Maximize the Career Development Value of Your IT Certification

So you’ve decided that you want to make IT your career. Maybe you are an absolute tech novice. Maybe you are a computing hobbyist who has always been the person friends and family yell for when the Wi-Fi goes down, the printer locks up, or the screen keeps going blue. Maybe you have even occasionally used your computing knowledge in a work environment, rescuing coworkers from having to put in a ticket and wait for the helpdesk to get to it.

Turning IT into a career, though, demands an added level of focus and a different type of prioritization. You also need a strategy, whether your ideal future role is getting hands-on with hardware, securing business-critical infrastructure in a SOC, or making big decisions in the boardroom as a CISO.

Years upon years of success stories show that employers take the right IT certifications, and the people who hold them, seriously. Being able to earn an industry-standard certification demonstrates that you bring serious skills and a serious mindset to any workplace. So if you’re looking to making a career out of IT, then certifications can be an important cornerstone of your career development.

Utilizing the following strategies as you pursue certification will help ensure that the steps you take pay off and that the certs you earn are not just sitting there on your CV getting stale — but are actively working for you in the foreground and in the background. Your certification should always be moving you forward, no matter where you are in your career trajectory or what your eventual goals are.

Earn Certs You’re Sure to Get Something Out Of

When you are assessing what certifications to start with, these days there is so much out there that you might find it hard to determine which ones will really help your career and which ones are just good at marketing themselves. Since certifications are renowned for their career-building value, there are now more entrants than ever offering certs that might not quite have the industry recognition you’re looking for (and looking to invest your time and money in).

We see this especially in the proliferation of micro-credentials: These are badges that purport to validate a certain skill, but that don’t always necessarily have the backing of, or recognition from, the wider IT industry — or a clear sense of the value of their objectives.

Make sure to look around online and see what real working IT pros and employers are saying about the value of certifications for growth in different areas. You want to be sure when you’re pursuing a certification that it is one widely endorsed as being a both a skill-builder and a career-builder.

Show Your Certification Everywhere You Can

Not everyone is comfortable being a huge self-promoter. Even putting a little effort into visibility, however, can go a long way in terms of building your career. Spreading the good news about earning a certification is a great place to start.

If you are on the fence about making a big deal about earning an IT certification, then you need only head to LinkedIn. There you can observe what sort of traction people get from spreading the word when they’ve earned certifications, from entry-level credentials to the most advanced and specialized cybersecurity certs.

Quick announcements often result not just in an outpouring of excitement from professional colleagues, but sometimes put new certification holders on the radar of contacts who didn’t even know they worked in IT, or of the certifying organizations themselves. If you play your cards right, you can use an improved footprint like this to find job openings you would never have had access to without publicizing your certs.

Additionally, if you search LinkedIn for CompTIA or any other major certification bodies, then you can see how common it has become for people to mention their certifications prominently in their profiles. Even if you’re not actively looking for a job, having that information out there can get your name in front of legitimate recruiters or other fixtures in the IT world who might come to you with career-related opportunities. You never know who’s looking.

Talk Certs in Person

While it might feel like everything happens online today, there is still plenty to be said for spending time in your local tech community. Not everyone at a given tech meetup event is bound to be certified, but having reputable certs can certainly be a good conversation starter in such an environment. Go, socialize, compare notes, and use your certification journey as a topic of conversation. You never know who you’ll bump into, who you’ll make friends with or how you might be able to help each other out in terms of career growth.

Treat Certification as a Brand Builder

While some IT career trajectories might demand a more robust media presence than others, it never hurts to have an online presence that trumpets your skills and achievements for all who need to know, painting you in the best light and letting potential employers know exactly what you can do for them. Highlighting your certifications can be part and parcel to such a brand-building strategy.

Depending on how you approach it and what you’re looking for, having a strong personal brand can open all sorts of different doors. It can help you move over to the business side of the profession, whether that means starting and managing a small MSP/MSSP or talking tech deployment with an enterprise C-suite. It can help you represent yourself as an expert for potential speaking engagements, and even position you to build professional relationships with certification bodies, if you’re interested in becoming a subject matter expert (SME).

Even if your goal is a stable help desk or network management career, a strong personal brand can net you opportunities. And it might even get you thinking about building your career in a direction that demands more media and marketing savvy in the long run. Either way, the right certifications can be one of your strongest tools for brand building. Creating a brand is an exercise in clearly presenting the value you offer — a value the right IT certifications can convey.

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About the Author
Matthew Stern

Matthew Stern is a freelance writer who covers information technology and various other topics and industries.