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Assessing the value of Microsoft certifications

Back in 1997, the certification business was red hot. A Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certificate usually paved the way to a job, and people were signing up in droves to get certified.

Fast forward to 2012, and college graduates are competing with experienced, out-of-work IT professionals for similar positions. This got me thinking. Most experienced IT pros hold various certifications, but are those credentials still important to the people doing the hiring?

Microsoft recently updated its certification requirements, see

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this story for more details.

Some recent information has come out saying that IT certifications have little or no value to employers, but I’m not ready to buy into that view.

Job posting sites where employers list which certifications are required for a job are good indicators of the qualifications they are looking for in an applicant. The following credentials are the most frequently sought-after Microsoft certifications I have found:

  • MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist). This is a successor to the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP), and like the MCP, it requires candidates to pass a single exam. There are 60 MCTS certs available across 13 product or platform categories.
  • MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional). A relative to Microsoft MCSA and MCSE credentials, an MCITP requires candidates to pass anywhere from two to five separate exams. There are a total of 18 MCITP certs available across seven product or platform categories.
  • MCPD: Microsoft Certified Professional Developer. Like older certs such as the Microsoft Certified Applications Developer (MCAD) and Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), an MCPD requires candidates to pass anywhere from two to six separate exams. There are 12 MCPD certs available across seven platforms or development toolsets.

Table 1 summarizes the results of research surrounding these certs on six different job sites:

Table 1: The number of job postings for Microsoft and Cisco certifications (Late 2011)

Site MCTS MCITP MCPD CCNA*
CareerBuilder 468 305 37 1,293
Dice 222 374 84 1,216
Indeed 2,104 2,864 459 9,453
LinkUp 380 595 77 1,687
Monster 208 322 44 962
SimplyHired 2,760 3,521 556 10,697
**Amazon rankings 3,070 29,088 117,110 1,462

* Cisco Certified Network Associate

** Amazon sales rankings for top-selling books (lower number indicates a higher ranking). The certification name is specified in the book titles

The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) numbers make an interesting contrast to the Microsoft numbers, as these certifications are in higher demand.

IT certifications and Amazon rankings

The Amazon rankings show a relationship among these credentials; it appears there are fewer exam-takers for MCITP versus MCTS. CCNA eclipses the MCITP sales ranking by a wide margin. Also, the MCPD value trails relatively far behind, as the low numbers on all the job sites would also suggest.

But this is a relative metric at best and a highly mutable one: Amazon sales rankings jump around like fleas on a hot griddle. If you check these same numbers as you read this story, the chance that you’ll see the same values for each of the four search strings is extremely low.

Old Microsoft certifications versus new Microsoft certifications

The MCTS, MCITP and MCPD remain on par with the older MCSA, MCSE, MCAD and MCSD credentials.

The MCITP is similar to the MCSE in that I believe it is still a “gold standard” for entry- to mid-level IT positions in client, server and network administration jobs. The MCTS is best treated as a stepping stone to an MCITP and probably isn’t enough by itself to make a huge difference in employability for IT professionals. That said, you can’t earn an MCITP without acquiring multiple MCTS credentials along the way, so they’re certainly not worthless.

Microsoft certifications: Where their real value lies

My advice to IT professionals who work with Microsoft technologies is this: The process of earning Microsoft certifications remains as useful as it has ever been. It’s critical for professional development, validation of skill sets and technical knowledge, and it maintains current skills and knowledge. Nevertheless, in our current economic climate, no credential or degree is enough to guarantee a solid, high-paying job, nor does it ensure automatic career success and constant employment.

The real value of these credentials lies in the learning processes they involve and the skills and knowledge they help develop. If acquiring these things isn’t intrinsically interesting and valuable to you, you probably shouldn’t be working in IT.

Successful careers in IT are about keeping technically informed and up to date, and Microsoft certifications serve that purpose very nicely. Just don’t expect them to lead to big raises or spontaneous killer job offers and you’ll never be disappointed.

About the author:
Ed Tittel is the creator of the well-known Exam Cram series of IT certification preparation books. He writes and blogs regularly about certification topics for PearsonITCertification.com and numerous TechTarget websites. Check out his blogs: IT Career JumpStart and Windows Enterprise Desktop.

This was first published in April 2012

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