Why IT Certifications Should be Important to IT Students

September 19, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Posted in Certification Paths | 6 Comments
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Some time ago, ITCC requested we write a white paper about why IT certifications should be important to IT students. Recently someone here at Kaplan reached into the file cabinet and pulled out an old, very dusty copy of this document. After some arm twisting (and chocolate – chocolate always works!), I was convinced to take a look at it once more and see if the topic was still relevant today. With just a tiny bit of editing, we thought this was a great topic to revisit. So here it is…

In this economy, every job candidate needs an edge over the competition. Sure, there’s no replacement for experience, but employers view certain certifications as an indicator of a job candidate’s ability to perform. Not all IT students, however, pursue industry certifications as part of the core curriculum.

Although a job may not require it, certifications can help recent grads by differentiating them as job candidates and validating their knowledge when they don’t have years of work history. They can also provide career advancement opportunities and personal growth if kept current.

Here are some key points about certifications:

1. Job Candidate Differentiation

If you’ve attended any job fairs, you’ve seen firsthand just how much competition is out there for every job. A single position or opening may draw hundreds of applicants. Meanwhile, the individual or committee responsible for combing through all these resumes can often find very little “on paper” to differentiate between the applicants.

Job candidates in the IT field can provide that differentiation by including any IT and professional certifications in their resume. It does not matter if you choose to pursue CompTIA vendor-neutral certifications or the technology-specific certifications offered by major players like Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle. What matters is that obtaining these certifications can be the difference between standing out in the crowd of applicants or blending into the background.

2. Career Advancement

Once you’ve been hired, certifications can help you advance in your career. Employers may even have certification requirements as part of your professional development plan. You should always ensure that your certifications are kept up to date, either through recertification or by satisfying the continuing education (CE) requirements.

In addition, you may want to obtain new certifications to branch into a different IT career. For example, you may be hired as a help desk technician while having earned CompTIA’s A+ certification. After some time on the job, you may determine that you want to step into a network administration or server administration role, and decide to pursue a Cisco or Microsoft certification as the first step toward reaching that career goal.

Keep in mind that it’s often easier to maintain a certification than to re-certify. Make sure you understand the requirements for maintaining the credential because most requirements are time-sensitive. You don’t want to fulfill the CE requirements for a particular certification, only to find that you waited too long to submit your activities for acceptance as CE units. Also, ensure that you track CE-related activities as they occur rather than waiting until you have to renew, so that you don’t have to dig through files and old emails to find the right date or documentation.

3. Validation of Knowledge

Depending on the IT program, you may be exposed to a completely different set of classes and subjects than your peers enrolled in a different program. Because there are so many differences between the various college information systems programs, it’s often hard for an employer to determine exactly what knowledge the candidate possesses. This is where IT certifications can really help you.

All certification vendors publish a list of the skills that are measured by any certification exam they offer. If you pass the certification exam, employers can refer to these vendor lists and easily determine the skills that are validated by the certification. These skills lists will also be a good guide for you as you look to specialize your skills through certification.

For example, if you want to be considered a security specialist, you may want to obtain the Security+ certification from CompTIA, the CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP) certification from CompTIA, and/or the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification from (ISC)2. Don’t know which one is right for you? Just refer to the skills lists for each of these certification exams as a guide.

Certain vendors, such as Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle, also offer different tracks that allow professionals to specialize in other areas, such as network administration, database administration, and application development. These tracks
typically offer entry-level credentials and paths to continue building your skills with advanced level certifications.

4. Personal Growth

While certifications can help you achieve career advancement goals, they can also be used as personal milestones. As a technology professional, you already understand that your skillset must be constantly upgraded to include the latest tools and techniques. Setting personal goals that include new IT certifications ensures that you are constantly expanding your knowledge base. As IT professionals, we cannot afford to stop learning. Even if your job requirements do not dictate that you should obtain new certifications, personal growth and education should always be a goal. When in doubt, ask yourself, “If I lost my job tomorrow, would my certifications still be marketable? What would make my resume unique in today’s job market?”

Several years ago, Kaplan joined the IT Certification Council (ITCC). If you’ve never heard of this organization, here’s a brief description:

The ITCC is a council of IT industry leaders focused on promoting IT certifications and committed to growing professional certifications, while recognizing the need for a qualified workforce to support the world’s technology needs. The ITCC is a resource for employers, government officials, academia, and individuals seeking information about the many benefits of IT certification. The council establishes industry best practices, markets the value of certification, enhances exam security, and works on other certification issues the Council identifies.

Other members include leading certification vendors, including Microsoft, LPI, and CompTIA, and content or test providers, including Pearson VUE and Prometric. I encourage you to look into this group if your organization is involved in any way in the IT certification industry.

Feel free to share this blog post with others you think it might help. Remember, we’re always here to help you in your certification goals. Got a specific certification question? Feel free to reach out to us through this blog, and we’ll do our best to provide advice.



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  1. Very good general overview of the importance of certification in IT! One or two things I would have added to the article are: a comparison of a few common IT roles (Systems Administrator, Applications Analyst, Network Technician etc), and what types of certifications would most benefit people in those roles or people wishing to advance along those paths. As well, I would point out that the mindset of many employers these days is: Experience > Certification > Degree. Which is a pretty startling revelation in that many employers would rather have experienced, industry certified IT professionals, than papered ones…
    Finally, I would point out that for the prospective student, there are excellent online programs like Western Governor’s University, which include an exhaustive list of certifications that you will achieve by the time you earn your degree.

    • Good points. Unlike Western Governor’s University, our Mount Washington School of Professional Education courses are developed from the ground-up to introduce learners into job roles and associated certifications. Whether the job role currently has a certification or not, the industry won’t wait and the demand for these jobs will continue unabated. Don’t worry – our professional education courses have you covered in any case.

      Our goal is to have our students walk the walk and talk the talk in whatever job role they choose. The courses are bit-size nuggets that map to real on-the-job skills, providing an easy-to-follow learning track over the long haul. Students can pick up a course without any commitment to a long degree program or combine courses into whatever custom program makes sense for them.

      We currently offer courses in Cisco and Project Management. Future courses include Web Site Design and SQL Server databases. Feel free to check them out!



      You’ll hear more from us soon!

      • Ok I’m gonna admit.. that was more of a canned sales pitch than a legit exchange of ideas…

        • If that sounds too much like a sales pitch, I apologize. We’re just excited to enter a space that has too long focused on book-knowledge degree programs and try to fill in the skills gap that most employers complain about.

          I took classes in programming when I was in college, but most of them never prepared me for real-world problem-solving. I think many college graduates feel the same, especially in non-programming areas, like web site administration and network technician roles.

          • Fair enough. I think the knowledge gap comes largely from the fact that traditionally, higher education was a personal quest for self-improvement. It was never an official requirement for a position. It wasn’t until the last half decade or so that college began its creep into every student’s itinerary for post high school graduation plans. College began touting itself as a tool for preparing people for a job, which was only true in some vocations (healthcare, law, science and a few others). That is why computer technologies have been blanketed under science. It has always been the student’s responsibility to seek out new information, plan group sessions outside of class with their instructors or classmates, pick the brains of everyone they know, and in general apply a thirst for knowledge to their day to day life. Nowadays it is all about passing tests, and these tests supposedly determine a student’s competence and employability. By turning higher education into a giant cram session with test-based progression, it voided what it was trying to establish: a baseline employers could use to determine the eligibility of a candidate for performing a specific job function. And then certification tests arose out of the need to fill the gaps that college testing didn’t cover. All of this to determine a candidate’s eligibility for performing a specific job function. It would make a lot more sense if, instead of all this testing all over the place, employers would just sit the IT candidate down and test them directly on the specific equipment and software that is in use in their production environment. That’s a far better way to assess your candidates than trusting what has become entirely too many third parties assessing them for you.

            • I don’t want to be too critical of higher education… universities, especially liberal arts, serve an important purpose to create well-rounded graduates with general skills and knowledge beyond a single job role. But I agree that a degree alone does not help employers assess candidates.

              On the other end, some certifications are focused on vendor marketing and selling points than true assessments of a candidate’s skill on a technology. I’m not sure we can count on employees to know how to assess their candidates, especially in companies that are growing with technologies that are completely new to them!

              The key I think is performance-based assessment. Microsoft flirted with this at one time and Cisco has embraced it on some of their certification exams. The latest Linux certifications are also moving this direction. Now it is a matter of universities and other vendors moving toward actual performance-based tasks, rather than relying merely on bland multiple choice questions. The knowledge-based approach does not relate to the performance of an applicant. More is needed.

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