IT certifications can open many doors throughout your career, especially when you’re searching for your next opportunity. Recruiters and hiring managers tend to look at the Certifications section of a tech resume before anything else.
Why? They want candidates with up-to-date knowledge, and IT certifications quickly show them a person’s mastery of a particular technology or practice — from help desk basics to mastery of complex cloud environments.
So whether you’re a recent graduate or seasoned tech specialist, preparing for and attaining a certification is a great way to expand your skill set, impress prospective employers and stand out from the crowd.
These are some of the most valuable IT certifications today, according to the 2020 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide:
- Certified data professional (CDP)
- Certified information systems security professional (CISSP)
- Cisco certified internetwork expert (CCIE)
- Cisco certified network associate (CCNA)
- Cisco certified network professional (CCNP)
- Certified information systems auditor (CISA)
- CompTIA A+
- Microsoft technology associate (MTA)
- Project management professional (PMP)
- Oracle certified professional
- Salesforce certified development lifecycle and deployment
- Certified Scrum master (CSM)
- AWS certified solutions architect
- Certified ethical hacker (CEH)
- Global information assurance certification (GIAC)
Each offers specialization in different aspects of IT. Here’s a guide showing which of these and related certifications may be best for you, depending on your experience level and areas of interest.
Best IT certifications for beginners
Just starting out in the IT field? The following are some of the best introductory certifications to help you get your first IT job:
CompTIA issues certifications for a variety of technologies and platforms, but one stands above the rest in terms of value to IT pros:
- CompTIA A+: Get started in IT with this foundational certificate. It’s all about hardware, technical support and troubleshooting. It also covers best practices in security, networking, operational procedures, mobile devices and various operating systems.
Tech giant Microsoft offers a selection of entry-level certifications covering a range of subjects, including:
- Windows operating system fundamentals
- Software development fundamentals
- Database fundamentals
- Windows Server administration fundamentals
- Networking fundamentals
- Security fundamentals
Each of these topics is a separate MTA. You can acquire multiple MTAs in a range of subjects if that’s what you need to get your career started. There’s no mandatory study or minimum professional experience required. Just take the exam when you feel prepared.
Best midlevel Microsoft certifications
When you’ve completed an MTA or other entry-level certification, you may consider an intermediate certification from Microsoft.
- Microsoft certified solutions expert (MCSE): MCSE certifications come in several specializations and show that you have the skills to manage servers, data systems, storage, private clouds, networking and more, depending on which you complete.
- Microsoft certified solutions developer (MCSD): Getting the MCSD certification shows that you have what it takes to design and create apps across a wide range of Windows products.
MCSE and MCSD are two of the most highly regarded certifications in tech. Either of these will add some sparkle to your IT resume.
Best certifications for networking
As Cisco is a leading provider of infrastructure products, a certificate from this company confirms that you’re versed in the latest developments and best practices in networking. The most essential are:
- Cisco certified network associate (CCNA): A step up from Cisco’s entry-level certification, CCNAs can specialize in one of the following areas: cloud, collaboration, cyber operations, data center, industrial/IoT, routing and switching, security, service provider and wireless.
- Cisco certified network professional (CCNP): After the associate level, the CCNP is a more advanced IT certificate in one of the above-mentioned specialty areas.
Best certifications for IT security
Hacking and cyberattacks are hot topics today, and many jobs in security and risk management are going unstaffed. The following are some of the most valuable IT certifications in this booming field.
A professional organization devoted to IT security and governance, ISACA manages five global certification programs, including:
- Certified information systems auditor: According to ISACA, the CISA is its cornerstone certification. 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.
- Certified information security manager: The leading credential for information security managers, the CISM 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.
- Certified in risk and information systems control: The 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.
- 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 some of the highest salaries.
- Cybersecurity nexus (CSX): In a time of constantly evolving cybersecurity threats, the CSX certification demonstrates that you are up to date on the most current security standards and risks.
Other valuable IT certifications for security include:
- Certified ethical hacker: EC-Council offers several certification programs, and one of the most popular is the CEH. Holders specialize in penetration testing, which is why this IT certificate is often a prerequisite for positions like cyber forensics analyst, cybersecurity engineer and applications developer.
- Certified information systems security professional: This is another cybersecurity certification in high demand. Designed for experienced IT professionals, CISSP holders understand vulnerabilities in networked systems and create policies to safeguard systems and minimize risk.
- Global information assurance certifications: All about information security, the GIACs come in several categories: cyber defense; penetration testing; incident response and forensics; cybersecurity management, audit and legal proficiencies; developer; and industrial control systems. The highest level is the GIAC security expert (GSE).
Best certifications for cloud computing
As cloud computing becomes the new normal in IT, more cloud-related credentials pop up. Many of them 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 area. Top certifications include:
- CompTIA cloud+: CompTIA cloud+ covers all major elements of cloud computing, including configuration, deployment, security, management and troubleshooting.
- VMware certified professional 6 — data center virtualization (VCP6-DCV): Virtualization is the foundation of cloud computing, and VMware offers the VCP6-DCV certification in managing data center virtualization 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.
- Salesforce certified development lifecycle and deployment: Employers are desperate for high-end specialists in this cloud-based CRM. This certification is the first step toward becoming a Salesforce certified systems architect.
Best management certifications
Project management is indispensable to IT operations. Even if you’re tech-focused, it can be a very valuable skill to acquire. And because it involves planning, scheduling, budgeting and execution, certification can be a key steppingstone to managerial positions.
- Certified associate in project management (CAPM): Offered by the highly respected Project Management Institute (PMI), the CAPM is an ideal entry-level management credential.
- Project management professional: Also offered by PMI, the PMP credential is among the most prestigious in the profession. A number of subspecialty certifications are also available.
- Certified Scrum master: The entry-level CSM certification is offered by the Scrum Alliance. It is an excellent way to show your knowledge of Scrum and Agile management practices.
Best 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 prepare students to acquire help desk certifications. You can certify in either the help desk functions as a whole or concentrate on a specific vendor’s platforms and products.
- HDI certifications: 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 certification is particularly popular with hiring managers. HDI also offers credentials for support center analysts, team leaders and customer service representatives.
- ITIL: The UK organization AXELOS is charged with promoting best practices for IT service management (ITSM). ITIL, formerly an acronym for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is the registered name for a widely accepted framework for managing IT service delivery. There are five ITIL certifications, ranging from foundation to master.
- Apple certified support professional (ACSP): You can demonstrate your expertise with macOS support essentials with this the ACSP certification from Apple.
Best 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:
- Certified data professional (CDP): The Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) offers one of the most comprehensive certifications for data professionals. The CDP exists in five tiers, ranging from foundation-level to executive management, and you can focus on specific roles, such as business analytics, data governance, enterprise data architecture, data analytics and data warehousing.
- 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 2.0: This certification demonstrates your ability to install, manage, monitor, migrate and troubleshoot SAP’s database technology.
- Microsoft SQL Server certifications: 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 have college degrees and real-world experience to go along with them. 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.