The Best Certifications to Gain Early-Career Flexibility

Should you pursue a certification? Most evidence points to yes. Research for Robert Half’s Salary Guides indicates that the best certifications can increase starting salaries by 10 percent or more. You can even use some certifications as an alternative or in addition to further schooling.

Industry-specific certifications bring the most value in terms of marketability and salary increases. It’s not hard to see that earning a CPA will boost an accountant’s career.

However, if you’re just starting out in your career or haven’t situated yourself in any one industry yet, there are some certifications that may offer you an edge in almost any field. These more general certifications can sometimes help you get your foot in the door if you’re a beginner and can help you if you’re unsure about your ultimate career direction or are looking to switch careers.

Learn more about changing careers and what it takes to do so successfully.

How to find the best certifications for you? First, search trade associations and employment sites for information on the certifications that are highly regarded in your field of interest. Look closely at job descriptions, especially for jobs you’d like to move up into, and take note of which certifications are required or preferred.

Here are a few general certifications that may help you get a job, get a raise, get a promotion or break into a new field:

Microsoft Office Specialist

Though knowing Microsoft Office applications is useful in virtually any office job, the Microsoft Office Specialist certification is ideal for those in the administrative field and in support roles in the legal, accounting and technology. This certification tells employers that you have a thorough knowledge of everything Microsoft Office has to offer. If you’re looking for more specific software certifications, Microsoft offers those as well.

CompTIA IT Fundamentals

If you’re looking to get into IT or move there from another career, the IT Fundamentals may be considered one of the best certifications to help you get started. It demonstrates an overall knowledge of PC components, functionality, compatibility and related technology topics. The certification can be a steppingstone to more specialized IT certifications.

This certification could be a great first move for those wishing to switch to an IT career while keeping their options open regarding specific software vendors and technologies. This certification could also be a great way for, say, a classical history major to demonstrate that he or she has some technical know-how along with his or her ability to translate Latin.

Adobe Certified Associate (ACA)

Many jobs require use of Adobe software. If you don’t have formal training in graphic design, the ACA certification allows you to demonstrate proficiency in Adobe digital design and communications tools, such as Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat and Photoshop. Proficiency with Adobe software can be an attractive skill for many entry-level administrative and marketing jobs. You may also use such a certification as a stepping stone to more training or education in design, if you are interested in going that direction.

Project Management Institute (PMI) Certifications

Organizing work into a series of discrete projects is ubiquitous these days, yet few people outside of those with project manager in the job title receive training in project management. Individuals who understand how to organize and execute a work project successfully — and have the certification to prove it — can find themselves very attractive to potential employers in many fields. PMI certifications are generally considered to offer some of the best certifications in the area of project management, and the organization offers several levels of certification, from entry level to advanced.

Whichever certification you decide to pursue, just remember: The best certifications are most effective when they are paired with on-the-job experience that shows you can apply the concepts in a real-life scenario. So when choosing a certification to pursue, be sure to pick one that suits both your current career path and your future plans.

Find out when to pursue certifications — and when not to.