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Want to Start a Career in IT? Consider These 5 Certifications

So, you are considering a career in information technology? How exciting! By now you’ve probably heard that IT careers are booming and expected to continue this growth trend over the course of many years.

Beginning a career in this area allows you to stay on top of technology and pick a path that’s right for you. A career in the many different areas of information technology give you the ability to make your own path.

With so many diverse areas of study and practice, the sky is the limits for how far you will go. With everything from management to security to program development – there are many directions your IT career can take you.

Why a certification?

Entering an IT career is very different from many other occupational paths. While most careers begin inside the walls of a college campus – this field is different. The standard path to securing the job of your dreams is to earn certifications in those areas you plan to work. Employers look for IT pros who possess the certifications that are most suitable for their needs.

Instead of spending years earning a college degree, IT certifications allow you to choose the track that is right for you and advance to the level you choose. Let’s take a look at five of the top certifications you can earn to be on your way to a new and lucrative career in the IT field.

CompTIA A+ Technician

The CompTIA A+ certification is among the most popular of the entry-level certifications. One of the main reasons for its popularity is that it gives people new to the field a broad overview. Earning this certification will help you understand the way computers, networks and peripheral equipment function.

Technicians who earn the CompTIA A+ certification enter careers where they are responsible for handling computer maintenance, including operating systems, servers, computers, printers, mobile devices and laptops. Those who have earned this type of certification show that they have the skills necessary to become employed in this sector.

The A+ certification is vendor neutral and allows you to seek employment in a many different places of business.

Average annual salary: $72,546

Potential job titles:

  • Desktop support technician
  • In-home support specialist
  • Technical support specialist
  • Help desk technician
  • Information technology support technician
  • Field service technician
  • Information technology support administrator

Exam Process:

Achieving the CompTIA A+ requires the successful completion of two separate exams:

  • CompTIA A+ 220-901 examines your skill level with PC hardware, networking, mobile device hardware, and troubleshooting hardware and network connectivity issues.
  • CompTIA A+ 220-902 tests your ability to install and configuring various operating systems. You will also be asked to show your knowledge of important security measures to ensure confidentiality and protection.

Recommended experience: While no formal experience is required, it is helpful to have some hands-on experience in the lab or field.

Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) – Routing and Switching

A second great entry-level certification is the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing and Switching. The CCNA training path is ideal for those who plan to pursue a career in the specific IT area of networking. This associate-level certification shows potential employers that you have the skills and experience necessary to install, operate and configure business networks.

This certification also demonstrates that you have the capability of diagnosing network problems and finding immediate solutions. In addition to the general CCNA Routing and Switching certification you can also pursue a specialization in security, voice or wireless networking to create a career path that is ideal for you.

If you enjoy solving problems and creating solutions, this is a great certification for you.

Average annual salary: $95,881

Potential job titles: 

  • Network engineer
  • Network administrator
  • Systems administrator
  • Information technology security specialist
  • Help desk technician

Exam process: 

In order to secure the CCNA Routing and Switching certification, candidates must successfully complete the following three exams:

  • 300-101 Route – Implementing Cisco IP Routing
  • 300-115 Switch – Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks
  • 300-135 TShoot – Troubleshooting and Maintaining Cisco IP Networks

Recommended experience: No formal experience is required to apply for this certification but it can be helpful to complete some hands-on experience or training.

Network+

Another great option for someone who wants to break into the IT field is a Network+ certification. This specific kind of certification says that you have the skills necessary to operate in the ever-changing area of networking. Whether wired or wireless, businesses need qualified professionals who can design, configure, manage and troubleshoot various kinds of networks.

One of the benefits of a Network+ certification is your ability to take your certification and put it to work where you want. Maybe you see yourself working in the fast-paced healthcare environment. Or maybe you picture your career in the financial sector. Because operational, secure networks are the backbone of almost all industries, this certification will help you become sought after by a variety of employers.

The Network+ certification gives you the tools you need to stay on top of cutting edge technology.

Average annual salary: $74,828

Potential job titles:

  • Helpdesk technician
  • Information technology specialist
  • Information technology technician
  • Network support technician
  • Systems administrator
  • Network administrator

Exam Process:

The Network+ Certification (Exam # N10-006) includes a maximum of 90 multiple choice questions and takes approximately 90 minutes to complete. The domain areas that comprise the test include:

  • Network architecture
  • Network operations
  • Network security
  • Troubleshooting
  • Industrial standards, practices and network theory

Recommended experience: This certification requires no formal experience but it can’t hurt to have acquired some hands-on training or experience. Having an A+ certification is also helpful.

CompTIA Security+

Probably the biggest issue facing IT professionals in all areas is security. With cyber crimes on the rise each year and new methods of perpetrating these crimes – protection can be a tall order. This is why a Security+ certification is a must for anyone entering the field.

Cyber criminals are smart, sophisticated and their methods change on an almost daily basis. As soon as one issue is resolved they have come up with new ways to breach systems and networks. This certification shows potential employers that you are armed with the tools you need to combat this constantly changing data threat.

Average annual salary: $81,467

Potential job titles:

  • Network security specialist
  • Information security analyst
  • Cyber security consultant
  • IT risk analyst

Exam process:

In order to secure this certification you must complete the CompTIA Security+ Certification Exam – code SY0-401. The exam assesses your skills in the following security areas:

  • Network security
  • Compliance and operational security
  • Threats and vulnerabilities
  • Application, data and host security
  • Access control and identity management
  • Cryptography

Recommended experience: No formal experience is necessary. Having an A+ certification is helpful.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

Perhaps you already started working in the IT field or have an interest beyond entry-level positions. You are someone who wants more. By earning the CISSP certification you will show employers that you have the important skill-set needed to protect large systems and infrastructures from various cyber threats that seem to grow and change each year.

Of all the certifications, this is one held by a smaller number of IT pros (an estimated 112,000), which means that those who earn the CISSP will be able to essentially write their ticket in the job market. This certification is a must if you have your sites set on a position as a chief information security officer (CISO).

If you are looking for a more advanced level of employment and can handle the pressure of a high profile position you may want to consider the CISSP certification.

Average annual salary: $109,000

Potential job titles:

  • Information technology auditor
  • Chief information security officer
  • Security analyst
  • Systems engineer
  • Information security analyst
  • Systems consultant

Exam process:

The CISSP exam shows that you have acquired the knowledge and skills you need to manage data and network security for companies. There are eight subject areas covered on the exam, including:

  • Security and risk management
  • Asset security
  • Security engineering
  • Communications and network security
  • Identity and access management
  • Security assessment and testing
  • Security operations
  • Software development security

There are a total of 250 questions and the test generally takes about six hours for completion.

Recommended experience: It is recommended that CISSP candidates have some level of professional experience or college credits before applying.

Conclusion

IT certifications are a great way to jump-start your career in the exciting field of information technology. Whether you are just getting started or want to broaden your horizons, there is a certification that is right for you. As the jobs in this occupational area continue to grow, more IT pros will be needed to fill these gaps. It is an ideal time to consider a career in information technology.

Thinking of hiring a career coach to help you transition to a career in IT? Browse our directory of career coaches and get a FREE consultation or request a personalized coach recommendation!

About the Author A.P. Samuel

A.P. Samuel is the co-founder of SkillsBuild Training. He has a passion for helping people develop the skills they need to thrive in today’s IT job market. A.P. has spent over 20 years in the IT industry. He has worked as an IT Trainer and IT Consultant in Europe, North America, and The Caribbean. He has earned IT Certifications from Microsoft, CompTIA, Citrix, and Symantec.

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