Salary Survey Extra: The opportune moment to get a certification
Posted on
October 7, 2016

Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of both our annual Salary Survey and our smaller Salary Survey PLUS polls. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

When should you get a certification?

The phrase "Timing is everything" is one that crops up frequently concerning a variety of topics. For example, when should you buy a car, or sell your house? You should buy a car when you can afford to make the purchase without taking on an unseemly debt burden, and you should sell your house when you have to move. Even though it's not the strongest element in either decision, however, timing is an important consideration for both, and sometimes in more ways than one.

For example, provided that you aren't compelled to make the sale immediately, you probably shouldn't sell you house to the first person who makes an offer. It's almost always a better time to sell after you have a handful of competing bids. Research also shows that there's greater interest in home purchasing at certain times of the year — you're more likely to get a high price in some seasons than in others. As the eminent philosopher and pirate Captain Jack Sparrow once observed, waiting for the "opportune moment" will generally improve your fortunes.

All other factors being equal (a condition that, yes, usually exists only in theory), is there a "best" time to get a certification? Is there an opportune moment when your career will (or at least might) benefit most from adding an IT credential to your résumé? In digging through the data from our most recent Salary Survey PLUS, which focused on networking certification, we found one of those intriguing nuggets of information that may or may not mean anything, but offers a savory serving of food for thought.

This particular observation involves the intersection of two data threads: "What is your current salary" and "How many years were you professionally employed in networking before getting your first certification." In this particular case, we considered the responses of certified networking professionals who live in the United States. Taking those individuals as a group, we looked at the trend in average annual salary as it corresponds to time in the industry before getting a certification. Here's what it looks like:

Years Employed Before Certification — Average Annual  Salary (2016)
1 — $72,960
2 — $76,530
3 — $80,990
4 — $82,631
5 — $82,850
6 — $95,250
7 — $88,540
8 — 91,076
9 — (Insufficient responses)
10 — $77,080

There's an odd anomaly here where apparently not very many people at all work for nine years before getting a certification . Beyond that, however, the trend is interesting. If you only work for a couple of years before turning to certification, then you're in one salary tier. There's a clear grouping of slightly stronger earning power if you work for three, four, or five years before seeking certification. Then there's an apparent magic number — six years — followed by a general decline that takes a steep plunge at 10 years.

Data doesn't always mean what we think it means, and it doesn't necessarily always mean anything at all. Trends are informational at worst, however, and information is almost always useful in some way or other. In this case, maybe the trend means that individuals are likely to make better decisions about certification after getting some professional experience. Perhaps knowing more about the realm that you work in leads to more productive and worthwhile specialization.

Wait too long to start adding to your knowledge and employability through certification, however, and the trend peaks and starts to move in the opposite direction.  There's also not much data available, either, or at least not from our results. It would seem that very, very few individuals start pursuing a certification path after the 10 year mark in their professional employment. In practice, it's never too late to get a certification. At least in theory, however, and at least as indicated by one factor (salary), there's definitely an opportune moment.

About the Author

Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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