Though they can require some work and upfront costs, IT certifications can help you gain the skills and credentials you need to get a job in the field.
There are several benefits to getting an IT certification—but several costs too. Certifications can give you the chance to learn needed skills, and be a quick way to show employers you have those skills. On the other hand, certifications can require studying or coursework, and cost up to several hundred dollars to take. So how do you know that the benefits will outweigh the costs for you?
Certification or no certification, in the end what matters most is your actual ability to do the job. Here are a few things to consider as you decide whether to get an IT certification.
Getting an IT certification might be worth it if you’re trying to bolster your experience and skills, don’t have other related credentials, or are just starting out in the field.
If you’re new to the IT field and don’t have any past work experience, school work, or personal projects you can point to in an interview, an IT certification can go a long way.
An IT certification isn’t just a way for employers to see that you have an industry-recognized credential showing you can have a baseline of experience. You can learn much about a topic studying for the certification exam, and improve your technical skills. Plus, the actual content of the certification can give you a roadmap of what you need to know for related jobs. Even if you know the ins and outs of different operating systems, if you don’t know basic security or data storage principles, you might be limited in the roles you’re qualified for. Getting an entry-level certification that tests you broadly on IT fundamentals can ensure you have the foundational knowledge you need.
Certifications can help you reach the next step in your IT career. Let’s say you’re a system administrator trying to learn more about cybersecurity, but aren’t building any related experience in your day-to-day work. Studying for and getting a cybersecurity certification may bring you the practical training needed to make the transition, or expand your current role. Even if you have some experience with a new topic, a certification can make sure you’ve learned it thoroughly enough to be on par with other professionals in that realm.
At the end of the day, being able to actually do the work is what matters the most. But certifications can act as a bridge between where your experience and skills are, and where you want them to be.
There’s evidence that certifications and skill development are correlated with bigger raises. The average raise an IT professional received was $5,000 in 2020, according to Global Knowledge. But when raises came from new skills or certifications, that number increased dramatically. The average IT professional who got a raise after developing new skills saw an average salary increase of $12,000; if you got a raise due to a certification, you saw an average increase of $13,000 . Keep in mind it’s not a guarantee that getting a certification will lead to a hefty raise—but acquiring the skills your employer needs may increase your chances.
Plus, the IT field is lucrative—and growing. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates computer and IT jobs will grow by 11 percent from 2019 to 2029. The average professional in the field made $91,250 in 2020. Compare that to the average across all jobs, which was $41,950 .
As of 2021, IT certifications related to cloud computing and security were correlated with the highest incomes. This is likely because cloud computing and cybersecurity are rapidly growing fields; demand for professionals in these areas are high while supply is still relatively low. Management certifications—particularly the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification—are also linked to higher incomes.
Read more: IT Salaries: Roles, Location, and Experience
Certifications can cost up to several hundred dollars. Taking the CompTIA A+ certification exams (two are required), for example, costs a total of $464 as of June 2021. The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) costs $749.
But if the certification will open doors to a career path you’re interested in, they can be a worthwhile investment. CISSP holders made an average salary of $141,452 in 2020 . CompTIA estimates that entry-level IT jobs you might land with an A+ certification typically offer salaries ranging from $45,000 to $60,000 .
Worried about costs? If you’re already in an IT position and think the skills you’ll gain can benefit your employer, try asking your supervisor to see if the company will cover the costs for exams or training courses.
Some prep courses can also offer discounts on the certification exams. Taking the Google IT Support Professional Certificate, for example, can prepare you for 80 percent of CompTIA A+ exam materials, plus give you a 20-percent discount on exam costs (subject to change).
Several IT job listings—even if they’re for entry-level jobs—request that you have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. That’s not to say that you should be discouraged if you don’t. But a certification here can be helpful to show employers you have the discipline to study, learn, and achieve a goal, and that you’re serious about the IT field.
Some industries might require you to have a specific certifications, or else heavily prefer that you do. For example, you’ll need to get an approved certification to work in information assurance for the Department of Defense . Some IT consultancies may also prefer that you have related certifications in order to assure clients that their personnel are well-trained and capable.
There are a lot of benefits to certifications—but here’s when you might find they reach their limits.
About 55 percent of technology professionals don’t have a technical certification, according to a survey reported in the Dice 2021 Tech Salary Report . The most common reason people cited for not having one? Certifications weren’t needed in their roles. If you’re capable of performing your job well, have opportunities to learn new things, and feel content in your field of IT, IT certifications may not be high on your priority list.
The capacity to perform tasks up to standard is probably going to be the biggest asset in your job hunt. And a certification, at the end of the day, is simply a quick way to prove to employers that you have that capacity. If you’re confident that your past experience speaks for itself, you may be able to set aside pursuing a certification for now.
Getting a certification can be a good way to enhance your skills, and get established in a field you otherwise have only budding experience in. If you’re ready for more, learn the steps to getting a certification.
1. Global knowledge. "5 Numbers to Know in the 2020 IT Skills and Salary Report, https://www.globalknowledge.com/us-en/resources/resource-library/articles/5-numbers-to-know-in-salary-report-2020/#gref." Accessed June 23, 2021.
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Computer and Information Technology Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm." Accessed June 23, 2021.
3. Global Knowledge. "15 Top-Paying IT Certifications for 2020, https://www.globalknowledge.com/us-en/resources/resource-library/articles/top-paying-certifications/." Accessed June 23, 2021.
4. CompTIA. "How Much Can I Make with a CompTIA A+ Certification?, https://www.comptia.org/faq/a/how-much-can-i-make-with-a-comptia-a-certification." Accessed June 23, 2021.
5. DoD Cyber Exchange. "DoD Approved 8570 Baseline Certifications, https://public.cyber.mil/cw/cwmp/dod-approved-8570-baseline-certifications/." Accessed June 23, 2021.
6. Dice. "The Dice 2021 Tech Salary Report, https://techhub.dice.com/Dice-2021-Tech-Salary-Report-TY.html." Accessed June 23, 2021.