Certification ROI: Biggest Bang for Your Buck
Getting certified is an expensive and time-consuming process. Although most will say it’s worth the time and money, few people look forward to squandering their savings on classes and study guides.
There are ways, though, that both entry-level and expert IT pros can pinch pennies during the certification process, according to Anne Martinez, author of “Get Certified and Get Ahead.”
The first step, of course, is to identify the certification that is going to make the biggest difference in your career, she said. Having clearly defined goals will keep you from wasting time and money studying for a certification you might later realize won’t take you where you want to go.
To choose the appropriate certification, Martinez suggests people look at their desired specialty and decide whether they want to get certified in something they already know or use certification as a blueprint to learn something.
They also should decide whether a vendor-neutral or product-specific cert will be best suited to their goals, she said.
After identifying the appropriate certification, people have several study options from which to choose. The cheapest option is to study independently, using study guides and online resources.
This can be an effective technique, but many students feel disadvantaged without the instructor-led discussion and hands-on training offered in a structured course, Martinez said.
To overcome these obstacles, she said students can buy used hardware or trial versions of software to practice on at home. For some certifications, they also can look for simulators online that will allow them to get experience without putting a real system at risk.
Community colleges also offer courses that are generally inexpensive and can give students the guided, hands-on experience they want at a price they can afford, Martinez said.
Additionally, there are several tax breaks people can use to subsidize the certification process. Although Martinez said people should contact their tax professional for the specifics, those who are advancing in their career or furthering a personal business often can claim certification costs as a business expense.
Those using certification to help them start a new career might qualify for either the Lifetime Learning credit or the Hope Scholarship credit, Martinez said.
Also, as long as they go through an accredited program, the Department of Veterans Affairs generally will reimburse members of the military for certification costs.
Another way to get the most for your money is to take advantage of the perks that frequently come with certification. Letting your employer know you have a new certification, even if the company wouldn’t pay for it, often can lead to raises, promotions or better project assignments, Martinez said.
Further, aligning yourself with a certification company can provide several unexpected benefits.
“You should consider adding yourself to a directory of certified people that may be held by your certification vendor,” Martinez said “And you should always make sure you know what perks come with your certification because, in some cases, you will get discounts on trainings, conferences or products that you can use to save money, as well.”