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How to get more from your IT certifications

Linda's List of Best Practices to Benefiting from IT Certifications

IT Best Practices Alert By Linda Musthaler, Network World
April 13, 2009 12:07 AM ET
Linda Musthaler
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For a number of years, I've worked with various technology companies and organizations to help them develop and promote their certification programs. I thought I'd share some of my insider knowledge about how to get the most out of your IT certifications. Let's call this "Linda's List of Best Practices to Benefiting from IT Certifications."

I’ll start by defining what I mean by “certification.” In the IT industry, there are numerous organizations (e.g., CompTIA, SANS Institute, SNIA) and vendors (e.g., Cisco, Microsoft, HP, Red Hat) that have formal programs that validate the knowledge and skills of an IT professional. The person who goes through this validation process – usually one or more written or hands-on tests – attains a “certification” or “credential.”

Some credentials are easy to earn; others take many months or even years of training, hands-on experience, book study and other preparation. Regardless of the type of certification you choose to earn, there are a few simple things you can do to maximize the value you get out of your certification.

If you don’t already possess a credential, take the steps to attain one. When you are competing for a new job, contract work, or even a position within your company, the certification can be the differentiator between you and another candidate. Hiring managers often state that a certain certification is required or at least preferred for an open position. This is especially true if you want to be hired by a value-added reseller (VAR) or consultancy that earns its money from selling IT professional services.

If you already have a credential, maintain it. Many certifying agencies require continuing education or some form of periodic skills renewal to validate that your skills are current and relevant. Given the pace of technology changes, a credential that is even a few years out of date is practically worthless to an employer. What’s more, an outdated credential may not qualify you for benefits in the certification program any more. A credential is like an insurance policy; once it expires, it’s of little use. And to re-earn it, you’ve got to start from scratch.

If you hold a credential, check around to see how you can build on it. Many certifications act as prerequisites to others. With perhaps as little as one more test, you could earn a second credential. Often times, the general “third party” certifications from neutral agencies like CompTIA and SNIA can cross over to meet a requirement from a technology vendor. For example, to earn HP’s storage integration specialist certification (AIS – HP StorageWorks [2008]), you can meet a basic prerequisite by proving you already hold any one of more than two dozen third-party credentials.

Once you are a member of a certification program, keep your membership profile updated so the program administrators can contact you. For instance, if you change jobs or get a new e-mail address, let the certification program office know. This is the best way to continue to receive notices about changes to the program, continuing education requirements for your credential, training opportunities, and changes or enhancements to your program benefits.

Linda Musthaler is a principal analyst with Essential Solutions Corporation.

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