When it comes to IT certifications, some pay off – in more ways than one. Many people in IT, from practitioners to C-level execs, agree that relevant IT certifications can be valuable professional credentials, a sign of a particular specialization – or an overall commitment to continuous learning.
“Certifications are very important for a technology professional’s career,” says Ryan Sutton, district president at the recruiting firm Robert Half Technology. “Employers often place a great emphasis on them when hiring, as they want a candidate with current knowledge and a great deal of experience with a certain technology or area. And in an industry that changes as quickly as technology, certifications are a great way for professionals to show that they’re eager to advance their skills and learn new systems, software, and management practices.”
A certification is not a skeleton key that opens the door to any job you want – but it’s a legitimate calling card that says to a potential employer, “I take this seriously.”
[ Read also A practical guide to finding a new IT job in 2019. ]
Which IT certifications are worth your time?
Which certifications are worth pursuing for your career goals? This gets a little tricky; it’s tough to quantify their value for various reasons. Specific certifications come in and out of vogue, and their value is certainly subject to debate. A certification’s worth on the job market or in a salary review will change over time, due to hiring and technical trends.
This means evaluating certifications is as much an art as a science, requiring context: What is that certification worth now? (It’s also smart to consider emerging or under-the-radar credentials that might grow more popular. We’ve got you covered there, too.)
[ Read the full article: 15 IT certifications worth watching. ]
In its 2019 Salary Guide, Robert Half Technology identified 13 certifications or certification areas (meaning a skill or functional area that includes multiple potential certifications) as being particularly valuable right now. Each year, Robert Half polls its recruiting and staffing teams across North America and asks them which certifications they’re seeing especially high demand for among employers. These 13 came out on top for 2019 (note that some of these certifications have multiple levels or options, depending on the accrediting organization):
- Agile and Scrum (Example: Certified ScrumMaster®)
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
- Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
- CompTIA A+
- Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)
- IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL®)
- IT Service Management (ITSM: For some organizations, this might mean ITIL certification, but there are other frameworks and certifications that might be relevant here, such as COBIT 5.)
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
- MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure
- Project Management Professional (PMP®)
Why are these certifications commanding premiums on the job market right now?
“It’s all based on demand,” Sutton explains. “Professionals with these certifications can often receive higher salaries because IT teams need these skills on their teams.”
Cloud, security dominate IT certifications
That’s why you see themes in the list, such as the prevalence of cloud and security-related certifications. These are among the most in-demand hiring needs in IT at the moment, Sutton notes: Complementing your relevant skills and experience with one or more certifications in these areas strengthens your position and helps you stand out.
“Companies are increasingly focused on security, cloud projects, software development, and business intelligence, but we’re seeing a shortage of skilled talent in these areas,” Sutton says. “And they want professionals with top-notch skills in these areas, who demonstrate that they’re dedicated to their field and continued education. That’s why several security and cloud certifications are so valuable.” Keep tabs on your area of specialty to keep your certifications current.
The lineup of current Red Hat certifications also includes a number of cloud-minded options, for example.
You’ll also notice Robert Half’s recruiters are still seeing high demand for stalwarts like ITIL/ITSM and PMP, even as those fields evolve or the realities of modern IT stir healthy debate about traditional approaches to project management.
The salary bump
Acquiring certifications can literally pay off: Robert Half estimates that employers may tack on a five-to-ten percent salary premium for IT pros with “certain in-demand abilities;” the 13 certifications above being examples.
“When IT hiring managers find a candidate with these specific skill sets and certifications, they often need to offer a high salary to avoid losing the candidate to the competition,” Sutton says. “So if a professional earns one of these certifications, they may see higher salaries come in – or be able to negotiate for a raise in pay [with their current employer].”
[ Are you searching for a new IT job? Get expert advice: Download our IT job interview cheat sheet. ]
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Keep up with the latest advice and insights from CIOs and IT leaders.