Friday, August 27, 2010

"Certify at your level and with what you do."

When you’re at the beginning of your career in IT and not doing quite what you want to be doing (yet), it’s tempting to think that certifications will be the quick solution to career advancement. You may think you need to “rack up” as many certifications as you can in the shortest time possible in order to open doors to better career opportunities. But this plan overlooks the point of certification in the first place, and chances are, a certification not coupled with practical experience won’t get you very far anyway.

This is not to say that certifications shouldn’t be your goals. They still should. Certifications have always played an important role in demonstrating expertise in IT fields. But consider what Ken Wagner of Certification Magazine suggested to a recent IT grad interested in a career in information security. After pointing out that security is a hard field to break into without prior experience, Wagner told the graduate, “Certify at your level and with what you do. When you first get into IT, work toward the CompTIA Security+. Forget about the higher-level security certs like the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) for now until you actually work in the information security field.”

The recommendation to “certify at your level and with what you do” is an important one to remember, no matter what area of IT you want to go into. So, what is your area of practical experience? For example, do you work with networks? Your experience coupled with hands-on certification training will prepare you to receive the Network+ certification. Then, as you continue professional work in networking, you’ll be able to add to your networking qualifications with higher-level certifications. The idea is to work on certifications as you build your experience, not before you build your experience.

Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, wrote that certifications “carry their value only when they’re paired with experience. Choose training opportunities and certifications that realistically enhance your ability to help your current or next employer.”

With that in mind, consider the certification that matches the experience you’re currently gaining for the career you want. Seek training that will give you hands-on experience as you prepare to certify, and build a foundation of skills for your career path.

Emily Howard, TestOut

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