Maximize the Employment Value of Your IT Certification

You need only visit LinkedIn or any number of job search websites to see that when it comes to IT jobs, certifications, particularly those offered by reliable certification bodies and major players in the industry, provide a powerful endorsement to employers that you can do the job. More job postings these days across skills areas ask for certifications by name in those lists of preferred applicant qualities, right alongside traditional degrees and years of in-house experience.

In many cases, employers are even using certifications as justification for hiring aspiring IT pros with limited experience in the field. Certifications from highly regarded programs provide such a definitive endorsement of IT knowledge and IT skills training coming in the door that many employers will set aside work experience requirements when they see a résumé with one or more professional credentials listed.

The value of certs doesn't end there, though. People at every point in their career are using IT certifications to build new skills and make new professional inroads.

Certifications are one of the best investments you can make in an IT career — but they're an investment nevertheless. It can cost both time and money to earn them. The last thing anyone wants to do, no matter what their budget looks like, is make a big upfront investment on something that doesn't pay off.

With that in mind, the following tips can help you develop a strategy to get the most out of what you put in, and reap the financial and professional rewards of certification without making missteps that focus your study or your money in the wrong direction.

Schoolhouse Certification

Many educational institutions now let students earn certifications through courses with curricula built around cert objectives. Many such courses also make the applicable certification exam a capstone of the degree experience. This is true of both community colleges and four-year degree programs. So if you're looking for a traditional degree, you can get a big extra bang for your buck by making sure that certifications are part of the curriculum.

For-profit training centers are likewise often certification-focused these days. Whichever path you take, be sure that the overall cost of tuition is within your means. And bear in mind that there are numerous scholarship and grant programs available to help ease the financial burden — always look for money that won't have to be repaid later before considering student loan programs.

For younger people who see themselves eventually pursuing an IT career, or even those who have a budding interest in computing, more high schools are rolling out certs as part of high school IT courses. This gives students a head start on their eventual job search or, at the very least, helps them get them comfortable with the professional-level exams they are likely to face in the future.

If you're a younger student with an interest in technology, talk to your teachers about the possibility of earning industry-recognized credentials as part of the regular curriculum. And if you're an IT educator or administrator, finding ways to make certification exams available as part of the curriculum can open up opportunities for students far down the road, as spare them from having to invest the money in entry-level certs when they are out on their own.

Choose the Cert That's Right for You

Some certifications, even vendor-neutral ones, might prepare you for a very specific kind of career. If that's not the career you are looking for, then it's not the cert you'll want to reach for first. Likewise some certifications may look good but don't carry the industry heft you're looking for.

When deciding what certification to pursue, check what other people in the field say about what pays off (there are a ton of IT pros out there discussing such things online these days). Reliable certification bodies also recognize that certificants want to get the most out of their investment, and so organizations like tech industry association CompTIA have come up with "pathways" that point you to a cluster of certs specifically geared toward one job role.

Being aware of exactly the certifications needed to get where you want to go, or get the raise you're looking for, will allow you to target and fine-tune your learning, skill building and financial investment to that end.

Does Your Employer Incentivize Certification

Some employers have their pay ladder and job roles directly pegged to industry certifications, so earning the right one can set you up right away for a bump in pay and responsibility. In fact, because certifications are held in such high regard, some employers are even willing to cover or subsidize the cost of particular certs as part of their internal professional development programs.

An employer set up with these kinds of perks will save you money when you earn certifications and support your long-term professional roadmap. More to the point, if and when you want to move on to another company, you bring that value with you, stepping into a higher-paying, higher-responsibility role commensurate with the certs you've earned.

Use Certs to Acquire (or Revisit) Foundational Skills

If you're in an area that's IT-adjacent, like software development, then you may find yourself interacting with other teams and encountering concepts that ring a bell but that you either haven't focused on in a while, or never really took a deep dive into. Certifications can offer a way to better understand the constellation of technologies in your periphery.

Having a robust understanding of the full tech ecosystem is certain to help you do your job more effectively, and you may even take on responsibilities you might not have considered before. This can give you new options, helping you develop your career in a new and more profitable direction.

Eye on the Future

Whether you're trying to launch an IT career, get a raise or make a move into a new area of the field, certifications can be one of the most valuable tools in your toolbox for building skills and impressing potential employers. By taking a strategic approach, you can ensure that any certification is more than just an eye-catching entry on your résumé.

With foresight and planning, your certifications will continue to actively enhance your career long after you earn them — making the payoff well worth the time and money you put in.

Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Matthew Stern

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