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Fast, cheap and easy: Five IT certifications that won't break you

Looking to get a certification to boost your IT career? Here's a shortlist of relatively easy-to-obtain and inexpensive certs that are valued by employers.

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5. ITIL Foundation

A career isn't made on technical certifications alone, and the ITIL Foundation certification is the starting point for understanding IT service management and the fundamentals of business process transformation. "Practitioners with an ITIL Foundation certification can easily earn in excess of $90,000 a year," says Timpany -- that is, assuming that your employer has adopted and follows Information Technology Infrastructure Library best practices.

This is the only ITIL certification that has no prerequisites. Axelos, which runs the ITIL program, doesn't set exam prices or administer the tests, but Global Knowledge charges $170 for a paper test or $190 for the online exam.

Foundation certificate holders can then move on to test for one or more of the ITIL Intermediate Level qualifications-- modules focusing on different aspects of ITIL. But each of the nine modules requires completion of an accredited training course, and at least two years of IT experience is recommended.

Which IT certification is right for you? A checklist

That IT certification may sound great on paper, but is it really a good fit for your needs? Before investing your time and money, ask yourself these questions:

Is the certification valued by your employer or industry? If it's a recognized or required certification in your business, industry or line of work, then it's worth considering. If not, then you need to be doubly sure that the credential makes sense for your career before committing.

Is the certification accredited? Unfortunately, most IT certifications -- including some of those recommended here -- are not accredited by independent third parties, says Roy Swift, chief workforce development officer at ANSI. Why should you care? Accredited certifications are reviewed by industry experts to ensure that the content is relevant to real jobs and that tests are fair and prove competency, Swift says. Some certifications don't rigorously assess people's knowledge, skills and abilities, and employers know that -- which means you could be left with empty pockets and no job prospects.

Is the certification commonly cited as a requirement in job postings online? If so, that's a good indicator that it carries weight with potential employers. Having it won't get you the job, but it could represent table stakes for getting the interview.

Is the certification focus broad-based or vendor-specific? Generally speaking, broad certifications such as CompTIA's Network+ are more valuable than vendor-centric ones -- that is, unless the certification is associated with one of the dominant vendors in enterprise IT, such as Microsoft or Cisco. Even then, many IT professionals pursue a general credential in addition to a vendor-specific one. You might be administering Windows servers or Cisco routers today, but your next gig could be with a firm running products from Red Hat or Juniper Networks.

What is the true cost of the certification? Be sure to include total preparation costs as well as the exam fee itself. Can you do everything virtually, through e-learning and books, or will you need to take a $3,000 class? And find out up front if you will be required to sit through a course as a precondition before sitting for the exam, as that adds substantially to your cost, says Skillsoft's Zimmermann.

Do you have access to what you need to practice what you learn? Some certifications require spending considerable hands-on time with the subject software or hardware, Zimmermann notes. If you don't have access to what's required, either at home or through your employer, you may need to attend a class or use a simulator, such as Skillsoft's Virtual Practice Labs. Those costs can add up, so budget for them before you make a commitment.

Robert L. Mitchell, national correspondent, writes in-depth technology features and a blog for Computerworld. Follow Robert on Twitter at @rmitch. His email address is

This article, Fast, cheap and easy: Five IT certifications that won't break you, was originally published at


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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