Why IT Certifications Should be Important to IT StudentsSeptember 19, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Posted in Certification Paths | 6 Comments
Tags: certification, ITCC
Some time ago, ITCC requested we write a white paper about why IT certifications should be important to IT students. Recently someone here at Kaplan reached into the file cabinet and pulled out an old, very dusty copy of this document. After some arm twisting (and chocolate – chocolate always works!), I was convinced to take a look at it once more and see if the topic was still relevant today. With just a tiny bit of editing, we thought this was a great topic to revisit. So here it is…
In this economy, every job candidate needs an edge over the competition. Sure, there’s no replacement for experience, but employers view certain certifications as an indicator of a job candidate’s ability to perform. Not all IT students, however, pursue industry certifications as part of the core curriculum.
Although a job may not require it, certifications can help recent grads by differentiating them as job candidates and validating their knowledge when they don’t have years of work history. They can also provide career advancement opportunities and personal growth if kept current.
Here are some key points about certifications:
1. Job Candidate Differentiation
If you’ve attended any job fairs, you’ve seen firsthand just how much competition is out there for every job. A single position or opening may draw hundreds of applicants. Meanwhile, the individual or committee responsible for combing through all these resumes can often find very little “on paper” to differentiate between the applicants.
Job candidates in the IT field can provide that differentiation by including any IT and professional certifications in their resume. It does not matter if you choose to pursue CompTIA vendor-neutral certifications or the technology-specific certifications offered by major players like Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle. What matters is that obtaining these certifications can be the difference between standing out in the crowd of applicants or blending into the background.
2. Career Advancement
Once you’ve been hired, certifications can help you advance in your career. Employers may even have certification requirements as part of your professional development plan. You should always ensure that your certifications are kept up to date, either through recertification or by satisfying the continuing education (CE) requirements.
In addition, you may want to obtain new certifications to branch into a different IT career. For example, you may be hired as a help desk technician while having earned CompTIA’s A+ certification. After some time on the job, you may determine that you want to step into a network administration or server administration role, and decide to pursue a Cisco or Microsoft certification as the first step toward reaching that career goal.
Keep in mind that it’s often easier to maintain a certification than to re-certify. Make sure you understand the requirements for maintaining the credential because most requirements are time-sensitive. You don’t want to fulfill the CE requirements for a particular certification, only to find that you waited too long to submit your activities for acceptance as CE units. Also, ensure that you track CE-related activities as they occur rather than waiting until you have to renew, so that you don’t have to dig through files and old emails to find the right date or documentation.
3. Validation of Knowledge
Depending on the IT program, you may be exposed to a completely different set of classes and subjects than your peers enrolled in a different program. Because there are so many differences between the various college information systems programs, it’s often hard for an employer to determine exactly what knowledge the candidate possesses. This is where IT certifications can really help you.
All certification vendors publish a list of the skills that are measured by any certification exam they offer. If you pass the certification exam, employers can refer to these vendor lists and easily determine the skills that are validated by the certification. These skills lists will also be a good guide for you as you look to specialize your skills through certification.
For example, if you want to be considered a security specialist, you may want to obtain the Security+ certification from CompTIA, the CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP) certification from CompTIA, and/or the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification from (ISC)2. Don’t know which one is right for you? Just refer to the skills lists for each of these certification exams as a guide.
Certain vendors, such as Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle, also offer different tracks that allow professionals to specialize in other areas, such as network administration, database administration, and application development. These tracks
typically offer entry-level credentials and paths to continue building your skills with advanced level certifications.
4. Personal Growth
While certifications can help you achieve career advancement goals, they can also be used as personal milestones. As a technology professional, you already understand that your skillset must be constantly upgraded to include the latest tools and techniques. Setting personal goals that include new IT certifications ensures that you are constantly expanding your knowledge base. As IT professionals, we cannot afford to stop learning. Even if your job requirements do not dictate that you should obtain new certifications, personal growth and education should always be a goal. When in doubt, ask yourself, “If I lost my job tomorrow, would my certifications still be marketable? What would make my resume unique in today’s job market?”
Several years ago, Kaplan joined the IT Certification Council (ITCC). If you’ve never heard of this organization, here’s a brief description:
The ITCC is a council of IT industry leaders focused on promoting IT certifications and committed to growing professional certifications, while recognizing the need for a qualified workforce to support the world’s technology needs. The ITCC is a resource for employers, government officials, academia, and individuals seeking information about the many benefits of IT certification. The council establishes industry best practices, markets the value of certification, enhances exam security, and works on other certification issues the Council identifies.
Other members include leading certification vendors, including Microsoft, LPI, and CompTIA, and content or test providers, including Pearson VUE and Prometric. I encourage you to look into this group if your organization is involved in any way in the IT certification industry.
Feel free to share this blog post with others you think it might help. Remember, we’re always here to help you in your certification goals. Got a specific certification question? Feel free to reach out to us through this blog, and we’ll do our best to provide advice.