IT professionals have always sought out certifications to give them a leg up in their career advancement efforts. But anecdotal evidence suggests that in today's job market, having a broad array of certifications is even more important for giving job-seekers a needed edge.
According to Dice.com, the IT unemployment rate is lower than the national average, at 3.6%, and the number of job postings is up 3% from a year ago. In this still relatively tight job market, employers are taking their time when it comes to hiring. "They're looking for the biggest bang for their buck," says John Reed, executive director at Robert Half Technology. "If you can afford to be selective and take your time, you are in a position to find that ideal candidate."
Being the first choice in this situation means elevating yourself in the pecking order, and being able to list experience or certification in a coveted technology area can do just that, Reed says. "Certifications aren't required, but they're a major plus."
Take Donald Roper, director of IT at a midsize company in Greenville, S.C. In his nearly 30 years in IT, he has earned his share of certifications, including CompTIA's' A+, Network+ and Security+, VMware Certified Professional (VCP), Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer 2003, Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) 2008 and a few SharePoint certifications. Still, when he was in the job market earlier this year, that wasn't always enough. "One employer was looking for someone with MCITP 2008 and VCP, and they asked, 'How are your Citrix skills?' I told them I didn't have Citrix, and they said, 'Well, OK, we appreciate your talking with us,'" Roper recounts.
Certifications can be helpful as a way to broaden your skill base, which is important as employers increasingly seek professionals with cross-functional experience, says Matt Ripaldi, senior vice president at Modis, an IT staffing firm in Burlington, Mass. "They're often looking for two people in one," he says. "If you have an all-star come in with three different skill sets, you get one person who can wear three hats instead of having to hire three people."
Certifications are particularly beneficial for contractors, notes Alice Hill, managing director at Dice.com. "The certification serves as a badge for contractors, showing employers they've earned the necessary training to complete the job at hand," she says. However, she cautions, not all certifications create the opportunity for a new job or a fatter paycheck, "so all tech professionals have to be certain that the investment is worth it."
That said, here are six technology areas in which certifications are worth considering for gaining that career edge.
Project Management Professional (PMP): At any given time, there are 2,200 positions listed on Dice.com in which employers are looking for PMP certification, Hill says. That's up 3% from last year. The PMP certification serves as proof that project managers understand how to complete projects on-time and within budget, she says. The average annual salary for a project manager is about $104,000, and with a PMP, that jumps to nearly $120,000, according to Hill.