Certification or licensure may be required for a variety of fields, ranging from hair styling to welding to teaching to actuarial accounting. Covering the breadth of certifications available is impossible, so I’m going to focus on a variety of IT-related certifications, go over 3 in-demand professional certifications outside the IT field, and then review a couple interesting certification programs offered by Ivy League universities.
There are a few reasons why I think technical certifications are particularly interesting right now. The biggest reason is that I think many technical certifications are relatively easy to acquire. They do not require a lot of prior knowledge, and with diligent self-study or a single training course, certification is within the reach of many. Another good reason? Even in this job market, there is still a high demand for IT jobs. The best reason? Technical certifications can often increase your salary substantially.
CompTIA offers A+ certification for computer support technicians.
- Exam ($168)
- Test prep materials, e.g. CompTIA A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide, Sixth Edition (book and CD-ROM, $60)
Microsoft Server Administration
Microsoft has a plethora of certifications, including several variations of the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) such as the MCITP Server Administrator.
- 3 exams, 2 of which qualify you as a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), so you can earn lesser certifications while working towards a larger goal. Each exam is $125, based on the testing site I selected; prices may vary, as the tests are offered through 3rd-parties and not directly by Microsoft.
- Classroom training (e.g. 5-day training, $3000, to prepare for one exam)
- Subscription-based e-learning resources (e.g. $320 for materials to prepare for one exam)
- Self-study guides (e.g. MCTS: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory Configuration Study Guide: Exam 70-640, $50)
Novell networking, the example I used in Boost Your Career with Professional Certifications, may not be in demand as much as it was 10 years ago, but certifications are still available. Novell offers 11 certification programs, such as Certified Novell Administrator (CNA)–the very same program that catapulted my colleagues into more lucrative positions.
- One exam ($125)
- 5-day training course ($2495, offered by various training partners)
- $495 self-study guide
It appears that Novell is on the decline, so picking up Novell certification may not seem like a great idea. However, many companies are still using older, legacy systems and there may be less competition for jobs like these. Check your local job listings to see if any employers in your area are still in need of Novell administrators.
Oracle offers various database administration certifications. For example, an Oracle Database 11g Administrator Certified Associate:
- 2 exams (Oracle database SQL expert and Oracle database 11g administration, $125 each)
- 2 5-day training classes ($3000 each)
- Self-study CD-ROM from Oracle ($1500)
- 3rd-party exam, e.g. Oracle Database 11g All-in-One Exam Guide with CD-ROM ($90)
Why is Oracle’s self-study CD-ROM so expensive? Well, I suppose it is actually cheap relative to $6000 worth of in-class training, but it seems the 3rd-party exam guide would be worth a shot to me. You can retake the exam after 14 days, and the retake is score independently (i.e. your scores are not averaged).
Sun offers certifications such as Sun Certified Java Associate. If you are already a Java programmer with years of experience, you probably don’t need to become a certified associate, although they offer more advanced certificates as well, such as Sun Certified Java Programmer and Sun Certified Enterprise Architect.
- Exam ($300)
- 5-day training course ($2000)
- SCJA Sun Certified Java Associate Study Guide ($50)
Adobe offers ACE (Adobe Certified Expert) certification for their specific software titles, such as Flash CS4 or Dreamweaver CS4.
- Exam ($150 per software title)
- Access to an online training library ($200)
- A copy of the software title in question (e.g. Adobe Dreamweaver CS4, $400; Adobe Flash Pro CS4, $700). Substantial educational discounts exist if you are a student enrolled at a university.
- Books about the software title (there are not, to my knowledge, titles specific to the Adobe certification exams).
Is Adobe certification for a specific software title valuable? I have not seen many job listings that specifically request Adobe certification. For specific software titles, demonstrating your ability to a potential employer through work experience or a portfolio of work examples may be enough. Certifications may be more helpful when you are competing in a broader field with more competition.
Notes on Technical Certifications
As you may have noticed, there is a certain genius on the part of many of these software companies: They create the software, they make you pay to learn how to use it, and then they make you pay to prove that you know how to use it. Don’t forget they will probably release new versions of the software that will soon make your certification look quaint an outdated, like a certified Lotus 1-2-3 professional. However, if you can pass the exam with an inexpensive self-study guide, it can certainly help you break in to a new field.
Now let’s take a look at some professional certifications outside of IT.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
This is one of the most intensive professional certifications available, requiring 5 years of college education. Most people pursuing it are already working as accountants and have accounting degrees, and therefore already meet most, if not all, the education requirements. Why would someone already working as an accountant want to become a CPA? Many accounting positions require the certification and pay a premium over accounting positions that don’t. Although requirements vary from state to state, the following gives you a rough idea.
A 4-year college degree, including 150 college-level course hours, with specific coursework required in accounting and other business topics. The specific coursework requirements may be waived if the applicant also has a graduate degree in accounting. The undergraduate degree may not need to be in accounting if the applicant has work experience as an accountant. After passing the exam (which costs about $100 to take), CPAs are required to stay current by completing Continuing Education (CE) credits.
Project Management Professional (PMP)
Project management is a hot field at the moment, and one organization–the Project Management Institute–certifies Project Management Professionals. A project manager is basically the point person between the client and the production team, and gathers the project requirements and makes sure that the project stays on track to completion on time and on budget. Why become a certified PMP? Many government agencies require contractors to have at least one PMP, which can lead to substantially higher salaries.
- Experience: 3 years project management experience + bachelors degree, or 5 years project management experience. Experience is self-documented, but requires substantial detail.
- Education: 35 contact hours of approved project management education. One hour spent in a classroom (or an online class) is a contact hour, so it is very different than a course hour. It can often be completed with a weekly class over the course of a semester, or in a 5-day intensive class.
- Audit: the organization randomly selects applicants for detailed audits to verify their experience and education.
- Exam: 4-hour, computer-based, multiple choice exam.
- Fee: $555
- Continuing Education: PMPs are required to obtain Professional Development Units (PDUs). I personally have attended a couple of presentations that have qualified for PDUs, and I can say that the content varied from a waste of time to interesting and relevant. It appears that the quality of your PDUs is largely irrelevant, though–the quantity is what is important.
Anyone who has ever volunteered for any length of time has probably seen first-hand how much non-profits could benefit from first-class management. In particular, when budgets are tight, non-profits looking to make the most of their resources will favor candidates with such credentials.
- Duke University offers a nonprofit management certificate. It requires 50 classroom hours, although there are no admission requirements and no exams or grades.
- University of Virginia offers a non-credit certificate in non-profit management. It requires 35 contact hours and has no required classes (you select classes that best relate to your organization).
- Capella University, a for-profit university, offers an online certification in the management of non-profit agencies. It requires 16 quarter credits (4 courses), at a total cost of $6768.
As you can see, the requirements for these programs are quite different, and there does not appear to be a standard non-profit management certificate. Employers may look upon certificate holders favorably, but may not understand the value of your particular credential. If that’s the case–play it up! Be sure to let them know what you learned that you can bring to the organization.
Ivy League Credentials
If you’re at a point in your career where technical certifications won’t help you, you could always consider adding some prestige with a little Ivy League. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and eCornell, a subsidiary of Cornell University, both offer business certificates in a variety of disciplines.
The Wharton Program for Working Professionals offers a variety of business certificates that range from 12 to 18 credit hours (4 to 6 courses) from the prestigious Wharton School. The tuition for each course is approximately $3000, so the total cost may range from $12,000 to $18,000 and may take over a year to complete. The courses are held on the Wharton campus in Philadelphia, so it is definitely not accessible to everyone. Even so, some students travel from Washington D.C. and New York City to attend.
eCornell offers 22 certificate programs in leadership, management, human resources, and hospitality & foodservice management. A representative example is a certificate in Project Leadership, which consists of 6 courses (each course is two weeks and 6 hours “learning time”), at a cost of $3750. Although the courses can be taken online, the certificate is awarded from Cornell University’s College of Engineering.
Do you have experience with a professional certification that you would like to share? Let us know in the comments.