When you enter I.T., you hear all about certifications. You may not know what a certification means, and which ones to pursue. You are usually just trying to get your foot in the door and start getting experience to allow yourself to learn. Add to that, every vendor out there has their own type of certification and different level. So where should you start or should you start at all?

A certification is a way to show your current and future employer that you have the skills, and have mastered the requirements in a specific technology. The certification is usually made up of studying various topics, and then taking a test, that proves you have mastered the knowledge. Every vendor has a specific set of skills required, and they also have a specific test requirement. You can find these all laid out for you on their website, usually called a “blueprint.” This blueprint will give you the topic sections, what is required in each section, and how much each section is worth on the test.

You are probably thinking “that’s all and well Frank, but what cert should I take?” Well my reader\friend, that’s a trick question. But let’s see, if I can help you maneuver your way through the different certifications. Let’s start with the very basics of certifications, and then talk about the vendors and their different certifications.


Vendor Neutral:

A vendor-neutral certification talks about fundamentals. It teaches you the ground level or foundation for you to build upon. The biggest vendor in this group is CompTIA. They have certifications in hardware and software to help you learn the fundamentals. This certificate gives you the knowledge to work on any platform regardless of who manufactures the hardware or software.


Vendor Specific:

A vendor specific certification is based solely on a vendor’s product. This certification shows you have the knowledge and mastered it to troubleshoot and use the vendor’s products. There are many large players in this arena. The two major players that most think of are Cisco and Microsoft. Cisco has a whole platform all the way up to expert, while Microsoft bases each platform per product.

So now that we know what the different types of certifications are, what certification should you choose to pursue? That is based on what your goals and objectives are. Do you want to learn the fundamentals so that you can build, do you want to learn just a product, so you can specialize in it? Do you need to master a wide range so that way you can master a technology and not just products? All these answers will dictate which certs to go after.



You chose your certification now what?

Once you have a certification in mind you want to pursue, now it’s time to start making a game plan. Review the vendor’s information on their site, about the certification and make a study plan. This is usually already put together for you in the blueprint, but you need to make a timeline on when you want to take the test. Then you can create your study plan, and set a schedule. Choose a book or course you want to read or take to help study. There are classes you can go to, at a school or online.

Depending on the certification you choose, you may need some hands-on experience. You can do this with labs, simulators, emulators, or rack time. The vendor can give you some examples to help you get the experience. Check out my post on Labs, this can help you setup your own lab for hands-on experience.


Boot Camps:

While you are doing research on materials you will use for your certification studying, you come across what’s called a boot camp. You think, it’s only 5 days, and I can learn this stuff Great! Hold on my friend, Boot Camps are there to help you master after you have already been studying. You will find yourself swimming upstream if you haven’t already been studying the topic. I would not suggest just going right into a boot camp. I would suggest using boot camps as your final study tool. They will make sure you have mastered what you need to. You DO NOT need a boot camp. I am just referencing it here, so as a new certification member, you don’t get stuck in the cycle.


Practice Exams:

There are plenty of sites out there, with practice exams. These sites have questions based off of the information needed to pass the certification. I would suggest taking a few of these practice exams so that you know where you are in your knowledge. Nothing worse then showing up to take a test and failing, because you are not sure if you are prepared or not. Your books you use to study will also have study questions.



Alright, so you chose your specific topic you want to learn about, you decided on a vendor’s certification, now you want to start learning. There is a process called dumping, which means you go to a website, that has all the test banks for all the certifications out there, and you start memorizing the questions and answers. Once you have the questions and answers memorized, you go take the test and you pass. Are you truly certified?

No, and Yes. You do have a piece of paper that says you have a certification. However, it really is just that a piece of paper. You couldn’t put together the tools, troubleshoot or bring any good since you only know the test. As an interviewer, when you place your certification on your resume, I am going to ask questions around it. I have been in interviews, asked questions and the person couldn’t answer basic, fundamental questions. This tells me they dumped the test. Even if they were a great fit, they don’t have the skills to really do the job. So, I don’t extend an offer to hire them due to this. It is pretty much unethical to do this.


Test Taking:

Alright! You studied, you picked up the hands-on experience you needed. You have taken some practice exams and you are confident you will pass. What do you do now?  Each certification vendor requires you to take a test, through their authorized testing center. Each center has locations in just about every area. It may be a school, college, or independent building. Check with your vendor to find out who to register with, and how.

Two widely used testing centers:  Prometric and PearsonVue.

Your testing center will give you all the pertinent information for the day of testing. You will need two forms of ID when you show up. You should not bring any valuables, as you will not be able to bring them in with you to the testing area. You will not be able to bring a cell phone in with you to the testing area either. Leave them all either in the car or at home.

Have a good breakfast, and get plenty of sleep the night before. Nervous test takers, take some deep breaths and understand it will be ok. Anxiety isn’t going to help you. Check out the next section to understand what will, though.

The testing area is usually a center, set up with rows of computers. The computers have test software installed on them and will give you the questions and answers. These are normally timed tests, and you have to get a specific % to pass the test. You will know instantly in most certification tests if you passed or not.

Types of questions are multiple choice, fill in the blanks, simulations, and drawings. The vendor will let you know what types of questions will be on the test that you take. Be prepared for them to hit you with difficult questions up front to take you off your game. The vendor will also let you know if you can mark questions to return to or not. If this option exists, go through all the questions you do know, and then return to the questions you don’t. This gives you a better chance of passing.



You Didn’t Pass:

If you don’t pass today, it is ok. You will have to take the test again, but you will have a better understanding of the test and will get a document that shows where you need to study harder at. You will be discouraged at first, but know there are some tests that take people 2-3 times to pass. The Cisco CCNA is one of them. It takes many, 2 tries. (Sidenote: I took 2 tries for CCNA.)

Don’t stop now, though. Take today off and regroup, then tomorrow study the areas you were not strong in. This can help you bring up those areas. Keep studying the areas you did well in, but not as much as the other areas. Some tests require a week between retakes, some don’t. Find out what the required days off are, and schedule right away. You will have to repay, but it’s best to get it rescheduled now before you lose momentum.

Study and rock the retake!


You Passed:

Congratulations! You studied, and you passed your certification test. Now you are certified. What do you do next? Take a day off, then decide do you want to further your certifications? Use this momentum to start a new study plan. You have proven you can do it, now just move on to the next one!



Every vendor has a timeline on when you will have to recertify your skills. Some are 2 years, some are 3. At that point, you can decide if you still need the certification, or if you are at a further level that outweighs this one.  Some vendors, when you certify at a higher level, automatically recertifies your lower level certification. This then helps you keep moving forward, without having to take the lower level certs.


Do I have to take the test?

There are many people who study information, not to take the test but to understand it for their needs. You do not necessarily have to take certification tests, especially if you are already at a higher level, but needs some clarifications. If a position you want, doesn’t have any certifications, you do not have to take them, but having the knowledge helps. You can place you took classes towards this on your resume, to show you have the knowledge. Normally, though, we want to know you studied, and then took the test.

Certifications, don’t necessarily outweigh degrees. Degrees and certification are normally used as HR checkpoints. They are sometimes non-negotiable. You must have these to be considered. Sometimes they are nice to haves, which means you don’t have to have them, but you would outrank a candidate that doesn’t. This is a question that many IT professionals get. If I don’t have a degree but have certs will I get hired? Sometimes you will. Sometimes, not having the degree but having the experience and certifications will get you hired, but you won’t be able to get promoted without having the checkpoints that are required.

Common Certifications:



Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician:

The CCENT certification validates the skills required for entry-level network support positions, the starting point for many successful careers in networking. CCENT certified professionals have the knowledge and skill to install, operate, and troubleshoot a small enterprise branch network, including basic network security. (Cisco, 2017)


Cisco Certified Networking Associate:

…The CCNA Routing and Switching certification will not only prepare you with the knowledge of foundational technologies but ensure you stay relevant with skill sets needed for the adoption of next generation technologies. (Cisco, 2017)





A+ is comprehensive and vendor-neutral

A+ certified professionals have mastered the technologies found in today’s extensive and varied IT environments, from mobile to traditional devices and operating systems. They can confidently handle the most challenging technology problems more efficiently. Learn more with this infographic.

A+ validates foundational skills

A+ establishes best practices in troubleshooting, networking, and security across a variety of devices to set the stage for IT careers. The certification also matches professional tech skills with communication skills. (CompTia, 2017)


Network+ is vendor-neutral and globally recognized

CompTIA Network+ professionals are trained to work with a variety of hardware, software, and networks. Take your talents wherever your IT ambitions lead you. (CompTia, 2017)




Microsoft Technology Associate:

Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) is an introductory Microsoft certification for individuals considering a career in technology. MTA certification addresses a wide spectrum of fundamental technical concepts, assesses and validates your core technical knowledge, and enhances your technical credibility.(Microsoft, 2017)

Microsoft Certified Professional:

Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification validates IT professional and developer technical expertise through rigorous, industry-proven, and industry-recognized exams. MCP exams cover a wide range of Microsoft products, technologies, and solutions. (Microsoft, 2017)

Other technologies from Microsoft certifications include server, desktop, applications, databases, and developer.


The author recognizes the following copyrights:


© 2016 Cisco and/or its affiliates.

© CompTIA

© 2017 Microsoft

Copyright 1996 – 2017 Pearson Education Inc.

©2016 Prometric

I hope this glimpse into certifications has helped you understand them, and maybe helped you chose if you need them or not. If you did chose, let us know what certification you are studying for. Let us know your thoughts in general about certifications. If you have any questions, also ask them in the comments field.

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