The best advice I ever got about how to get certified
Posted on
June 1, 2021
Sometimes the best advice about anything is something you're heard a million times before.

I sometimes look back and mentally review all of the good advice I have received in my life. Everything from 'You can't expect everyone to love you,' to 'People generally do good things for the right reasons.'

As I look at these tidbits and compare them to all the advice that I have ever received (or given) about getting IT certifications, I can see that good advice for living and good advice for certification are quite often the same thing. They really do line up. To that end, I'd like to look at some excellent life advice and apply it to certification.

Let's start with one of the easiest tips to let sink in: Be on time. I had someone tell me a long time ago that "on time" is already 10 minutes late. This relates to the day of a certification exam, sure — you should never be late to the testing center, or while logging on to attempt an exam remotely.

But what about being on time for a meeting with a study partner, or being "on time" while following your own individual prep schedule? This a true core focus for life, both life in general and the part of your life that relates to IT certification. Put it at or near the top of your priority list. In all ways, be on time.

Here's another one that's often cited as a rule for life in general, but also applies to certification in particular: You won't know everything. When you are taking tests, don't worry that you don't know everything. On a test, it's OK to mark something and come back. It's even OK, ultimately, to not know some of the answers. Most exams don't require anywhere close to a perfect score to get certified.

Remember as well that, in real life, it's OK to go and do research. You aren't expected to know everything even after getting certified. The fact that you are willing to work to expand what you know will impress any manager. Let 'You won't know everything' be a mantra that reminds you to always get better.

When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. This is a common saying, but I first heard it from a manager a long time ago. It's a good life rule that is also now the cornerstone of the way I go about choosing which certifications to earn and preparing for a certification exam.

You need to do your homework before you can do your homework: Every certification exam is unique, but the way that you approach an exam doesn't always have to be unique. A solid study plan executed swiftly and methodically will trump any test format. Outline your preparation step by step — all the way down to how you will get to the testing location on game day — and you won't be disappointed with your result.

Sometimes the best advice about anything is something you're heard a million times before.

Here is another gem that has always stuck with me: Your experience will trump a book every time. With this in mind, I never do the cram session. Instead, I allow a good amount of time — albeit scheduled — for the material to sync in.

I need to be a hands-on person in order for any amount of studying to be effective. And taking a hands-on approach is good for anyone. The more you get into the nuts-and-bolts of whatever system you're learning about, the better able you will be to understand its underlying organization and principles.

Here's one that all of us have heard: Practice makes perfect. Even if you set aside the 10,000 hours baseline popularized by writer Malcolm Gladwell, I have never had a mentor who didn't tell me that I needed to practice. It is increasingly difficult to pass a certification exam without actual, honest to goodness hands-on experience.

On the one hand that is good — certifying people who have done nothing but memorize answers to pass an exam devalues any certification. On the other hand, people may not have access to practice labs or equipment.

There are a couple of solutions to this. The first is to take a course with a provider like Global Knowledge that aligns to your exam. Such labs often cover processes that are on the exam. It is exceedingly difficult to get a question related to a complex process correct unless you have completed that process.

Online practice labs are generally available around the clock. In many cases, depending on the provide, you can continue to practice for for up to 12 months after you take the course. Product-oriented certs often provide free trial access to software for exam candidates. Your employer may have access to equipment or software that you can afford. Bottom line: Figure out a way to get in some practice.

Nearly every person who has been in a position to give me advice has told me some variation of this: Relax and it will come. I can't say I have always taken this advice, but that doesn't make it any less good. It's OK to miss a question, it's OK to take an extra week, it's OK to even not pass the first time.

As long as you remain committed, your relaxed perspective can keep you from freaking out or succumbing to stress. You can get through any test eventually, as long as you don't stop trying to take it. One of my rules is to schedule a certification exam on the very first day that I start studying for it. Knowing where the finish line is will help you stay calm.

Sometimes the best advice about anything is something you're heard a million times before.

Here's a good one to end on: Don't be afraid to ask for help. One key means of applying this advice to certification can be summed up in a single word: collaborate. Joining a study group, or teaming up with a friend who is studying for the same certification exam that you are, is a great strategy.

You can bounce ideas off each other, lean on each other's experience, share resources, and ask questions when you get stuck on a topic. The certification path is easier if you have someone to follow it beside, just as life in general is typically easier when shared with someone.

I truly believe that some of the best advice is things you've already heard a million times. I hope you can take away a small sliver of knowledge from one or more of these maxims. Never be afraid, always be positive, help others and, as always, I wish you the best and happy certifying!

About the Author
Nathan Kimpel

Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive with a diverse background in all areas of company functionality, and a keen focus on all aspects of IT operations and security. Over his 20 years in the industry, he has held every job in IT and currently serves as a Project Manager in the St. Louis (Missouri) area, overseeing 50-plus projects. He has years of success driving multi-million dollar improvements in technology, products and teams. His wide range of skills includes finance, as well as ERP and CRM systems. Certifications include PMP, CISSP, CEH, ITIL and Microsoft.

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