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Making the most of your (MS) certs

How certs will affect your pay.

In my capacity as a combination IT certification watcher and career advisor, I field lots of real and electronic...

mail from IT professionals who are interested in the potential impact of certification credentials on their paychecks or their general employability. In the current economic situation, this often translates into either "If I get a certification, can I get a raise?" or "If I get a certification, can I get a job?"

Alas, the answer to both questions is "sometimes, but not always." To begin a more detailed discussion of the real meaning and worth of IT certifications in general, and Microsoft certifications in particular, it's necessary to put them into context.

I'll start with some impressive but not necessarily encouraging numbers: According to the 2002 Salary Survey from MCP Magazine, salaries for certified Microsoft professionals are down an average of 20% as compared to 2001. Interestingly, this effect becomes less pronounced for IT veterans who hold both Microsoft certifications and ten or more years of on-the-job experience. Again, here's demonstrable proof that while certs do have some value, experience is worth even more than certification to most employers.

As of August, over 800,000 individuals hold current MCP credentials and nearly 490,000 hold the MCSE. Other programs vary from a low of just over 2,000 (MCP+Site Builder) to a high of nearly 73,000 (MCDBA). This argues that plenty of individuals have judged Microsoft credentials to be sufficiently worthwhile to go through the time, trouble and expense of obtaining them. But once those credentials are in hand, their impact seems to be declining. That's because of the very size of the credentialed population and because tight economic conditions make it hard to get big raises or find work -- no matter how qualified or experienced individuals might be.

In the final analysis, what an IT Professional makes of his or her knowledge base, skills, certifications, work experience and academic credentials is what really counts the most. In cover letters or annual reviews, IT professionals must learn to speak up cogently and effectively to explain what they know and what they can do on the job to justify raises or outright employment. Likewise, it's important for IT professionals to make a strong and compelling case that their entire package -- which may or may not include degrees, certifications or even significant on-the-job experience -- qualifies them for the position (or pay) under discussion.

If you're not willing or able to make such a case for yourself, it will be difficult if not impossible to find someone else to make that case for you.

Ed Tittel runs a content development company in Austin, Texas, and is the creator of the Exam Cram series. He's worked on many books on Microsoft, CompTIA, CIW, Sun/Java and security certifications. His team is currently at work on TICSA and Security+ study guides for Que Certification Press.

This was last published in October 2002

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