Using Certifications to Elevate Your IT Career
There may be no faster way to advance your IT career than by earning industry certifications. But don't fall into the trap of thinking that certifications are easy!
CBT Nuggets trainer Jeremy Cioara believes that certifications are the single best way to advance your career. "Certifications are a focused, immersive, and intensive dive into a specific technology," Jeremy said. "The more motivated you are, the more certifications can work for you."
IT certifications give you the chance to explore new technologies, dive into new professional challenges, and open up new job opportunities, but at the end of the day, certifications ultimately exist to make you more effective and efficient in your work — which requires effort and commitment. Trainer Steve Caseley agrees that certifications play an important role in elevating your career, "Certifications provide solid, verifiable proof that you know your stuff!"
Trainer Simona Millham also weighed in. "[Certifications] differ from real-world experience, but it gives potential employers a kind of benchmark by which to judge your skills." She went on to say, "IT certification provides a structured way to increase your skills, complete with recognition of your achievement at the end. What's not to love?!"
Certifications are often the baseline against which all job applicants are measured. Human Resources team members will glance at your resume, looking to make sure you have a particular certification (or two, or three, or ten!). If you do, you just made the first cut. If you don't, your application materials end up in the recycling bin.
Using Certifications On the Job Hunt If you're pursuing new career opportunities, calling attention to your certifications is always a sound strategy. Trainer Michael Watkins feels that IT certifications were the starting point for his career. "IT certifications allow an IT professional to demonstrate both their knowledge and dedication to their profession." Michael went on to say, "Often times, knowledge and dedication will help a candidate stand out from other applicants when seeking a new job or differentiate themselves from their peers when competing for a promotion."
Consider using these practical, certification-related tips to take your career to the next level:
Craft your resume and cover letter well! Your cover letter should be specific to the needs of the job for which you are applying, including how your certifications meet the organization's needs. And your certifications must be clearly listed and easy to find for those reviewing your materials.
Let your certifications do some of the talking! Your interviewer(s) have your resume, so there's no need to run through the long list of certifications you've earned. Trust that your interviewer(s) did their homework and know what you've accomplished. Use the limited time you have for your interview to talk about how your certifications have equipped you for this job. Talk about all the ways in which your skills and abilities are a good fit for the organization.
Connect your certifications to real-world experiences! Earning a certification is impressive. But earning a certification and being able to meaningfully apply the knowledge and skills that came out of that certification is even better! Be prepared to give examples of how your training paid off in production environments, on the network, etc. Trainer Michael Watkins tends to agree. "It's not enough for [a candidate] to simply say they have a certification. The candidate must link that [certification] to why they will be successful in the role for which they are applying."
Consider your certifications the starting point! Most vendors require you to renew your certifications every 2-3 years for good reason. Technology changes fast! Be sure to discuss with your interviewer(s) how you plan to continue learning and demonstrate your ongoing commitment to keeping ahead of technology advances.
Diversify your learning! IT certifications are effective because they demonstrate your mastery of specific technology, devices, services, etc. In order to be the best candidate possible, work to diversify your certifications by earning credentials from a variety of vendors, and on a variety of topics.
Be prepared for the "gotcha" questions! It's critical that you be prepared to answer technical questions. Your interviewer(s) will likely have a few (or many!) questions that are designed to put you off balance. "The interview is about your ability to think fast on your feet," Jeremy said. "The interview will ask pointed questions that only someone with your certification(s) would be able to answer." Take advantage of the great resources available to help you identify what kinds of technical questions might come up in your interview (i.e., www.job-interview-site.com/, www.roberthalf.com/, and www.jobsearch.about.com/).
Practice makes perfect! It might seem a little childish, but take the time to practice your interview! Ask a colleague to be your interviewer and practice how you want to frame your experience, your certifications, etc. Think of it like taking practice exams before your certification exams. The better practiced you are, the more relaxed you will be for the real thing!