Many IT professionals think like free agents, expecting sheer talent will guarantee career advancement. But you still need to demonstrate that talent to employers. By taking the time and effort to earn an IT certification, you can quickly show hiring managers your mastery of a particular technology or practice.
That helps you secure work faster, command a higher income, advance your career more quickly — and even increase job satisfaction by committing to lifelong learning.
So whether you’re a seasoned tech pro looking to expand your skills or a recent grad aiming to impress a prospective employer, passing an IT certification exam is a great way to make yourself stand out from the crowd.
You can earn certification in a wide range of IT practices, from help desk basics to mastery in managing complex cloud environments. Here’s a roundup of some of the IT certifications in the highest demand.
This tech giant makes some of the most widely used software packages and operating systems in the world, and that means an MCP certification can serve you across various job categories and industries.
Recently, Microsoft reorganized its certification program to align to five key technology pillars: server, desktop, applications, database and developer. Each pillar has multiple sub-specialties, with certifications that demonstrate varying levels of expertise, from associate to master.
The most valuable certifications include:
- MOS: A Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS), MOS Expert or MOS Master certification demonstrates your competence in Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Access, SharePoint, OneNote and Exchange. Not just for administrative professionals, these certifications are also helpful for tech workers in cloud computing and general tech support.
- MCSE: By passing the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) exam, you show that you have the skills to manage servers, data systems, storage, private clouds, networking and more.
- MCSD: Getting a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) certification shows that you have what it takes to design and create apps across a wide range of Windows products.
A professional organization devoted to IT security and governance, ISACA manages five global certification programs, including:
- CISA: According to the ISACA, the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) is its cornerstone exam. As the name indicates, this exam is aimed at information systems (IS) professionals who monitor, control and assess a company’s IT or business systems. This certificate requires five years of professional experience in the field.
- CISM: The leading credential for information security managers, the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification is designed for people who design, build and manage information security programs. To qualify, you must have at least five years of IS experience and three years as a security manager.
- CRISC: The Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC, pronounced SEE-risk) accredits professionals and project managers responsible for information security and its overall impact on the enterprise. IT covers risk identification, risk assessment, risk response and mitigation, and risk control monitoring and reporting.
- CGEIT: Standing for Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT, the CGEIT demonstrates your understanding of enterprise IT governance principles and practices. It is one of the most sought-after certifications in IT, commanding among the highest salaries.
- CSX: In a time of constantly evolving cybersecurity threats, this certification demonstrates that you are up-to-date on the most current security standards and risks.
Certifications in cloud computing
As cloud computing is increasingly becoming the new normal in IT, there are an increasing number of cloud credentials available, many of which are specific to individual vendors, including Microsoft, VMware and Amazon. There are also a few certifications that focus on more general practices across this fast-growing technology. Top certifications include:
- CompTIA Cloud Essentials and CompTIA Cloud+: Offered by the Computing Technology Industry Association, The CompTIO Cloud Essentials certification covers both cloud computing and virtualization skills. The Cloud+ certification represents the next step up from the Essentials certification.
- MCSE - Cloud Platform and Infrastructure: By passing this exam, you testify to your skills across a wide set of Microsoft's cloud technologies, including storage, networking, virtualization, and systems and identity management.
- VCP6 - DCV: Virtualization is the foundation of cloud computing, and VMware offers this certification in managing data center virtualizing via VMware's vSphere 6.0 and vRealize within cloud environments.
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Professional: Amazon is the largest provider of cloud computing services, and this certification affirms your ability to design and deploy cloud environments using Amazon Web Services.
Find out how to shift your IT career to the cloud.
Project management is indispensable to IT operations. Even if you're tech-focused, it can be a very valuable soft skill to acquire. And because project management involves planning, scheduling, budgeting and execution, certification can be a key stepping-stone to managerial positions.
- CAPM: Offered by the highly respected Project Management Institute (PMI), the Certified Associate in Project Management is an ideal entry-level credential.
- PMP: Also offered by PMI, the Project Management Professional (PMP) credential is among the most prestigious in the profession. A number of sub-specialty certifications are also available.
- CSM: The entry-level Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certification is offered by the Scrum Alliance. It is an excellent way to show your knowledge of Scrum and Agile management practices.
Help desk certifications
Many IT professionals begin their careers in technical support and help desk roles. And to give students a leg up, schools are increasingly offering courses that specifically prepare students to gain help desk certification.
You can gain certification in either help desk functions as a whole, or you can concentrate on a specific vendor's platforms and products.
- HDI certification: Formerly called the Help Desk Institute, HDI offers certifications that range from the entry-level HDI Desktop Support Technician to the HDI Support Center Director. The HDI Technical Support Professional (HDI-TSP) certification is particularly popular with hiring managers. They also offer credentials for support center analysts, team leaders and customer service representatives.
- AXELOS: This UK organization is charged with promoting best practices for ITIL, formerly an acronym for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, a widely accepted framework for managing IT service delivery.
- Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP): You can demonstrate your expertise on OS X for Mac with this certification from Apple.
Certifications in database, analytics and other data technologies
Database technologies remain foundational to IT operations, while growth in Big Data and analytics initiatives is driving new career opportunities. Certifications tend to be built around a single provider's platform, including:
- Oracle Certified Professional: Oracle, the world's leading database provider, offers certification in a range of database professions, from database administration and database application development to analytics, data warehousing and big data.
- SAP Certified Technology Associate - SAP HANA: This certification demonstrates your ability to install, manage, monitor, migrate and troubleshoot SAP's database technology.
- Microsoft SQL Server Database Certification: Like Oracle, Microsoft offers a range of certifications, including database administration, business intelligence and data management and analytics.
- CCIE Data Center: This Cisco certification demonstrates expert-level skills required to plan, prepare, operate, monitor and troubleshoot complex data center networks.
According to the Robert Half Technology Salary Guide, employers prefer to hire certified professionals, especially those who also have college degrees and real-world experience. Those who put in the effort to obtain credentials can expect larger salaries and quicker movement up the career ladder, not to mention a healthy shot of self-confidence.
This post has been updated to reflect more current information.