An industry-recognized certification can provide you with a competitive edge whether you’re looking for a new position or trying to advance within your current firm. However, the biggest challenge when it comes to earning a professional designation is often determining which one to pursue.
Here are the four most in-demand certifications, according to Robert Half Technology’s staffing and recruiting professionals across the United States:
Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): Offered by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)², this vendor-neutral information security accreditation covers 10 domains, including access control, cryptography, operations security, and security architecture and design. To earn a CISSP, you must meet certain experience requirements and achieve a scaled score of 700 or greater on the CISSP exam. The credential also must be renewed every three years. According to CIOs polled for the latest “Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report,” the second most challenging functional area to fill is security, increasing the appeal of job candidates with a CISSP designation.
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE): This certification focuses on the design and implementation of these particular infrastructures. It’s recommended that you have one to two years of experience working with network systems before pursuing the accreditation. Earning the MCSE certification demonstrates a commitment to professional development because you must have a wide range of knowledge and pass seven exams to obtain it.
Although the MCSE designation is in particularly high demand, job candidates who have earned any Microsoft certification have an edge in the job market. Because of the ubiquity of Microsoft applications, accreditations that demonstrate your knowledge of these technologies will continue to be sought by employers.
Project Management Professional (PMP): If you want to validate your project management abilities, this credential, offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), may be for you. You must have between three and five years of project management experience to take the exam, and the certification must be maintained by earning 60 Professional Development Units over a three-year period. The increasing complexity of IT projects, and the need to involve individuals from all over the organization in these engagements, has led to the demand for verifiable project management skills.
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA): This vendor-specific accreditation authenticates the bearer’s ability to administer medium-size route and switched Cisco networks. To earn the certification, you can either pass the 640-802 CCNA exam or both the 640-822 Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 1 (ICND1) and 640-816 ICND2 exams. The CCNA designation is valid for three years, after which you must pass one of various possible exams to renew it.
Fifty-eight percent of CIOs polled for the “Hiring Index” ranked network administration as the technical skill set in greatest demand within their IT departments, further demonstrating the marketability of professionals with the CCNA credential.
Although earning one of the above certifications could be advantageous for your career, that doesn’t mean doing so is the necessarily the best move for you to make. Before pursuing any professional designation, you must ask yourself the following questions:
Which certification is right for me? Take into account your experience, current position and future professional goals. For instance, if you have a project management background and want to further your career in that area, a PMP certification could be extremely valuable. However, if you have no networking experience, it’s unlikely that a CCNA accreditation will boost your marketability. It’s important to understand that a certification can’t take the place of experience. Rather, it is best used to support relevant experience you already possess.
How much time and money are involved? Between books, study aids, training courses and exams, there will be costs involved. But there may be ways to reduce these expenses. If you’re currently employed, your company may offer financial assistance with your education. If you’re unemployed, you might consider registering with an IT staffing firm, some of which offer free training courses, test preparation and sample exams.
The time commitment can vary dramatically depending on the designation you are pursuing. The MCSE certification requires you to take seven exams, for instance, while the CCNA designation will perhaps only require one. Also keep in mind that some credentials require ongoing study to remain valid.
How much of an impact will a certification have on my career? This question is hard to answer. According to the Robert Half Technology 2010 Salary Guide, a credential can increase starting salary by up to 10 percent. But not all certifications are created equal. Those less in demand may not boost your compensation at all or increase your appeal to potential employers by any noticeable amount. You may want to consult members of your professional network, especially those who have earned a certification you hope to obtain, or an IT recruiter for additional insight.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.