It’s no secret that the IT industry is plagued by and inundated with IT certifications. PMP, CCNA, CISA, MCSE, MCSA, CISM, CEH and the list goes on and on!
It seems like you can get an IT certification for every little thing you can do with a computer, and sometimes, the hard thing with all these possibilities is knowing which opportunities are most worth your time and your effort. (And even your money.)
And while money isn’t the end-all be-all of career happiness, making more of it generally doesn’t lead to all-out dissatisfaction. (And let’s be honest… one of the up-sides to getting into an IT career is the earning potential.)
So if you’re wondering which IT certifications you should be planning for and going after, this list will help you narrow down your list to the ones that will up your salary… getting you closer to where you want to be financially.
1. CRISC – Certified in Risk & Information Systems Control
- Salaries revealed online: $118,000 to $119,000*
This is a fairly new IT certification, just coming on the scene in 2010, that is offered by ISACA, a non-profit group that advocates for IT professionals.
The certification is designed for those in IT who are responsible for identifying and managing risks from the design of a system, to its implementation, even through general maintenance.
To qualify for the CRISC exam, you need to rack up a minimum of three years of experience in three of the five areas the certification covers. Then, of course, you need to pass the exam, which is offered twice per year.
Because only 17,000 people have passed the exam since 2010, it’s an in-demand IT certification that pays well.
You can register for the next upcoming exam and find locations here.
2. CISM – Certified Information Security Manager
- Salaries revealed online: $114,000 to $118,000*
Also regulated by the ISACA, this particular IT certification focuses more on the strategy behind computer security and analyzing the policies and methods a company has in place, rather than being so concerned about the actual work of implementation.
It’s a bit older than CRISC, coming on the scene in 2002. And since only 24,000 have been certified in those 13 years, it’s got a small supply of qualified individuals, which makes this certification something that’s sought-after and worth paying a high salary for.
To take the exam, you need to have racked up five years of experience in information security, with at least three of those years in a security management role.
The exam is given three times per year, and is one IT certification that’s recognized all over the world.
Find the upcoming exam dates, registration deadlines, and study materials on the CISM section of the ISACA website.
3. CISA – Certified Information Systems Auditor
- Salaries revealed online: $106,000 to $112,000*
This is the third and final one on the list from the ISACA. It’s also their oldest certification, dating back to 1978.
It’s focused around the work of information security auditors who work in monitoring, controlling, and assessing IT systems, and measures a person’s ability to manage vulnerable spots, update policies, and confirm compliance with pre-set standards.
To take the exam, you need to have five years of experience in information systems – either in cybersecurity, auditing, or control, and the exam is offered three times per year.
Find the rules of taking the exam, when and where you can take it, and registration forms on ISACA’s CISA page.
4. PMP Certification – Project Management Professional
- Salaries revealed online: $108,000 to $109,000*
No, PMP certification is not exclusive to IT, but it IS a popular one in the IT industry. (Because everything in IT—from a software program to a security system—is a project that needs managed.)
It’s offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), and is the most popular project management certification out there.
To qualify for the exam, you need to have 7,500 hours (around 4 years of full-time work) of project management experience if you don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, or a minimum of 4,500 hours (a little over 2 years of full-time work) of project management experience if you’ve earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
Once you qualify, the exam itself goes over the five most important areas of the project management lifecycle, which include initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.
There are several schools that offer formal PMP certification training as well as many self-study guides that you can find online. If you’re not sure which is the best path for you, our in-house PMP expert and certified trainer tackles the question of self-study vs. formal PMP certification training here.
Learn about the facelift the PMP exam is getting starting in January 2016.
5. Certified Scrum Master
- Salaries revealed online: $101,000 to $107,000*
This is another certification that isn’t necessarily IT-specific.
It’s basically project management, but a totally different approach to project management than is required by the Project Management Institute for the PMP certification.
The term “scrum” actually comes from rugby, and is when a game has to be re-started because someone violated the rules or the ball bounced out of play.
When it comes to project management, the scrum theory says that expectations and requirements will change throughout project development, requiring a restart of sorts… instead of trying to identify everything upfront.
This certification, unlike the PMP certification, doesn’t require a set number of hours of experience. What you need to do instead, is become familiar with the scrum philosophy, attend an in-person CSM course lasting two days, and then pass the Scrum Alliance’s exam.
The first thing the Scrum Alliance wants you to do before becoming certified is familiarize yourself with the Scrum philosophy, and they’ve created an entire page full of resources to help you do that.
6. CEH Certification – Certified Ethical Hacker
- Salaries revealed online: $95,000 to $103,000*
Given by the EC-Council (International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants), this cybersecurity IT certification tests your know-how when it comes to finding weaknesses in a company’s network defense strategy using the same techniques as the unethical hackers trying to cause harm.
Because e-commerce security is such a big deal, the need for certified IT professionals in this area is pretty high, resulting in pay that is also pretty high.
The EC-Council itself has self-study and instructor-led options to prepare you for the exam, but if you’re looking for something that might be a little more local to you (and quicker), we have a CEH course that will fully prepare you to take the exam in just five days.
7. CCDA – Cisco Certified Design Associate
- Salaries revealed online: approx. $99,000*
This IT certification covers the use of Cisco’s hardware in designing and setting up on-campus networks, requiring those taking the exam to be familiar with routing and switching, wireless connectivity, IP, security, and a few other things.
Since it’s an Associate-level IT certification from Cisco, you must first earn the CCENT, CCNA, or CCIE certification. After that, you’ll have to study the preparation materials and then pass the exam.
If you’re ready to prepare for the Certified Design Associate exam, Cisco’s website has overviews, study materials, and practice exams for you to look over.
(However, if you’re still in need of one of the other certifications to qualify for this one, we’ve got a great program that’ll prepare you for the CCNA exam in just 15 days.)
8. ITIL v3 Foundation
- Salaries revealed online: $95,000 to $97,000*
This IT certification was created in the 1980s by England’s government to help standardize IT management across the country.
This one is open for entry-level IT professionals (because it covers foundations), and in fact, the ITIL is nothing more than a set of books that outlines the most commonly used IT management framework in the world.
The books cover capacity management, availability, operations management, incident management, and change. Getting the ITIL certification demonstrates that you understand the basic concepts of the IT lifecycle and all the terminology involved.
The AXELOS website has free papers you can use to test yourself on the certification’s concepts, and an easy search tool to find a local place to get your official training from. Many times, however, it’s helpful to find an ITIL prep course to help you pass the ITIL exam the first time!
(Loads of our own professors have this certification.)
Keeping Your Expectations Realistic
While a few of these IT certifications are relatively “easy” to reach in comparison to others, most actually take years of planning to obtain, which is why their reflected salaries are so high. (Though some don’t take years, so there’s good news for everyone.)
However, even if your particular goal certification does take you a number of years, having that specific goal in mind will guide your IT career choices and help you get to your goal… and your ideal salary… much faster.
(Also, if you’re one of those smarties that does manage to race to the top – Congrats! – keep in mind that some of the salaries listed also reflect career time and progression and are not 100% dependent on the IT certification itself.)
What are your goal IT certifications and target salaries for your IT career? What steps have you taken so far to move in that direction? What are you going to do next? We know that answering these questions is not always easy. We are dedicated to helping you reach your IT career dreams. Contact us anytime and we can help you create or refine your career goals and recommend a good IT training path that will work on your budget in your timeline!
*Salaries compiled from available 2015 online resources