5 Essential IT Certifications and Certificates 2021: Entry-Level and Beginner

Written by Coursera • Dec 16, 2020

Whether you’re just starting out or are established in your career, IT certifications can have their benefits. Here are the most prominent IT certifications for entry-level IT positions, and the paths you’ll open with them.

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 and certificates

These are some common IT certifications designed to prepare you for entry-level positions in IT. The list includes 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.

  • Cost: $232 per exam, $464 total

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

2. Google IT Support Professional Certificate

The Google IT Support Professional Certificate, developed by Google and hosted on Coursera, is a course 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

3. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

The CCNA certification is an associate-level certification that covers the fundamentals of IT work, particularly in network issues. This includes network access, IP connectivity, and IP services. One exam is required.

  • Cost: $300

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

4. 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. 

The CompTIA Network+ certification is also popular for entry-level candidates. We chose to list Security+ because Global Knowledge found that demand among employers was higher for security professionals in 2020. If you’re interested in cybersecurity, check out some popular cybersecurity certifications.

  • Cost: $370

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

5. 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.

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. See a complete list of Microsoft fundamentals certifications.

  • Cost: $99 per exam

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

Weren’t there more entry-level Microsoft certifications?

Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certifications and exams retired on  June 30, 2021. If you’ve already  purchased a license for an MTA exam, you have until June 30, 2022 to register and take it.

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How to get an IT certification

The certification process often involves an exam, which is typically a combination of multiple choice and performance-based questions.

To prepare for a certification exam, you’ll want to have some training. If you’re already in the IT field, this can be done through your work. If you’re completely new to the subject, you can enroll in an instructor-led course, or self-study. There are many online courses that will train you for the certification that you’re trying to get. 

Some of these may be certificate programs, like those on Coursera, which will prepare you to take the test; plus you'll earn a certificate for completing the coursework. If you’re looking for in-person instruction, community colleges often offer certification prep classes. 

You can self-study by looking through books, e-books, and online videos, and by working through practice exams.

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.

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IT professional salaries and career paths

The average entry-level salary in the US for IT professionals is $63,918 according to Glassdoor as of May 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 jobs in computer and information technology 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].

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Jesse Palman, who started a new job as a system administrator after completing the Google IT Support Professional Certificate program, had this to say to those looking into IT work: “Even if you don't have the background, education, or experience needed to start a new role in IT—take the time to sit down with a laptop and learn absolutely everything you can. Anything is possible.”

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Prepare for an entry-level IT job through the Google IT Support Professional Certificate.

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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 May 26, 2021.

2. Glassdoor. "Information Technology Entry Level Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/information-technology-entry-level-salary-SRCH_KO0,34.htm." Accessed May 26, 2021.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Computer and Information Technology Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm." Accessed May 26, 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 May 26, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Dec 16, 2020

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