12 IT certifications that deliver career advancement

In today's IT job market, having the right certification can give you the edge over competitors when opportunity arises

Certifications play an important part of any IT professional's career, although there will always be some debate on how important. Certifications are, like most things in life: The more you put into them, the more you will get out. While the actual knowledge you gain on the journey is the true reward, certifications also indicate to employers that you take your job seriously and that you are knowledgeable on the respective technology.

With more than 1,700 professional IT certifications running the gamut of IT technologies, knowing which certifications are the most important for your specialty can seem an insurmountable task. To help you meet the challenge, we've sifted through data from Robert Half Technology to narrow your search and bring you a manageable list of the most relevant IT certifications for the remainder of 2012.

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Dice.com, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, reports that Q2 2012 jobless rate for IT techs is at 3.6 percent, much lower than our national average. In a competitive market, you've got to do everything you can to distinguish yourself from your peers. Certification is an important part of that process. A recent poll asked users why they chose certification. The number one answer--at 51 percent--was that certification was a way to position themselves for a promotion or potential job.

Knowing which IT certification is right

Before you jump into a specific certification, there are some important questions that you need to ask yourself about your career goals and objectives:

  • What demographic of IT do you fall into? (Security, Web Development, Programmer and so on)
  • What are your career objectives?
  • What IT career are you most interested in?
  • What type of resources are needed (i.e. money and time)?
  • Will this certification have a significant impact on my career?

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Taking the time to think about and document your response to these questions can help solidify your future goals and narrow your list of potential certifications further.

Tip: Once you've identified a role you'd like to advance to, look through Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder and other sites for those positions and see what IT certifications employers are looking for. You may find that on-the-job experience is what employers are searching for in one area of your expertise, so it would be logical to invest your time and money into certification in a different area to further your career goals.

Bonus Tip: You'll find a must-have utility for your IT certification toolbox at GoCertify. The Certification Advisor allows you to plug in your area of expertise, skill level, career goals and more to generate a list of recommended certifications.

If your area of expertise is related to a listed certification's focus and you don't have that certification, you will definitely want to delve into it further. Now without further ado, here are our Top 12 IT certifications.

1. Project Management Professional (PMP)

Completing the Project Management Professional certification shows employers that you have the necessary skills and resources to get the project done from start to finish, on time and on budget. It's never been more relevant than in today's IT industry where we all have multiple responsibilities. Average salary: $101,000.

2. Certified Information Systems Security Professionals (CISSP)

CISSP is a vendor neutral security certification. People who hold this certification have the skills and knowledge to complete high-level tasks involving architecture, design, management and/or controls that assure the security of business environments.

If you keep up with the news, you've seen all the latest security breaches at Sony, LinkedIn and many others; security is at the top of everyone's list today. To punctuate that the Robert Half Technology Salary Guide reported that 24 percent of the 1,600 polled CIO's stated security as their top concern. The amount of data companies now store can be mind boggling. Breaches cost money, man power and many times credibility. As threats continue to escalate, so will the demand for professionals who can find security holes and ward off the attacking hordes. Average salary: $97,000.

3. Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)

RHCE is a Linux Red Hat Entperprise Linux certification and demonstrates that the holder has the skills and knowledge to perform the duties of senior system administrator, responsible for Red Hat systems. Deployments and migrations are second nature to an RHCE.

Linux continues to be adopted by more and more companies in an effort to decrease operating costs. Demand is outpacing supply making this one of the hottest Linux certifications. Note: In order to be eligible for this certification you must receive your RHCSA certification. Average salary: $90,000.

4. VMware Certified Professional (VCP)

VCP VMware's first level of certification that focuses squarely on the vSphere virtualization platform. Recipients should have the skills to install, deploy, scale and manage vSphere environments, as well as general virtualization skills.

Virtualization is more popular than ever in today's IT world and with cloud computing-based virtualization becoming more and more common this is sure to be a skillset that will be in demand for the next few years. Average salary: $95,000.

5. CompTIA A+

A+ from the trade group CompTIA, is another vendor-neutral certification and is considered entry level. It encompasses a number of different foundation level IT skills.

This is an industry standard for IT and tech support folks. Earning this certification indicates that you have the skills and knowledge to install, secure and troubleshoot networks as well as conduct preventative maintenance. Average salary: $47,000.

6. Oracle DBA

Every company has a database that is crucial to its operation and most have several, making Oracle certified professionals in demand. The Oracle DBA certification factors in training, experience and testing to establish a strong foundation and expertise in Oracle9i Database techniques, including backup and recovery, performance tuning and administration. Average salary: $103,000

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7. Information Technology Infrastructure Library

The ITIL certification is the basis of the worldwide standard for quality IT Service Management and is considered to have laid the groundwork for effective IT departments. It outlines non-organizational specific "best practices" that are used by companies to establish a level of competency. There are four flavors for this cetification: Foundation, Intermediate, Expert and Master. It's hard to imagine a company these days that doesn't maintain some type of web presence and as more and more businesses become dependent on IT, the skills to manage IT services have become a "make or break" role. Demand for this certification has skyrocketed over recent years and it should continue to grow into 2013 and beyond. Average "ITIL Expert" salary $98,000.

Cisco certifications

Cisco certifications, like Microsoft and others, have been IT industry standards for years and are used to validate knowledge of Cisco products and technologies. So much business passes through Cisco systems that these always seem to be in demand. The two listed below should continue to grow well into the foreseeable future.

8. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)

CCIE demonstrates that the recipient has all the expert-level skills required to plan, prepare, operate, monitor, and troubleshoot complex data center networks. CCIE is a common goal for network professionals who want to be recognized as experts in their field. Cisco touts this certification as "the most prestigious networking certification in the industry" and this certification has also been called out by RHT as one of the most in-demand certifications for 2012. Average salary, $103,000.

9. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

CCNA certification is a second-level Cisco Career certification. It lets employers know that you have demonstrated the ability "to install, configure, operate and troubleshoot medium-size routed and switched networks, including implementation and verification of connections to remote sites in a WAN". Anyone who wants to work in the newtworking field or if you happen to work on Cisco hardware on a regular basis should consider adding this certification to their skillset. As mentioned earlier, security is going to continue to grow and according to RHT data so will the need for this credential. Average salary, $86,000

Microsoft certifications

Microsoft software and systems are a staple in most IT departments making these and other Microsoft certifications in demand skills. The RHT Salary Guide calls out all three of the Microsoft certifications listed below as top needed skills in today's job market.

10. Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP)

MCITP certifications, one of Microsoft's newer certifications, tests technical proficiency in the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certifications. There are many different areas of certification. Average salary, $85,000.

Windows Client

MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician on Windows 7

MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7

MCITP: Consumer Support Technician on Windows Vista

MCITP: Enterprise Support Technician on Windows Vista

Windows Server

MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008

MCITP: Server Administrator on Windows Server 2008

MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2

Microsoft SQL Server

MCITP: Database Administrator 2008

MCITP: Database Developer 2008

MCITP: Business Intelligence Developer 2008

MCITP: Enterprise Project Management with Microsoft Office Project Server 2007

Microsoft Exchange Server

MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator on Exchange 2010

MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator on Exchange 2007

Microsoft SharePoint Server

MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010

Microsoft Lync Server

MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010

11. Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS)

MCTS certification validates skills on a particular Microsoft technology. As with MCITP, there are many technologies that you can certify for, for example, Exchange server, Lync Server and Office Communications Server, virtualization and more. There are simply to many to list them all by name here, 57 in fact. The entire list can be found here. Average salary: $90,000

12. Microsoft's Certified Systems Engineers (MCSE)

An MCSE certification demonstrates that the recipient can design, implement and administer technology infrastructures using Microsoft 2000 Windows Server and other Windows server platforms. This certification is common to systems engineers, tech support engineers, system analysts, network analysts and technical consultants. Average salary: $77,000.

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Why certs pay off

Certifications are a great way to break into a new technology, cover gaps in your resume or advance your current position. The best people in the IT business are the ones who are passionate about learning and that is a key to being successful. Technology is evolving at a pace that is difficult to keep up with. As the environment moves forward and changes so must you. Regular education is a must whether it's back to college, buying a book or getting a certification. Choose wisely and always explore your options.

Salaries are based on data from Indeed.com.

Read more about careers in CIO's Careers Drilldown.

This story, "12 IT certifications that deliver career advancement" was originally published by CIO .

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