How to Get the Most Value out of an IT Certification

A recent article in CIO magazine discusses the value of IT certification and the difficulties of selecting just the right one to advance your career. Subhash Tantry, president of certification, testing and assessment platform provider Mettl, is quick to point out that the best certifications often include a performance metric—a lab component that proves you can apply what you’ve learned in real life situations. Another pitfall is the marketing associated with the certification—industry analysts warn against letting certification promotion cloud your decision on which certifications to choose. Lastly, the article touts benefits like building soft skills, increased marketability to employers, and rapid acclimation for new hires who hold IT certifications. Fantastic, but here’s my question: how does the career IT professional navigate this given the full spectrum of career paths and specialties?

While clearly targeted at businesses and making the argument that the investment in training and certification is critical for IT staffers, the question lies open to the individual—how do I navigate this? Recently, CompTIA announced that it had issued its one millionth A+ certification. That’s right: 1,000,000. This is a beginner’s certification and it goes without saying that many of the holders of A+ certifications have gone on to develop their careers and earn increasingly complex certifications. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth your time if you’re just starting out.

Here are some ideas that may get you started:

1. Browse the job boards. Whether or not you’re looking for a job or interested in a particular company, browsing job boards is an excellent indicator of what the market wants for your area of interest. If employers are requiring certain skills repeatedly, it’s definitely something to research further.

2. Watch the news. For instance, data breaches are always big news. As criminals get more inventive, so will the IT security professionals charged with protecting data.

3. Read industry publications. Following trade publications that target different groups and topics, managers, executives, trend-setters, and so forth will help you gain a broader understanding of industry movement. Be aware of what’s coming next so that you can allocate your training and certification dollars wisely and with an eye toward future development. A quick glance around tells you that IT skills are constantly evolving and you don’t want to be left behind.

4. Find the path to your dream job. It's a safe observation that even though no one wants to remain in an entry-level job for their entire career, you have to start somewhere. Defining your interests and matching them with IT specialties will help you set career goals. From there, there are tools to help you determine your path and the certifications you need to earn to get there. CompTIA’s Career Roadmap is a vendor-neutral resource. It’s also updated regularly, making it easy to see how you get from “A” to “B” if you are starting today.

The one thing that is agreed upon by all participants in the article is that ongoing IT investment and certification is a sound investment in your career—particularly performance-oriented training and certification programs which have the advantage of proving that you can apply what you learned.

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