Every once in a while, IT training gurus step back and compile a list of the certifications that seem to matter most at that particular moment. The latest list, via Infoworld, is out now, and you can use it as a planning tool if you want to direct your career in a new direction. The highlights:

Microsoft (MCSE, MCITP, MCTS)

Few businesses get along without a hearty helping of Microsoft-powered equipment, and the company offers a raft of specialized training programs for those who service its products.

CompTIA (A+, Network+, Security+, Linux+)

The nonprofit Computing Technology Industry Association offers popular vendor-neutral certifications--a good option if you're seeking a consultant who has a mix of experience beyond a single brand. Among the certification options, the basic A+ [8] requires 400 hours of hands-on experience.

Cisco (CCNP, CCNA, CCiE)

Among the most popular certifications in the industry, the basic Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) covers installing and managing medium-size networks. It requires a passing mark on a $250 exam, and certification lasts for three years.

Apple (ACSP, ACTC)

A help-desk pro with Microsoft skills may not know how to manage Macs. For shops that rely on Apple products or use a mix of operating systems, Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP) and Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC) cover basic support skills as evidenced by passing marks on tests that cost $200 and $400, respectively.

International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (CISSP)

If your company deals with proprietary information and has deep security needs, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification is known to be rigorous. People who qualify for it must have worked for at least five years in areas such as security architecture and design, and then must pass a $599 exam and pay an annual renewal fee.

Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)

This advanced certification is reserved for IT security consultants and auditors with five years' experience. The test costs $415 or more. Tech consultants who earn this seal of approval enjoy a median annual salary of $87,000.

Project Management Professional (PMP)

This well-respected certification is for people with some college education and at least three years of project management experience. The median salary for PMP-certified IT project managers is $89,000.

Be sure to check out the entire article, which digs into that age-old question: How much do certifications really matter in the real world?

-- Don Willmott