Despite the issues associated with IT certifications, they can give you a leg up on the competition and advance your IT career.
Five years ago, I posted the following Facebook update to friends and family: “Passed my 20th Cisco certification exam today to recertify all my professional level certs for three more years. This may be the last time I bother.”
But here were are in 2016, and I’ve taken four additional certification exams since that post in 2011, when I questioned whether certification was worth the effort. Over the years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the certification process. But in the end, the career benefits of having technology certifications far outweigh the amount of time and effort put in to earn them.
It is true that the value of some IT certifications is far greater than others. And I’ll concede that there are real problems with people gaming the system to become certified “on paper,” but still lack any true knowledge or skill. I will also say that experience trumps certifications almost every time when comparing qualifications between IT professionals. All that said, there still are several substantial reasons why IT certifications still matter in 2016.
On the following pages, I will present eight reasons why IT certifications are not only a great way to advance your IT career, but also why they assist in guiding you toward areas of IT you are actually interested in. The benefits of IT certifications go far and beyond simply receiving a piece of paper to tack to your cubicle. Instead, they should be thought of as a method to assist you in navigating your IT career.
I understand that there are dramatically different opinions on the subject of the usefulness of IT certifications and I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on the subject. Are you staunchly for or against IT certifications? Or perhaps you’re like me and have had a change of heart over time? Add your thoughts in the comments section below.
Headhunters search for certification keywords
The single biggest reason that certifications still matter are so headhunters can easily find you using database keyword searches. Your online resume or LinkedIn profile could list all the experience in the world, but if headhunters are searching for certification keywords -- which they often do -- you're going to be overlooked.
Expand your knowledge
When I begin the process of studying for a new IT certification, there are usually study topics Im already familiar with because I work with the technology on a daily basis. But just as often, I learn material on topics I've either never touched or present a different viewpoint on a topic I thought I already understood. Simply put, studying for certifications broadens our technological horizons and takes us out of our comfort zone from time to time.
If you have no experience, certifications are better than nothing
If you are looking to break in to a new line of work, but don't have any hands-on experience, a certification is a decent place to start. If anything, it shows prospective employers/managers that you really want to learn, and are willing to take the extra steps necessary to gain specific skill set.
Certifications create networks of like-minded people
Whether you are currently studying for or have already completed a specific certification, you can join online discussion forums with peers who also are working toward a certification exam. For most of the popular IT certifications, there are plenty of websites where you can ask/answer questions that prospective test takers have. In several instances, Ive kept in touch with those Ive met on certification forums.
Better discounts for consulting firms
If you work for an IT consulting company, your certifications can be incredibly valuable to your employer. Not only can your certifications be used to sell services to prospective clients, but technology vendors often sell their products at substantial discounts to vendors that employ staff with specific levels and numbers of certifications. There are some vendors that even require specific certifications before they allow the consulting company to sell a specific product to clients. As an employee working for a consulting company, your certifications can add tremendous value in terms of overall discounts and the portfolio of services they can offer to their clients. And that value should translate into a better salary for you.
Certification is the best measuring stick we have
Even if you don't like the idea of technology certifications, they really are the only measuring stick we have when it comes to competence. Unless you can personally verify the proficiency of an uncertified individual, you really have to go on someone's word that they are qualified on a specific set of skills. With a certified individual, those skills have at least been tested to a set threshold.
Helps find your niche
Some of the best certifications out there are those that focus on a very specific technology or subset of technologies. This gives IT professionals a chance to figure out what they want, and become experts at a specific trade. Finding a niche and becoming skilled at one or two specific technologies is a great way to differentiate from others who are seen as IT generalists.
Chasing the "hot certification of the moment" can be a great career strategy
As IT professionals, we're in an industry that's constantly changing. Figuring out which certification is hot and then passing the exam(s) for it can make a huge difference in staying relevant in IT. Chasing trends and backing up skills with certifications can be a great career strategy for many technology professionals.