I got an AA in COBOL back when key punch cards [still existed]. I’ve worked for ISPs, software companies and Web developers, but mostly on the sales side. I’ve read A+, I-Net+ and NT, but never pursued the certifications because I read that they were obsolete or overcrowded. I want to break into the tech support world and would like to work remotely for virtual companies. Which certifications would you recommend to give me the best chance of getting a job relatively quickly? Also, what is the cost, difficulty and viability of the certs?
We’re going to have to look at this question realistically and break it down into manageable points to work on:
- You want to break into IT. Right now, the only advice I can give you is to start sending out your resume and cover letter, even before you get qualified. Also, forget about your ideal IT job right now. Pursuing only certain positions will limit your options, and it’s a lot easier to move around once you’ve made it into the IT field.
- You want to know which certifications you should go for and if they’re worth it. I’m going to lay it straight: There is no magic certification or qualification that will get you in. That said, I suggest you start with the basics and work your way up.
In the support world, I recommend the CompTIA A+, Network+ and the Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST). These are entry-level/level-1 certifications.
As for how much these certs cost, that is hard to nail down, as only the exam prices are fixed. How you decide to learn will dictate how much it will cost. Study materials or courses can range from $60 to $4,000.
And are the exams worth it? Yes. For the entry-level positions, earning a credential shows you’re willing to take initiative. Keep in mind, however, that obtaining higher-level certs without relevant experience gives mixed signals. A hiring professional might ask himself, “Is this person only using this job as a stepping stone, and will he leave after six months?”
In a difficult economy, obtaining one or two certifications to find a job is going to be nearly impossible. The solution to locating a position quickly is a combination of skills, experience, certification and, to some degree, persistence. That said, there are a few credentials that more closely complement the types of jobs you are looking for.
For entry-level tech support, focus on a specific area. For example, for desktop help, you may want to consider Comp’s A+ credential, combined with certifications on the operating system or application that you intend to support. If it’s the Microsoft platform, for example, pursue the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP): Enterprise Support Technician credential.
You also may need to reassess your job targets. It is highly unlikely that, when just breaking into the industry, you would get a job that involves telecommuting. Despite a strong background (I’m thinking here of your COBOL experience) you may have to take a step back to move into an area that you are not as strongly qualified for.
If you have a solid background in management and development or related disciplines, you may be able to focus your job applications a little bit higher in the management hierarchy to a position that is perhaps not as heavily technical. For example, the first-line manager of a help desk may not have to be as hands-on technical, but he or she will need platform knowledge while being able to leverage managing and sales experience.
Further, realize that the present market means many very qualified technical professionals have been laid off and may be going for the same jobs you are. As a result, you may need to invest more in your skills.