Since the start of the millennium, there has been a significant decline in entry-level positions available to new college graduates and increased demand for experienced IT professionals. This is good news for those with experience but bad news for recent grads, particularly if they lack core knowledge and demonstrated skills.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for information technology (IT) occupations will increase by 22% through 2020, which is much faster than average for all other occupations combined. Aspiring IT professionals can take advantage of these statistics by obtaining industry-recognized certifications that demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
Experience leads to skill through practice and application of knowledge, not just completion of training courses. For example, let’s compare two individuals who hold the same certification – each has passed the exam and met the BOK requirements. One individual has years of experience working in real-world situations while another individual has no experience whatsoever. Which one do you think will be considered more qualified? The answer should be obvious, yet it happens all too frequently when managers hire based on what they see rather than how it translates into skills that are actually usable in their organization.
So what does this mean? Is there any reason to obtain certifications? Of course, there is! Certifications should be viewed as a way to provide evidence that you’ve mastered specific knowledge and skills. It’s up to you how those credentials translate into value but one thing is clear: not all certs are created equal. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a certification based solely on how it will make you look, rather try to understand which topics and skills experienced IT professionals would be expected to master in order to pass the exam and then use that information to your advantage.
The following list describes seven of the most marketable IT certifications for recent grads. While this list can certainly be expanded upon, these seven represent an extremely diverse range of topics and technologies where experience provides significant advantages over other certifications.
Without further ado, our top 5 certifications for recent grads are
1. CompTIA A+
CompTIA A+ is a great certification because it validates that candidates have mastered both PC hardware and software troubleshooting skills in addition to building, configuring, upgrading, repairing, maintaining and configuring small office/home office (SO/HO) networks ranging from simple workgroups to complex business-class infrastructure. The broad focus of this exam makes it very attractive to employers because it shows that a candidate has hands-on experience with a wide variety of technologies. Furthermore, CompTIA A+ is vendor neutral which makes it especially valuable to IT professionals who want to remain flexible when considering different platforms and products for use in their organization.
2. Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)
The MCSE used to be the most desirable certification available but its value has diminished significantly in recent years as more and more vendors, including Oracle, Cisco and Novell have developed their own certifications for their respective technologies. Despite this fact, there are still several areas where industry support for Microsoft’s certified expert program far outpaces alternative programs from other vendors: Windows Server operating systems, desktop operating systems and virtualization are all areas where Microsoft will pay you more to have their logo next to your name.
3. Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)
The RHCE is one of the most respected certifications in enterprise environments today because it demonstrates that an IT professional has successfully installed, configured and maintained large-scale Linux infrastructures using Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5. While there are additional levels of certification within this program, RHCE is widely considered to be the “gold standard” for commercial open-source platforms making it a valuable certification for any recent grad that has some experience with Linux systems administration.
4. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing & Switching
Cisco continues to maintain its dominance over the networking market thanks in no small part to its vast array of comprehensive certification programs. While the more advanced CCNP and CCDP certifications include an experience requirement, Cisco’s entry-level associate-level certifications continue to be valuable credentials for anyone who hopes to pursue a career as a network engineer or administrator.
5. Citrix Certified Associate – Virtualization (CCA-V)
Citrix is the leading provider of virtualization solutions and their CCA-V certification is proof that you have mastered some key components of XenServer, NetScaler and XenApp administration. Although only one test exists within this program, it covers important topics like networking and security which provide value beyond simple terminal services management making it a useful certification for mid-level professionals as well.
Graduates can acquire many IT certifications to stand out in the crowd. While this list of 7 certifications for recent grads are not be exhaustive, these credentials are some of the best available because they demonstrate to potential employers that you have practical knowledge of key business technologies.