How Valuable Are Computer Certifications?: Page 2

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How to Choose a Certification

The KEY to successful certification is to match the certification to the desired outcome and current skill status.

Don't choose a certification based solely on what is currently getting all the press. Even if that certification has the potential for dramatic income and/or skill boosting, it may be completely inappropriate for a particular individual. The candidate may have no affinity or skill in the subject area, or be perfectly content with their current employer who has no need of the skill set certified by that title. Not to mention, what suddenly becomes hot, often vanishes as quickly as it came to prominence.

Choose a certification area that is directly applicable to the job you already have or to one that you want to have.

Make a preliminary list of certifications you feel meet that criteria. You'll probably need to use a resource such as which lists all the certifications in one place. You can also ask colleagues and friends, who work in that topic area what they recommend. Training companies can be another source of certification ideas.

Then narrow down the list based on the strengths of the programs, including:

  • how well-recognized and respected each option on your list is (or isn't).
  • Accessibility to training if needed
  • Cost (lab exams can cost $1000 alone)
  • Reasonable continuing requirements
It's also important to identify the level of certification that is most appropriate for your particular needs.

Entry-level certifications are:

  • most useful for people moving into information technology from another career area.
  • can be used as building blocks to higher level certification
  • are quicker to earn
  • they can also be used by current IT professionals seeking to gain entry to a new area of expertise, but often such individuals can jump right into a higher level certification that will be more valuable in the workplace.
  • Exemplified by CompTIA's A+, Network+, Security+ and others

Higher-level certifications are:

  • most useful for people who already have computer work experience and want to expand expertise or credential existing skills
  • require in-depth knowledge of applications and processes
  • take longer to achieve
  • more valuable, in terms of potential income
  • often more expensive to earn
  • exemplified by Microsoft's MCSE and Cisco's CCIE.

Training Options

Once you've chosen a certification, how do you go about earning it? Only a lucky few can walk into a test center, take an exam, and walk out certified. The rest of us have to get training. Either to build knowledge from the ground up or to fill in gaps in our skills and experience. So where do you get this training?

Popular training options include:

  • self-study
  • boot camps
  • classes at an authorized or third-party training center
  • community college programs

These aren't all available for every certification, but usually there are several options from which to choose. You can also use more than one of these at a time.


Every certification candidate will be studying on their personal time, but by self-study, I mean doing it on your own, without live instruction.

According to the 2002 Global IT Training and Certification Study, 87% of certification test takers used self-study materials for test preparation.

People choose self-study because it is usually cheaper, and is more flexible - study can be fit in at off hours or whenever it is most convenient for the student. That flexibility can also be the downfall for some people though. Because it is not in a rigid, pre-defined time frame like a class is, it's easy for study time to take a backseat to daily job tasks to the point where it never gets done. So people who choose self-study need to exercise strong self-discipline to get it done.

Thanks to the popularity of certification, there are many high quality self-study resources to choose from. Study guides, books, and resources are available for many certifications, through easily accessible outlets such as or your local large bookstore. You can also find them on the Internet, through the certification vendor's Web site, as certification Web site such as, or simply by searching using Google or another search engine.

Books are a favorite study tool because they are often organized directly around the certification objectives, usually they include practice questions, and they can be used as a reference long after the exam is over.

Product documentation can also be used for self study. Practice tests that simulate the actual exam and provide assessment of areas of strengths and weakness are another favorite.

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