While a candidate's experience trumps most other factors in an IT hiring manager's decision, certifications can offer less experienced job candidates a way to demonstrate their knowledge and skillset.
"It's a hot topic, as there is a shortage of skillsets needed in the marketplace," said Sean Dolan, CEO of Global Knowledge, an IT and business skills training firm. While putting credentials behind your name can be valuable to employers, "certifications tend to be a little one-dimensional," he added. For example, if a company is looking for a cloud security architect, that person would need several different certifications to demonstrate that they have the necessary skills.
Many companies are more interested in a candidate's ability to apply the knowledge signified by a certification, rather than the certification itself, Dolan said.
For example, on the development side, some companies might want a certified Java programmer, said Carter Lowe, enterprise technical recruiter at Mondo, a national staffing agency specializing in niche IT, tech, and digital marketing. However, others think that only amounts to passing a test, not a proven skillset. "Especially for developers and programmers, hiring managers just want to see the work itself," Lowe said. "Grit is more valuable than a certification."
SEE: CISSP: Certified Information Systems Security Professional Training (TechRepublic Academy)
However, the opposite may be true true for a systems engineer or a high-level support staff member, Lowe said. For more specialized IT positions, such as those working for the federal government, many employers require a set of certifications such as CompTIA's A+ or Network+, or ISC(2)'s Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).
"Certifications are just the entry game," Dolan said. "It shows you've got a commitment to command a certain language, for example, but it's not the be-all end-all. You want to make sure you're not just memorizing for a test, but are understanding the practicality of using it and applying it in a knowledgeable way."
When determining which certification to pursue, "it's smart to plan out what you are passionate about, and to have a learning path in mind," Dolan said. With companies iterating their platforms daily, it's helpful to understand product lifecycle and the value of the certification in the near future. For example, infrastructure certifications for some particular products are less popular now because many companies have outsourced that work to cloud providers. "Knowing the technology itself will help you decide on the certifications and learning paths that will be most important, like cloud, security, development, or software," Dolan said.
Here are the top five IT certifications that will increase your salary in 2017, according to Global Knowledge.
SEE: Project Management (PMP) Certification Training (TechRepublic Academy)
1. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
Average salary: $131,298
CRISC, offered by the nonprofit ISACA, is designed for IT professionals, project managers and others whose job it is to identify and manage IT and business risks through Information Systems controls. More than 20,000 people worldwide hold this credential, and 96% of those who have earned it keep it updated. As demand for professionals with these skills increases, CRISC is the highest-paying certification of the year, according to Global Knowledge.
2. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
Average salary: $128,156
CISM, also offered by ISACA, is aimed at management, focusing on security strategies and assessing systems and policies in place at a company. More than 32,000 people have earned the CISM certificate since it was introduced in 2002, so, like CRISC, it remains representative of a highly desired skillset that is in short supply.
With more information being stored in public clouds versus private data centers, it's no surprise that risk management, governance policy, and security are covered in the top two certifications, Dolan said.
3. AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate
Average salary: $125,091
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect associate level certification demonstrates expertise in designing and deploying scalable solutions on AWS. Only 10,000 people have earned this certification, and, given the popularity of the AWS platform, they can command a high salary.
"In the cloud, you want a solutions architect who knows how to put together not just the workload but an end-to-end solution," Dolan said. "[AWS Certified Solutions Architect] quickly became a top certification—you can't turn around without hearing about companies leveraging the cloud in terms of digital transformation."
SEE: IT Security CISA, CISSP & CISM Certification Training (TechRepublic Academy)
4. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
Average salary: $121,729
CISSP, offered by (ISC)2, is designed to demonstrate security expertise, including security and risk management, communications and network security, software development security, asset security, security engineering, identity and access management, security assessment and testing, and security operations.
Similar to CRISC and CISM, this security skillset is in high demand and will likely be so for the next several years. However, CISSP allows professionals to earn an associate credential while working on the required experience, rather than necessitating that they have the experience already. This makes it a valuable certification for those wanting to break into the security field, Global Knowledge noted. Nearly 111,000 people worldwide hold a CISSP certificate.
5. Project Management Professional (PMP)
Average salary: $119,349
PMP, offered by the Project Management Institute, is the most recognized project management certification. The PMP exam includes skills relating to the lifecycle of a project: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. There are nearly 730,000 active PMPs worldwide, across a variety of industries. This certification has been in the top certifications list for many years, and will likely continue to hold a place there, Global Knowledge noted.