With unemployment currently worse than at any time since the Carter recession more than thirty years ago, many individuals are looking at IT certifications to help them get hired, earn raises, or even just keep their current positions. But does that strategy pay off? We’ll take an in-depth look.
The Benefits of IT Certifications
IT certifications offer a variety of benefits to different candidates. Let’s evaluate some of the various claims.
An IT Certification Will Help You Get a Job
This is the most accurate claim. To get a job, you first have to get an interview. In most companies these interviews are arranged by human resource specialists. These HR specialists are not normally knowledgeable about the constantly changing field of information technology. In most cases they will not understand the requirements of the job opening and they also won’t understand the details documented in your resume. Many HR professionals simply scan resumes looking for target keywords such as “MCSE”, “CCNP”, or “PMP”. If your resume contains those keywords, you will receive a phone call and probably an interview. If your resume does not contain those keywords, you may be overlooked for positions for which you are well qualified.
An IT Certification Will Help You Earn a Promotion
This claim is only true in limited circumstances. In most cases, your supervisors will know who they want to promote and will do so based upon their own criteria. However, if you are working in a large department, earning a professional certification can demonstrate that you are serious about your career and that you are therefore worthy of consideration for promotion. For promotion purposes, it is hard to beat the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification.
An IT certification can also help qualify you for a transfer to another department, which may count as a promotion. If you are working in a tech support department, for example, earning your MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) certificate may help to earn you a transfer (and promotion) to the server department.
An IT Certification Will Help You Earn a Raise
This is not usually directly true, but is sometimes indirectly true. Few employers base compensation on certification status. However, an IT certification will make your employer see you as being more easily employable elsewhere and they will often realize that they must increase your salary in order to retain you.
If you add up the costs of exams, training courses, books and CBTs, certification can involve a significant cash investment. Adding in the value of the time you spend training and studying can make the investment appear overwhelming.
The minimal cost of a certification for which you already know the material is the exam fee — usually $100 or $150. If you buy books to self-study, add in another $100. For CBT’s, add in another $100 to $500. Classroom training courses can add several thousand dollars to your costs. The value of your time is something that only you can define.
Next, let’s look at the value of that investment.
Crunching the Numbers
If an IT certification shortens your job search from two months to one month and you earn $60,000/yr, then the IT certification put an extra $5,000 in your pocket. If that same certification earns you a promotion, transfer, or raise that increases your salary by $10,000/yr, then over three years that certification is worth $30,000 to you.
Those are pretty significant numbers, but in the end only you can decide if certification is part of your plan for career success.