IT Certifications 101: The What, Why and How of IT Certifications

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Whether you’re just thinking about starting your IT career or have several years of experience under your belt, getting an IT certification – or two or three – may help you move up the ladder faster. Many recruiters and hiring managers use certifications as a screening tool to identify qualified candidates, and some require certain IT certifications to set a benchmark of knowledge across their teams. In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense requires its IT staff and contractors to hold certain certifications. But what are certifications and how can you get one? This article will answer the what, why and how of IT certifications.

What Are IT certifications?

Certifications show that you not only have experience in, took a course on or studied a certain topic, but that you also passed an exam to test your knowledge on the subject. IT certifications cover a wide range of topics, from infrastructure to cybersecurity to development. When you earn an accredited certification, it means that the exam meets a rigorous set of standards set forth by a governing body.

Why should I consider an IT certification?

Certifications prove to employers that you have the knowledge and experience you say you do. According to CompTIA’s HR Perceptions of IT Training and Certification, 98 percent of HR professionals use certifications to confirm a candidate’s subject-matter knowledge and expertise, and 97 use them to differentiate between otherwise equally qualified candidates.

Certifications also help IT pros stay relevant in their specialty, due to continuing education requirements. Holders of accredited certifications are typically required to renew their certification through exams, additional learning opportunities or industry participation. Thus, having a certification ensures that you have the most up-to-date knowledge in your area of expertise.

How do I get certified?

The first step in getting certified is to decide which certification is right for you. CompTIA’s IT Certification Roadmap outlines which certifications – CompTIA and otherwise – align with which career paths. So, if you work in information security and want to grow in your career, you can see which certifications can help you get to the intermediate, advanced or expert level.

You’ll also want to choose a certification that’s right for your level of experience. Some certifications are designed to help people get into IT careers while others are meant for those with several years of hands-on experience in the field. You don’t want to sit for an exam that is well beyond your abilities and not be able to pass.

Once you choose the certification you want to earn, it’s time to prepare.

  • Learn all about the certification process – for example, where and how will you take the test, how much will it cost, how do you register, are there prerequisites and will you need any special supplies or equipment.
  • Choose your training option. Will you take a class, use a self-paced e-learning tool or study on your own? Decide which makes the most sense for you based on your learning style and timeline.
  • Become familiar with the exam by downloading official exam objectives and sample questions and by reading what other IT pros have said about the exams.
  • Register and pay for your exam and mark your calendar! Give yourself ample time to study so you can go in confidently and ace your test.

Getting an IT certification can validate your skills to employers and help you stay up to date on the latest developments in your field. Whether you’re a new IT pro or a seasoned veteran, there’s a certification out there for you.

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These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.

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Debra B. McCraw

Debra B. McCraw

Debra B. McCraw oversees CompTIA’s IT Career News blog, which covers certifications, career advice and IT industry trends. She has been creating web content for enterprises, small businesses and nonprofits since 2008.