IT certifications are tremendously powerful tools to measure skills possessed. They are equally useful for goal setting and measuring achievements. For certifications to make the maximum impact, they must align with current and future job roles. If you are in the NOC, having an A+ won’t go very far. If you are in the help desk, having your CEH does not mean you will be doing penetration testing for the help desk team. Be thoughtful about where you are in your organization first and foremost.
Should you focus on certifications that will help you do your future job, or your current job? My recommendation is to focus on your current job first. Get certifications that will help you do your job well before attempting to move to a different group in IT. There are rewards for being good at your job. Firstly, your elevated knowledge can have an immediate impact on your team and within your organization. It also allows you to favorably compare with others that are in your same group. So what group are you part of now? Are you on the help desk team? Are you part of the network team? Or are you in the part of the security group? You should first satisfy the certifications that will allow you to elevate yourself in your group or role.
Once you are a star on your team, it is then time to start thinking about your future when it comes to certifications. What is your career goal? Do you want to be a project manager? Do you want to be in cybersecurity? Or do you want to run the servers? IT has so many areas where you can specialize and stay relevant. If you are thinking about certifications in your future “goal” role, start first at the lower level certifications.
Some people are tempted to go for a top-level or highly specialized certification first, bypassing lower-level certifications. This is a pitfall. Lower-level certifications allow you to build a good foundation without what I call being “top-heavy” or “imbalanced”. Cybersecurity certifications are the most problematic temptation for IT professionals. They represent certifications that provide qualifications for niche and elite job roles. In these specialized roles it is even more important to start with a certification like CCNA, Security+ or Associate of ISC2. Start with a good foundational certification, then build on that with more specialized certifications that are tailored to specific job roles.
When an employer reads certifications on a resume, they are often able to read the story of that individual’s certification pursuit. When they read your resume, they will want to read your story and have it make sense. A good example is CEH and A+. These certifications don’t make sense together, at least not where CEH comes immediately after A+. If on the other hand, the progression goes from A+ to CCNA to MCSA to Security+ to CEH, that story makes a whole lot more sense. Every certification journey is different. It is influenced by so many factors. Have a plan that aligns with how certifications are accepted and appreciated in the industry and your organization and you’ll make your efforts pay off.