5 Essential IT Certifications 2021: Entry-Level and Beginner

Written by Coursera • Updated on Oct 12, 2021

Whether you’re just starting out or are established in your career, IT certifications have their benefits. Here are six prominent entry-level IT certifications.

IT learner considers which entry-level IT certification to get

What is an IT certification—and should I get one?

An IT certification typically refers to a qualification you receive that shows your competency in a specific field of information technology (IT). To get a certification, you generally need to pass an exam that tests your capabilities in the field.

Potential benefits to getting a certification can include improved job performance and increased competitiveness in the job market. An IT certification on your resume can also be a quick way for hiring managers to gauge your abilities. And certifications are linked to higher incomes—IT professionals who received a raise due to getting a new certification saw an average salary increase of $13,000, according to a 2020 report by Global Knowledge [1].

Certifications aren’t the only way you can get a job in IT. But there is evidence that the right certification can lead to a host of career benefits. If you’re looking for a structured way to learn new skills and earn a credential, a certification may be worth the cost.

Entry-level IT certifications

These are some common IT certifications designed to prepare you for entry-level positions in IT. The list includes entry-level certifications that are broad enough to expose you to a variety of skills, and certifications that will equip you with more specialized skills.

1. CompTIA A+ 

CompTIA A+ is widely considered one of the go-to certificates for a well-rounded entry-level introduction to IT. Those who pass the certification exams will be qualified to solve basic issues in networking, operating systems, security and mobile devices. The CompTIA A+ certification requires two exams.

The CompTIA A+ provides a general introduction to the IT world. From there, many IT professionals can go on to specialize in a specific field of IT, like networks, security, or cloud computing, either by building experience or gaining relevant certifications.

  • Cost: $232 per exam, $464 total

  • Potential jobs: Service desk analyst, technical support specialist, associate network engineer, desktop support administrator, system support specialist

  • Requirements: Two certification exams required. There are no prerequisites to the exams, but CompTIA recommends having nine to twelve months of hands-on experience.

  • Certification path: After the CompTIA A+, candidates can go on to take other CompTIA certifications like Security+ or Network+, or certifications from other providers like the CCNA.

Read more: IT Certification Roadmap: A Guide

2. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

The CCNA certification is an associate-level certification that covers the fundamentals of IT networking issues. This includes network access, IP connectivity, and IP services. Though it’s not a vendor neutral certification—meaning it’ll test you exclusively on Cisco products and tools—it’s popular among network professionals because of Cisco’s dominance in the networking market. One exam is required to get the CCNA certification.

  • Cost: $300

  • Potential jobs: network specialist, network administrator, systems administrator, network engineer

  • Requirements: One certification exam is required. There are no prerequisites to the exam, but Cisco recommends having a year of training and experience with computer networks.

  • Certification path: After the CCNA, candidates can go on to take more advanced network certifications, like the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) or the Juniper Networks Certified Associate - Junos (JNCIA-Junos).

Read more: 6 Network Certifications for Your IT Career in 2021

3. CompTIA Security+

The CompTIA Security+ certification will equip you with the skills to perform basic security functions. The certification will cover subjects like encryption, physical security, and wireless security. It requires one exam. If you’re interested in becoming an IT security specialist, you can go on to take more advanced security certifications like the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) or the advanced Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

Security is a growing field—Global Knowledge found that demand among employers was high for security professionals in 2020. If you’re interested in cybersecurity, check out other popular cybersecurity certifications.

  • Cost: $370

  • Potential jobs: security administrator, security specialist, security consultant, security engineer, network administrator, security analyst

  • Requirements: Requires one certification exam. There are no prerequisites, but CompTIA recommends having the CompTIA Network+ certification and two years of experience in IT administration.

  • Certification path: After the Security+, candidates can go on to take other security certifications like the ISC2 Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) or ISACA Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA).

4. Microsoft Fundamentals

The Microsoft fundamentals certifications test core technology skills, making them good entry-level qualifications for those who are expected to work with Microsoft products. Knowing your way around Microsoft products is likely to be an in-demand skill—over half of surveyed IT decision-makers around the world said their companies would invest in Microsoft technology, Global Knowledge reports. The Fundamentals certifications replaced the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certifications, which were retired on June 30, 2021.

You can opt to take any one exam in a number of specialized areas that fall under security, Azure (Microsoft’s cloud solution), AI, data, and software like Power Platform, Microsoft 365, and Dynamics. If you’re looking for a certification in an in-demand area, the Microsoft Azure Fundamentals certification will enable you to learn the essentials of Microsoft cloud concepts.

  • Cost: $99 per exam

  • Potential jobs: IT specialist, Microsoft systems administrator, Microsoft server support technician, Microsoft Technician specialist

  • Requirements: One exam is required for each certification. There are no prerequisites.

  • Certification path: After a Microsoft Fundamental certification, candidates may go on to receive other certifications in various specializations like Azure Database Administrator Associate or Microsoft Certified: Security Operations Analyst Associate.

5. Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud Practitioner

Cloud computing, along with security, is one of the most in-demand fields in IT, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) is currently the most-used cloud platform in the world. So learning the AWS platform may give you an edge in this growing industry. The AWS Cloud Practitioner certification is the most entry-level of the AWS certifications.

The AWS Cloud Practitioner certification is designed to help you gain foundational AWS knowledge, and can be great for those just starting out in IT. However, many cloud-related jobs ask for an associate-level AWS certification, which is a level above the practitioner certification. If you already have a year of experience with AWS, the associate-level AWS Solutions Architect, SysOps Administrator, or Developer certifications might better prepare you for entry-level cloud computing jobs. You can also consider other cloud certifications, like Microsoft Azure Fundamentals, or the Google Associate Cloud Engineer certification.

  • Cost: $100

  • Potential jobs: cloud engineering intern, cloud developer, cloud engineer, cloud architect

  • Requirements: There are no prerequisites to the exam, but Amazon recommends having at least a basic understanding of AWS services and uses, and around six months of exposure to AWS.

  • Certification path: After the AWS Cloud Practitioner, you can go on to get a more advanced certification like the AWS Certified Developer or AWS Certified Solutions Architect.

Read more: 5 Cloud Certifications to Start Your Cloud Career in 2021

IT certification alternative

Certifications can be a great way to start your IT career. But they need some upfront investment—including money to pay for exams and time to study. Other options like professional certificates might enable you to take courses on IT as your work toward your credential.

Google IT Support Professional Certificate

The Google IT Support Professional Certificate, developed by Google and hosted on Coursera, is a series of courses designed to provide students with broad skills needed to succeed in an entry-level job. It’s not a certification by itself—though you’ll receive a professional certificate from Google upon completion—but the course will prepare you for the CompTIA A+ exam should you choose to go on and take it.

Learners will learn how to provide IT support tasks like computer assembly and wireless networking. Upon completion, you will have the choice to share your resume with 20 partners of the program, including Bank of America, Hulu, Intel, PNC Bank, and of course Google. 

  • Cost: $39 a month, with the first week free. Subject to change.

  • Potential jobs: database administrator, IT specialist, tech support specialist, systems analyst, network engineer, help desk technician, IT support specialist, IT technician, computer user specialist, IT assistant

  • Requirements: No previous experience required.


Google IT Support



How to get an IT certification

Getting an IT certification generally entails picking a certification, preparing for the exam, and passing the exam.

1. Decide on a certification. Pick a certification based on your interest and needs. If you don't know where to start, take a look at job descriptions of positions you're interested in, and see which certifications are mentioned most often.

2. Prepare for the exam. Preparing for the exam means making sure you meet any requirements, scheduling the exam, paying for it, and studying for it.

3. Take the exam. You'll either take the certification exam online at home or in person. Make sure you check any requirements a day or two before the exam to ensure you don't forget important artifacts, like a valid ID.

If you're looking for a more detailed explanation, read about how to get an IT certification.

Keep in mind

Exams can cost several hundred dollars to take. But if you know you want to break into the IT field, getting a certification may be a great investment in your career. If you’re already employed and think a certification will be beneficial to you and your company, you might approach your manager to see if the company will cover the costs. Read more about how to decide if IT certifications are worth it for you.


IT professional salaries and career paths

The average entry-level salary in the US for IT professionals is $62,835 according to Glassdoor as of October 2021 [2]. That number goes up with experience—the average salary for IT professionals across all seniority levels in the US is $120,491, according to 2020 data from Global Knowledge. 

IT jobs are high in demand right now. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that computer and information technology jobs are expected to grow by 11 percent over 2019-2029 [3].

Many IT professionals get their start in help desk positions, gaining experience in the field before choosing a narrower path to specialize in. When you’re first on the job hunt, look out for these entry-level job titles, while keeping in mind that many variations can exist:

  • Help desk specialist

  • Help desk analyst

  • Help desk technician

  • Service desk analyst

  • Technical support specialist

  • IT associate

  • IT technician

  • IT assistant

Once you get your foot in the door and gain some experience, you can start to explore an area you’d like to specialize in such as:

  • Cloud computing

  • Network

  • Security and compliance

  • Management

Picking based on earning potential? Cloud and cybersecurity certifications are generally associated with the highest salaries, according to Global Knowledge [4].


Related articles

Article sources

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 August 18, 2021.

2. Glassdoor. "Information Technology Entry Level Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/information-technology-entry-level-salary-SRCH_KO0,34.htm." Accessed August 18, 2021.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Computer and Information Technology Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm." Accessed August 18, 2021.

4. Global Knowledge. "15 Top-Paying IT Certifications for 2020, https://www.globalknowledge.com/us-en/resources/resource-library/articles/top-paying-certifications/." Accessed August 18, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Oct 12, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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