Which tech certifications are actually worth the money? According to an analysis of 430 certified skills by David Foote, chief analyst of Foote Partners LLC, information security certifications delivered the best ROI. (Security certifications also open up huge opportunities for tech pros, including jobs with a wide range of critical responsibilities.) Leveraging data collected through July 1 for his firm’s IT Skills and Certification Pay Index, Foote evaluated the median cash premiums that employers are willing to pay above base salary for specific certified skills, along with quarterly changes in market value. That allowed him to identify certifications on an upward trajectory. His conclusion? “Many information security certifications are already earning above average pay and are poised to go even higher,” he said. It’s good to know which certifications will not only boost your market value today, but tomorrow as well. Here’s a look at the 10 certifications with the biggest upsides:
InfoSys Security Architecture Professional (ISSAP/CISSP)
Pay Premium: 17 percent of base salary. Market Value Increase: 30.8 percent in the last six months. Having this certification on your résumé could open doors and checkbooks. According to PayScale, salaries for enterprise architects, security consultants and IT managers with this certification range between $92,750 and $175,000. That’s a pretty good return when you consider that the cost for an (ISC)2 information security exam is $599 (and the cost for each concentration is $399).
Check Point Certified Security Master (CCSM)
Pay Premium: 16 percent of base salary. Market Value Increase: 23.1 percent in the last six months. Check Point offers security certifications tailored for professionals with varying experience levels. Its most advanced cert (the CCSM) has delivered the biggest return of the year (so far). You may need to pass prerequisite exams to get the CCSM; exam costs range from $150 to $350. Although the company provides free self-study training resources, some training providers charge $1,000 a day for immersive courses, so be sure to consider training costs when calculating your personal ROI (hopefully, you can convince your employer to pick up any training-related tab).
GIAC Reverse Engineering Malware (GREM)
Pay Premium: 14 percent of base salary. Market Value Increase: 7.7 percent in the last six months; 27.3 percent in the last three. The inability of traditional IT defenses to detect and block malware has frustrated employers and forced them to consider new strategies, including reverse-engineering malware. “Employers are looking to hire GREM-certified technologists who possess the ability to reverse-engineer malicious software in order to improve defenses and incidence response,” Foote said. If you’re interested in pursuing certification, the costs for GIAC exams and training affiliates are listed here.
GIAC Certified Perimeter Protection Analyst (GPPA)
Pay Premium: 14 percent of base salary. Market Value Increase: 27.3 percent in the last six months. Employers are paying hefty cash premiums to certified pros who have the ability to design and configure firewalls and perimeter defense systems.
InfoSys Security Management Professional (ISSMP/CISSP)
Pay Premium: 14 percent of base salary. Market Value Increase: 30 percent in the last three months. The average salary for a tech pro with an ISSMP and a bachelor’s degree is $125,102, according to PayScale. Better still, recent gains in market value signal the possibility of more upside ahead for this cert.
Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP)
Pay Premium: 13 percent of base salary. Market Value Increase: 8.3 percent in the last six months. This vendor-neutral cert is delivering a nice return to programmers, project managers, and engineers involved in software development.
GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH)
Pay Premium: 13 percent of base salary. Market Value Increase: 18.2 percent in the last six months. This certification elevates the market value of incident handlers, system administrators and security architects. Certification Magazine pegs the average annual salary for GIAC-certified incident handlers in the U.S. at $130,410.
Cisco Certified Network Professional - Security (CCNP-Security)
Pay Premium: 11 percent of base salary. Market Value Increase: 22.2 percent in the last six months. Network engineers and admins with this vendor-specific cert can command premium pay, according to Foote Partners’ analysis. Although there are prerequisite certifications, and you have to pass four additional exams to get the CCNP-Security, it may prove worth it, with salaries for certified senior network engineers heading into the six-figure range.
EC-Council Licensed Penetration Tester (LPT)
Pay Premium: 11 percent of base salary. Market Value Increase: 22.2 percent in the last three months. Because the median salaries for penetration testers vary widely from job to job, earning the EC-Council LPT (Master) Credential can strengthen your position in the marketplace and improve your income. (Note: The Licensed Penetration Tester (LPT) certification is the next step after earning the CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) and ECSA (EC-Council Certified Security Analyst).)
ITIL Expert Certification
Pay Premium: 11 percent of base salary. Market Value Increase: 10 percent in the last six months. ITIL has become the most widely used framework for IT management in the world; earning an expert-level certification can qualify you for a wide range of high-paying positions within IT service management. Prices for training and certification vary by provider.