Why IT Certifications Should be Important to IT Students

September 19, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Posted in Certification Paths | 6 Comments
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it cert graphic

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.


Transcender developers discuss the behind-the-scenes development strategy for practice exams

January 17, 2013 at 9:55 am | Posted in Kaplan IT Training news, Microsoft, Uncategorized, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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Our partners at Global Knowledge recently sat down with several members of the Transcender practice test development team — specifically George, Aima, and Josh — and picked our brains about “how their practice exams are developed and how they have evolved to keep up with changes coming from Microsoft. In the end, we learned that there are major challenges in writing practice exams that accurately reflect and teach students important exam concepts, Microsoft is moving towards more open standards, and customer feedback is crucial to developing and evolving Transcender practice exams.”

You can read the entire article here on the Global Knowledge blog: The Evolution of Microsoft Certification Practice Exams.

New from Sybex: Cisco Networking Essentials by Troy McMillan

November 22, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Posted in Cisco, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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Hot off the presses!

Sybex, the computer reference imprint of Wiley and Sons Publishing, has just released a new Cisco reference written by Troy McMillan, our primary Cisco practice test developer here at Transcender.

Although this guide could certainly be used by someone working toward their CCENT, CCNA, or even their Network+ certification,  Cisco Networking Essentials is not your typical “exam cram” book. In 400 pages, Troy presents a thorough overview of networking concepts in general, and their implementation with Cisco hardware in particular.  It’s designed to prepare the reader for certification-level classes and books. The target audience is career changers, self-study students, and students who need more in-depth explanations than are provided by boot camps and exam-cram courses.

 Because boot camps and short courses must present a huge amount of material in a short period of time, students may not have time to absorb fundamental concepts in depth. This book fills in those gaps and is an invaluable reference for people currently working the field or trying to change over into networking.

Diffuse Musings

July 29, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Posted in Technical Tips | Leave a comment
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Following up my Google+ post, I thought I would bring in technology innovation and adoption.  It is probably no surprise to you that not everyone jumps on new bandwagons as they roll through town, no matter what the purported benefits. When new technology innovations occur, acceptance differs by individual and time. Some innovations are absorbed rather dramatically, like the smartphone and the MP3 format, while others require some incubation before acceptance – such as Internet TV, Blu-ray, and the DVD. And countless other technologies never catch on.

Everett Rogers attempted to describe this phenomenon in his “Diffusion of Innovations” theory. According to Rogers, we go through a five-step process when determining whether to adopt a given technology:

  1. Knowledge. What is it? In this step, an individual gains awareness that a technology exists and its basic functionality.
  2. Persuasion. Do I like it? In this step, an individual gains a positive or negative view of the technology.
  3. Decision. Should I use it? In this step, an individual determines whether to adopt or reject the technology.
  4. Implementation. How should I use it? In this step, an individual looks for opportunities to use the technology.
  5. Confirmation. How did it work? In this step, an individual gains evaluates how well the technology works.

Although we may all go through the same steps, the speed of adoption can differ widely. Some people are more likely to embrace up-and-coming trends, while others rather until their friend join in. The bell-curve describing individual tolerance for innovation is described as follows:

Bell curve of Individual Innovativeness

This general predisposition can be described by the overall adoption rate, indicated by the following S-curve:

S-Curve of Adoption Rate

So, despite the drive by innovators and early adopters (16%), it is really adoption by the majority (68%) that catapults a technology into ubiquity.

Of course, when considering IT certification, there is also a correlation between the popularity of a specific certification exam and the technology on which it tests. The more widespread the adoption, the more popular the certification exam.

Out of curiosity, where do you fall in the innovation scale? Do you latch onto the latest and greatest, or do you wait for everyone else to try it first?

The (Software) Boys are Back in Town

June 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Posted in Certification Paths | Leave a comment
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Although some in the IT industry fear the Cloud and its implications for administrators, software development is back! In ranking over 200 jobs across various U.S. industries, CareerCast now ranks software engineer as the top job for 2011. Thanks to current trends in mobile and cloud technology, software engineering is very much in demand with an average income of $87,140.00.

According to a recent Forrester Research survey reported by Computerworld, the best way to motivate people in the IT industry is to give them interesting work. Although workers age 45 and over reported valuing job security higher than younger workers did, the most significant motivator for all IT workers was doing interesting work (ranked first by more than 70% of IT workers). This survey echoes the adage “do what you love” – or, at least, do an IT job that holds some level of interest for you.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but these kinds of trends are what motivates us to learn new technologies and get some certifications to prove to ourselves (and yes, maybe to our employer) just how much we know. And who better to help you along the road to learning than Transcender? So if you’re fearless & looking to inject new interest in your IT job, check out our newest practice test product release: MSCert: Pro – Designing and Developing Windows Applications Using Microsoft .NET Framework 4, Cert-70-518 C# and VB.

Microsoft Learning YouTube Channel

March 23, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Posted in Certification Paths, Microsoft, Study hints, Technical Tips | Leave a comment
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A few weeks ago, I saw an announcement of  Microsoft Learning’s YouTube channel.  It contains videos on troubleshooting server products, tutorials on technologies and certifications and related career profiles. Recently, they added some playlists on the Microsoft Master program, managing SharePoint 2010, and the desktop experience in Windows 7.

I think these are well worth the time to watch (and the price is certainly right). For example, if you’re new to Microsoft certifications, you might want to learn about specialty items like case studies/testlets and active screen. You certainly don’t want the first time you see these things to be when you are taking the exam!  The YouTube videos provide a good introduction to these item types:


So check out the Microsoft Learning YouTube Channel and let us know what you think!

And just to show that I’m not all-Microsoft-all-the-time, if you’re a CompTIA certified professional, a fan of our Transcender Trainers, or just can’t get enough of YouTube videos – we have some great information on our very own Transcender Trainers Channel as well, so be sure to check us out!

Certification and the Real World

October 9, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Posted in Study hints | 1 Comment
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Editor’s note: Josh addresses the (somewhat frustrated) perception that the solutions you use in the daily world might never show up on certification exam scenarios, while somewhat obscure concepts…often do.

“You would never do that in the real world!”

Having been employed in the IT world for over fifteen years, I know the frustration of taking time out of your job (or your job search) to get certified for the “real world,” only to find out the exam expects you to run an operating system or application in the mystical land of Oz. You’ve heard it many times before, but it’s especially true when it comes to certification: you’re not in Kansas anymore.

In the past few years, certification has definitely embraced new technologies to emulate the workplace environment and evaluate job competency, like case studies or emulation environments. But a certification will never become your workplace. (Otherwise, the test writers of the world would take your jobs.) Exams have to test you on every function of an application or system, even if you could perform your current job using one-tenth of the available commands. But you’re getting certified to prove you’re more than a button-pusher or mouse-mover; you’re here to prove that you’re a tech wiz.

So, to help you get over the Oz culture shock, I have gathered a few tips about the way certification exams are structured, and some tips for navigating them:

  • Follow the yellow brick road – In an effort to connect questions to the “real world,” many vendors will add long, fluffy scenarios to seemingly straightforward questions. This “mood music” begins nice and easy (“You are an administrator…”), but as the lights dim, the scenario ends abruptly with a heart-thumping chord. Before getting carried away by the fluff nuance, skip down to those last couple of sentences to find out what they’re really asking. Once you have a good handle where the question is leading, go back and re-read the scenario with that core concept in mind. In some cases, the scenario isn’t even required to answer the question. In other cases, it provides the one key detail that separates the right answer from a similar alternative.
  • Avoid the poppies– Most certification exams do not have the luxury of being subtle. Certain objectives must be covered with a minimum amount of interpretation. This will require some exams to rely heavily on vendor documentation and/or customer feedback. So, remember Occam’s Razor and don’t be afraid to pick the simple or obvious answer, because often that answer is the correct one. If you’re not sure, then mark that item (if possible) and go back to it, but avoid second-guessing your first impulse. Unless you have a reason to reconsider your answer, you will be better leaving it alone.
  • If you only had a brain…. Continue Reading Certification and the Real World…

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