This feature first appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
It's no surprise that when you ask a new graduate, a career switcher, or an established professional, what benefits they hope to gain from earning an IT industry certification, one of the first words you will hear in response is "money."
People who have just finished school hope that earning an IT certification will help them to land their first paying job in the industry. Career switchers often pursue a certification to augment their existing knowledge and experience, but they also hope that getting certified will make them more desirable to IT hiring managers.
Established IT professionals have varying opinions on certifications, but certainly one recurring theme is that new certifications can provide an opportunity to negotiate for advancement and/or improved compensation from an employer.
So yes, money is a key benefit which IT workers associate with industry certifications. But there are other, less glamorous benefits to getting certified that newbies, switchers and established pros should consider when judging the value of getting a new certification.
Becoming a lifelong learner
There are two types of people when it comes to regularly pursuing new education beyond the established requirements of a profession: those who actively seek out opportunities to do so, and those who have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the classroom.
The IT industry requires people who are able to understand, interpret, and process different types of information, a skill set that is at the heart of the lifelong learner — someone who never stops challenging themselves to learn new concepts and gain new knowledge.
And whether the activity is performed enthusiastically or reluctantly, someone who earns and maintains one or more professional certifications throughout their career becomes a lifelong learner, and will receive the personal and professional benefits of being one.
Here are some of the advantages gained by becoming a lifelong learner:
- People who regularly engage in new learning typically have better, more developed minds than those who remain glued to static, unchanging routines.
- Lifelong learning creates opportunities for social networking and career development with other professionals.
- Continual, sustained education is a process that sharpens the intellect, fulfills natural curiosity, and develops other valuable professional talents.
Becoming a lifelong learner by participating in the IT certification process isn't particularly glamorous. It is, however, a rewarding mental approach to life that inevitably has a positive impact on job compensation, advancement, and satisfaction.
Increased brand recognition
If you are ever looking for a one-sided conversation where you can sit back and let the other person yammer non-stop, take a marketing professional or a corporate executive out for lunch and ask them to describe the various aspects and benefits of brand recognition. You will have every opportunity to eat your food without having to say a word. In fact, order two desserts.
On the other hand, being associated with a strong brand isn't just a corporate must-have — it's also a personal benefit that is associated with earning an industry certification.
There are two types of brand recognition benefits found in IT certification. When a certification comes from a vendor-owned program, the certified professional becomes associated with that vendor's brand. Microsoft, Cisco, Citrix and other industry heavyweights have spent millions establishing their brands in the marketplace. Earning a certification from these vendors gives IT pros the benefit of this marketing activity.
The other type of brand recognition comes from industry associations. In this case, the brand isn't linked to products, but is instead associated with the quality and reputation of the training and certification program managed by the association. CompTIA, ISACA and (ISC)2 are examples of industry associations with well-regarded programs and respected certifications.
The benefits of brand recognition even extend to using a vendor or association's marketing collateral in the form of authorized logos. Most certification programs have associated logos which certified pros can use on résumés, business cards and professional websites.
Many people who earn a new certification put their certificate in a frame or file folder, update their résumé, and leave it at that. These people are cheating themselves, because many certification programs offer members some additional benefits which can be very useful.
For example, Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) in the United States get a 40 percent discount on books and 50 percent off e-books at the Microsoft Press Store. They also get a special discount on certain Dell computer products by accessing the MCP portal page of Dell's website. Other third-party offers are occasionally made available to MCPs during the year.
Many certification vendors and associations offer career tips and resources to their members, like personalized access to relevant job sites. Certified professionals can often ask to be notified if the vendor is holding or sponsoring an industry event in their area, and can sometimes get a discount on attendance fees for such events.
Help shape future exams
It is one thing to take a certification exam; it is another to actually contribute to the creation of upcoming exams. This opportunity is available for those who want to get more involved in a chosen certification program.
Taking beta versions of exams is an excellent way to influence the final version of a given exam. Most beta exams offer candidates the opportunity to comment and give feedback on every individual question, and add a summary at the end of the exam offering their detailed thoughts about the entire question pool. What's more, candidates who pass a beta exam are typically awarded the relevant certification.
It's a great combination of two opportunities: earning a certification while contributing to the final version of an exam.
Industry association ISACA takes this opportunity one step further by offering certified professionals the ability to write a full exam question, and submit it for possible inclusion in a future exam update. ISACA-certified pros who contribute approved questions can earn continuing professional education (CPE) credits which count towards maintaining their ISACA credential.
All of these activities are valuable experiences that look great on a résumé, helping to differentiate you from other job applicants.
Join new communities
Every major certification program, whether it's offered by an IT vendor or an industry association, offers certified professionals a virtual community to participate in. Most techies have taken part in some form of online community during their Internet lives, whether it was posting on a set of discussion boards, leaving comments on a tech blog, or taking part in a live chat Q&A session.
All of these different online gathering places are employed by different certification program managers. While it is true that the signal-to-noise ratio (the amount of useful information compared to the fluff commentary) can be a bit off-putting in some cases, online communities are a great place to ask other people questions concerning certification-related topics such as:
- General details about a particular exam (but not too specific!)
- Feedback on various training options and products
- How to download and properly use certification program logos
- Technical questions about commonly used exam scenarios
- Activities that contribute to renewing/maintaining a certification
Again, participating in online communities isn't particularly glamorous. It is an easy and affordable way for experienced professionals and relative newcomers to come together and exchange information and participate in a mentoring relationship.
The whole benefits package
Money is great, and anyone who says differently has never had to do without it. There is plenty of evidence out there that shows IT certification has a positive impact on salaries and advancement. There are, however, many less high-profile benefits associated with earning an industry credential. These perks may not generate headlines in industry publications (or at least not in most cases), but they can contribute to a more fulfilling career in the IT industry.