demanding — or less stringent — requirements depending on company culture, size, and outlook.

Human resources departments are generally more than willing to answer questions. They can provide useful input, both in terms of what certs their own company is looking for in a candidate, and in terms of what certs the industry as a whole has deemed essential.


Listen to the Market

IT professionals aren't generally known for their willingness to throw away time or resources preparing for exams that they know aren't worthwhile. Paying attention to market trends and looking at what others in your field are getting in terms of accreditation is generally a solid means of determining what's worth getting. Suppose that you have an interest in Big Data. The fact that many IT professionals who specialize in Big Data are rushing to get Oracle Business Intelligence certs, for example, is an indication that those credentials are likely worth your consideration.


Find a Niche

Once you've gotten an idea about what employers want, and what other IT professionals are doing to get accredited in your chosen field, look for certifications that demonstrate expert-level skills and knowledge in a specific niche. Whether you pursue an interest in Cisco systems, or delve into Microsoft-based platforms, don't spread yourself too thin by getting certified in a wide variety of IT sub-disciplines, but never specializing in any of them.

Since businesses and organizations are fairly specific about who they want to hire and for what purposes, your goal of certification is to show them that you have recognized and demonstrable expertise in a particular area. An intermediate knowledge of a variety of IT disciplines is less likely to get you hired than expert-level knowledge in a particular in-demand IT field. 


Keep up with Trends

IT is a dynamic sector, constant change is inevitable, and success in your career demands that you continuously keep up with trends and certify or re-certify accordingly. Some certifications may become obsolete or their content may change to such a degree that you will need to retake them.

Regardless, always be mindful of developments in your field and what new certs are gaining traction so that you can become an in-demand professional, and stay on the cutting edge of IT.


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About the Author
Nenad Dumanovic NEW

Nenad Dumanovic is the founder and principal of Impressify, a PR company that specializes in delivering PR, content marketing, and business writing services for startups, entrepreneurs, and not-for-profits. He is editor-in-chief of Konstantine News, a digital politics magazine launching in April 2016.