Why Pursue IT Certifications If I Already Have a Job?

There is a widespread perception that getting an IT certification is something you do only when you are actively seeking a job. That may be because you are unemployed, or looking to change careers or want to move to a higher position where you currently work. This leads to the question of whether or not there is any reason to add certifications to your resume when you are employed and are perfectly happy staying where you are indefinitely.

Any time you go after a new certification, it's almost certain to mean giving up some personal time on nights and weekends studying. You'll probably also have to shell out some cash for books, practice tests or other study materials. Most companies will pay for you to take certification tests (assuming you pass). However, few will allow you to study on company time or pay for your study materials or failed tests. Below are some reasons why I believe that it is indeed worthwhile to invest some of your own time and money each year getting a certification or two. There are several compensations to getting an IT certification in your field.

Money Left on the Table: The company you work for probably has a policy to reimburse educational expenses related to your position. Convincing your manager to approve university courses that cost thousands or tens of thousands may be a hard sell. However, getting approval for a certification test that will cost a few hundred dollars is normally dead easy. If your employer has a policy like this and you don't bother to make use of it, then you are leaving money on the table. Everybody wants to get paid more for the work they do. This is one way of getting more compensation for doing the same job you are already doing. In my opinion, not using this benefit is similar to failing to contribute enough to your 401K to get the full company match.

Perception of value: Not everyone agrees on the value of IT certifications. However, those arguments almost always occur among the IT personnel who are the target candidates. By contrast, Human Resources staff and management almost invariably view professional certifications in a positive fashion. When an employee of the company adds new certifications, then there is a perception that the employee knows more and is a more valuable asset to the company. Certifications are an inexpensive method of demonstrating that you are making an effort to keep your expertise current. This perception of value is useful in good times when management is making decisions regarding raises. It is also valuable in bad times when reductions in force are being discussed.

Annual Reviews: Writing a self-evaluation of my accomplishments each year is something I dread. One of the few bright spots is that the section for "accomplishments and professional development" is a breeze for me in most years. Completing an IT certification or two each year provides you with an easy way of demonstrating that you are working to learn new job skills. As employees, we generally expect (or at lest hope) to get a raise every year. Having something tangible to point to as an example of why you are a more valuable employee than you were a year ago is handy.

Situations Change: At this point in time you may be perfectly content to stay in your current position indefinitely. That said, if you are in the IT industry and are not in your late fifties or older, odds are you won't retire with your current company. That means that the day will come when you need to blow the dust off your resume. Even if you are positive that you want to retire right where you are, the future may not play out that way. The company you work for might announce a reduction in force; they might be bought out by a competitor that guts the workforce; or the company might lose a major contract and eliminate your department. Alternately, a change in your department, a new manager, or a new coworker might make you hate your job. If you are put into a situation where you are unexpectedly in the market for a new job, it's too late to do much to tweak your resume. You probably will want to start sending it out to prospective employers immediately. A resume showing a set of current IT certifications will help to present an image of an IT professional that keeps their skills up-to-date.

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