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shutterstock_69626098 Figuring out which IT-related certification program to pursue, from among more than 100 of them, can prove a daunting task for anyone. ITworld recently posted their top suggestions, based on a study from consulting firm Foote Partners. Add to that a very comprehensive annual evaluation guide from Pearson’s IT Certification website, which contains detailed information on many programs. Both are good places to start your own investigation. Any certification program is a compromise between your own skill and learning gaps, and where you want to take your career. Here are a few questions to ponder about as you begin your research:

What is the total cost of the certification?

Okay, you know the cost to take the certification exam. But you may not initially consider the cost of travel to a remote city if the course isn’t offered online or nearby, and there may be additional exam fees or annual maintenance expenses to take refresher exams to renew the certification. Some programs require that you join a professional association as part of the certification process, too. Speaking of which, you might want to check out joining the IEEE, where, for about $100 a year, you can access numerous books, online resources, and training classes from Skillsoft. Eric Geier, in this Computerworld article earlier this summer, offered other ways to pinch pennies.

Do you have the time to complete the coursework?

Some programs have completion time limits, and some have complex course requirements that could get in the way of a full-time job. Some employers expect you to stick around with them after you get your credentials, too.

What is the salary benefit to the certification?

There are two good sources for independent evaluations of these programs. The first is from GoCertify, and is an online evaluation tool that asks you a series of questions, such as what subject area you are interested in, and whether you need to renew your certification or obtain a new one. A second resource comes from Ed Tittel, author of the aforementioned Pearson annual guide. He has his own set of metrics that he includes in that roundup, and he shares his methods here. Tittel told me in an interview about a very simple measure he uses to evaluate the salary benefit: “A certification that costs tens of thousands of dollars to earn had better also improve its holders’ income potential by at least one-third of those costs in yearly compensation increases.” Why one-third? This assumes that the typical lifetime of any certification is just three years, so he wants to see a payback over that period. “Otherwise, the cost-benefit argues strongly against shelling out the cash for somewhat less salary gain.”

Is this certificate actually in demand?

It’s one thing to want to get certified. But does any hiring manager really care? One way to find out is to scan the job boards, to see if the certificate is mentioned in job requirements or even in the titles of the job posts. Use the acronym of the credential in your search. Also, check the news posts on Dice and see if the acronym is mentioned in those articles.

Do you have any peer support?

Look at the study groups, meetups and other resources that are available online and in your local city; these can help supplement classroom training and also provide a handy shoulder to cry (or brag) on. “Put extra effort into creating a community of learners,” suggested Jonathan Haber in this post. In addition to having taken several online classes, Haber is the author of an upcoming book on online training. “It’s all too easy to get lost in the crowd in an online course,” he thinks. If you can’t find any of these resources, that’s a sign that perhaps you should consider pursuing some other credential. Look at vendor-sponsored support programs as well, such as the Cisco Learning Network, Microsoft’s TechNet and Microsoft Developer Network sites. If you are using a third-party training vendor, examine the array of support materials that comes with their classes, such as customized or real-time coaching, sample practice exams, test-taking exam prep guides, certification details, offline training resources, and virtual environments for code writing and debugging. The more ways you can learn the material, the better. And so, without further ado...

Six Leading Certifications

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