Career / Career Progression

Why You Shouldn’t Rush to Take a New Exam

by Candi Orchulek
Why You Shouldn’t Rush to Take a New Exam picture: A
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Published on October 16, 2019

New IT certifications usually come with a lot of fanfare. We're looking at you, Cisco. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new certification and proclaim, "I'm going to get that cert!" We commend your enthusiasm. However, resist the temptation to go all-in on every new exam that catches your eye. You want to make sure that you are investing your time and resources wisely, with a focus on professional development.

Before you spend hundreds of dollars and schedule an exam, pump the brakes and slow down. Here are a few reasons you might be better off waiting to take a new exam — if at all.

Study Material Hasn't Been Published

There's often a delay between a new exam and third-party study materials. Books and online study guides take time to research, write, edit, and publish. Even if writers get access to beta exams, the few months between beta and alpha test releases, respectively, usually mean a very tight publishing schedule.

And even if you can get your hands on the very first online training course released for an exam, there's no guarantee it will be comprehensive enough. A good rule of thumb is to wait until there are three or four titles to choose from so you can decide which works best for you.

Better yet, look for study materials authored by CBT Nuggets trainers. There are quite a few. That way, you are getting the content from a trusted source. An added bonus is that their material will supplement their associated training nicely.

The New Exam is Still in Beta

Microsoft and AWS are two vendors that often float beta exams. They're either free or inexpensive, but you won't get your results for weeks or months. Microsoft, for example, does not release scores for beta exams until the beta process is complete.

At that point, they take time to review the answers as well as feedback submitted by beta testers, and make any necessary changes to the exam. While you may save a few bucks on the beta exam, you don't reap any advantages as far as being first in line with your certification. You'll get your results around the same time as the first alpha exam-takers.

Not to mention that if an exam is in beta, there's no assurance of that particular certification sticking around. You may want to get out in front of a new technology, but that's a gamble.

If you plan to spend months preparing for an exam, and hundreds of dollars on study materials, test exams, and the exam fee, don't you want to be sure that you're spending wisely? It might be best to wait until this new tech has got a foothold in the market before you commit to certifying in it.

You're Still in the Middle of the Old Version

There's often overlap between a new and old exam. You should weigh your options, particularly if your certification has multiple exams or prerequisites, like Cisco CCIE certifications. Companies are looking for your knowledge of, and commitment to, a platform (Cisco, Microsoft, etc.), and not necessarily at the newest version of a cert. In most cases, they won't care if you don't have the latest version of a certification. So, you need to weigh if certification is worth it.

Earning an IT certification proves your commitment to learning new skills and staying current on the latest technologies and trends. That's what employers want to see. And who knows? Maybe they'll pay for you to get the newest version.

You Aren't Using the Technology

Often times, a new certification is released in response to new technology. If you, or your company aren't using that technology (or doesn't plan to in the near future), earning the associated certification might not be a wise investment.

Many industries use a lot of proprietary software. Sometimes that means it will take time to update to the newest operating systems and programming platforms. Plus, we all know how slow government agencies can be to upgrade their systems.

So, if you don't plan on switching to the newest technologies or projects, it may be the case that you don't need to grab those study guides just yet.

A Role-Based Certification May Be Better for You

While companies like Oracle and VMware have certs for every new product, many technology vendors are moving away from product-based certifications. They now are favoring skill or role-based certifications.

Microsoft, for example, is in the process of consolidating their certification programs around job roles rather than products. Instead of an MCSA in the newest Azure product, you may be looking at an Administrator or a Solutions Architect Certification. Certifications like this are designed to validate the knowledge and skills you need on the job, not only to pass an exam.

One upside to the new role-based certs from Microsoft is that holders will have the ability to mark their cert as "current" by taking one or two "stay current" courses per year instead of starting a whole new track. Another is that a certification with a broader title, leaving out the year or version of a product, will likely have a wider impact on your resume.

The Market Shows Signs of Changing

Some vendors such as VMware dominate their markets. However, plenty of others gain and lose market share regularly. The firewall industry, for example, has quite a bit of competition.

Let's say your current company uses Cisco firewalls, and you're considering taking the CCNP Security exam. You should take time to research current market trends in your area and your industry. Are other companies using Cisco? Or is Palo Alto or F5 gaining steam? Having a sense of the skills that potential employers need can help you determine which certifications to pursue.

Also, look at what vendors within your industry are doing. For example, in recent years, Microsoft has placed a heavy focus on its Azure cloud platform. That could dictate whether you pursue a Server 2016 certification or a role-based Azure one.

You Plan on Staying Put

Maybe your five-year plan has you staying in your current position or company. Or you aren't required to earn certifications. If so, it may be in your best interest to spend your time focusing on the skills you need for your position rather than studying for another exam.

You always want to be ready for job opportunities as they arise. So, keeping up on new technology is still a good idea. But prioritize the skills you use in your current role. Don't worry about taking the latest exams until it's necessary, whether your job demands it or you are ready to make a move.

Don't Be a Paper Tiger

Experienced IT professionals often have multiple certifications in their disciplines. They usually add up over the years, marking a steady evolution of knowledge and skills. There is a difference, however, between a well-built skill set and a quickly-attained collection of paper certifications.

Often referred to in the industry as a "paper tiger," these usually young, inexperienced pros cram for and collect certifications in rapid succession to improve their resumes. This is often transparent to hiring managers and can be a red flag. If you want to be successful in IT, you seriously need to know your stuff. What good is a cert if you can't apply it to real-world situations?

Do you really hold expertise in the products for which you've already passed the exams? If not, take the time to really practice using those products and build your skills. You'll want to be able to back up that resume when applying for your dream job.

Final Thoughts

It's important to take all these factors into consideration before you start on your next IT certification exam path. Earning IT certification takes time, effort, and money. It's not something to take lightly. You need to make sure you are committed and plan out your study attack accordingly. If you have doubts or any of the above considerations apply, you should hold off on certification.

Of course, it helps if you've chosen a certification that aligns with your career goals. Some careful thought and analysis of your situation should lead you to the right answer. Good luck with your next certification journey.


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