Information technology (IT) certifications can show employers you have a baseline of knowledge expected of an IT professional. Plus, they can make you more competitive for jobs and promotions. Even if employers might not require a certification, having one may help you stand out in an application. Plus, the process of getting a certification can teach you new skills you can bring to your work.
Picking a certification that fits your needs depends on what skills you’re trying to build, and what you need to accomplish with it. If you’re curious to see what kinds are out there, you can explore an IT certification roadmap. You can look through several job descriptions of positions you’re interested in to see what kinds of skills are requested. If you’re hoping to stay in your current role, you can ask your manager to see what certification makes sense for your company.
Just starting out? An entry-level IT certification might help. These can include:
Google IT Support Professional Certificate
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
Note: The Google IT Support Professional Certificate is not a certification by itself—though you’ll receive a professional certificate from Google upon completion. The course will prepare you for the CompTIA A+ exam should you choose to go on and take it (and as of this writing offers a discounted 20-percent off exam costs). The course should prepare you for entry-level work in IT.
Certifications will generally have an exam you’re required to pass in order to obtain the credential. Preparing for the exam typically means you need to:
Meet all the requirements. Entry-level certifications generally don’t have any prerequisites, but more advanced certifications might have stricter requirements. Check to make sure you’ll be able to take the exam for the certification you’ve chosen.
Study for the exam. Each certification generally has a corresponding exam that’s listed on the certification provider’s website. They might also list what subjects are covered on the exam, or provide practice questions. More popular certifications should have multiple prep courses, books, or other resources you can use to study.
Schedule your exam. Go to the certification provider’s website to register for your exam—this is also usually when you’ll pay the exam fee. Depending on your experience and how much you’ve studied, the time you need to prepare for your certification exam can vary. If you’re just starting to study, budget for a few months’ time, or wait until you feel ready to take it to register.
IT certifications typically cost up to a few hundred dollars to take. For example, the CompTIA A+ certification can cost you $464 (for both required exams), the CCNA $300, and an associate-level AWS Solutions Architect will set you back $150.
Exams can be online or in person. They can include several different types of questions, like multiple choice, short answer, or ones in which you navigate through an exercise.
Before your exam day, run through the rules and requirements again. You might be asked to bring a valid ID, or want to know how long to expect the exam to take.
You’ve gotten your certification—congratulations! Now you can put it where people will find it. Here’s where you might place your new credentials in your resume and LinkedIn profile.
Resume: In your resume, you can list your new certification in your education section. You can also list any new skills you may have learned, and if you’ve completed any projects in coursework, add these to a section listing relevant projects.
LinkedIn: On your LinkedIn page, you can add your new certification to the licenses and certifications section.
Want more details? Read our guide on how to add credentials to you resume
Renewing your certification: Like many credentials, IT certifications can have an expiry date. Many CompTIA and entry-level Cisco certifications, for example, are valid for three years. It can be a good idea to keep an eye on how long your certification will be valid for, and plan accordingly. Requirements for recertification can include taking a recertification exam, or completing continuing education activities.
Your next certification: Getting another certification can make sense for you if you need more specialized knowledge, hope to switch into a different field of IT, or want to build on your current career trajectory. If you’ve gotten an entry-level certification, you might start looking at certifications in a specialized area you’re interested in—like networks, cloud computing, or cybersecurity. You can also consult your employer to see what skills they might find useful to have.
You can explore various certification paths through our IT certification roadmap.
If you’re ready to start looking at certifications, start browsing some entry-level certifications. Or jump right in and take a look at the Google IT Support Professional Certificate—the first week is free.