Salary Survey Extra: Does having more certs = getting more salary?

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Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our annual Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

Should the average IT professional who wants a bigger salary get more certs? Let's investigate.There’s a song in the Broadway production of Mean Girls — yes, there is a Broadway production of Mean Girls based on the 2004 movie with Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams — in which the main character belts out a song titled “More Is Better.” There’s, ahem, more to the song than just the accumulatory vibe of its title, but there’s no denying that a lot of people believe that having more of a good thing is better than having less of it.

Take IT certifications, for example. We can probably all agree that certifications are a good thing. Becoming certified directly adds to the base of knowledge and skills than any IT pro relies on to both find employment and stay employed. And getting a certification strengthens valuable workplace intangibles like goal-setting, patience, and time management.

Certification also helps any committed individual maintain a learning mindset, as well as build up his or her ability to assimilate new information and turn it to productive use. Those are worthwhile assets in any career, but especially helpful in IT. If certification provides all of those benefits, then it would stand to reason that earning and maintaining more certifications, at least up to a point, would lead to greater success in the workplace.

Roughly 78 percent of the more than 5,000 respondents to our 2020 Salary Survey have six or fewer active certifications. To break it down a little further, that’s more than three-quarters of all survey respondents who have either one (20.8 percent of respondents), two (17.1 percent), three (13.7 percent), four (10.4 percent), five (9.8 percent), or six (5.8 percent) current IT credentials.

There’s a comparative trickle of respondents thereafter, with smaller numbers of folks who have seven (3.3 percent of those surveyed), eight (3.3 percent), nine (1.9 percent), 10 (4.1 percent), 11 (0.8 percent), 12 (1.6 percent), 13 (0.6 percent), 14, (0.6 percent), or 15 (0.6 percent) active certifications.

That’s not quite everyone, of course. The survey lets you indicate whether you 16 or more active certifications. Think about that: 16 active IT certifications … or (gulp) some number that’s more than 16. (25? 32? More than that?) That group is where you’ll find the remaining 5.6 percent of all survey respondents. Those folks are made of something rare and precious. We salute them.

We covered some of that ground in the January issue of Certification Magazine, albeit with fewer details. Here’s what we didn’t cover at the time, and what we’re curious about today. Generally speaking, does having more certs mean that you also earn more money? Is there any degree of correlation? This is what turned up when we crunched the numbers:

Total Number of CertificationsAverage Annual Salary (U.S.)Average Annual Salary (Non-U.S.)
1$94,070$35,430
2$94,210$44,760
3$104,280$50,350
4$102,280$41,760
5$112,620$52,070
6$106,300$67,360
7$106,130$67,570
8$110,100$65,490
9$98,390$54,440
10$112,210$65,300
11N/AN/A
12$113,330$64,670
13N/AN/A
14N/AN/A
15N/AN/A
16 or more$122,310$62,310

2019 Salary Data

In general terms, there is an overall upward trend in salary that corresponds to the increase in number of active IT certifications held. You can see it much more clearly in countries outside the United States, although the overall pattern is there in the U.S. numbers as well.

As we’ve seen from drawing up similar tables in previous years, if you’re on a career path that draws heavily on one or two key certifications, and doesn’t require constant renewal of any others, then you can probably still do just fine for yourself. At the bottom of the table, where a large range of certifications is represented by a single data point, there is a strong spike in salary for U.S. professionals.

Deeper down the chart, of course, we ran into the expected problem of not having enough individual respondents who hold a certain specific number of certs to create a reliable average.

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CertMag Staff

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Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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