“If you think training is expensive, try ignorance.”  – Pete Drucker

It can be expensive to add on certifications, but the cost of ignorance is great – especially in the current environment filled with cyber criminals and ransomware. A certification on a resume speaks volumes about the level of work that went in to acquiring the certification, as well as the proven knowledge and experience to back up the learning. With the government’s baseline IT requirement, the DoD 8570, there’s been an increasing demand for IT certifications for cybersecurity roles.

And while not every career calls for a certification, many jobs in the cleared industry do. In the 2021 Security Clearance Compensation Report, 49% of the respondents said they had at least one certification. Not only can a certification get you noticed by a recruiter, but it can also pay more. Average total compensation was $14,680 higher for the respondents who selected at least one certification.

Top 10 Certifications

Not every certification compensates at the same level, and some are more common than others. Google cloud certifications didn’t make it to the top 10, but the norms could change as the national security industry adjusts over the years. Although the most selected certification was CompTIA Security+, respondents with a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification had the highest total compensation  at $143,294. Some jobs compensate more; however, adding a certification can sometimes be a key component in your overall salary.

1. CompTIA Security +

Out of the 49% who said they had a certification, 21% had a CompTIA Security+, making it the most common but not the highest paying. CompTIA Security + plays a key role in contractors validating baseline security skills in fulfilling the DoD 8570 compliance. This certification gets candidates some hands-on experience, as well as a seat on a cyber contract. It’s a key baseline certification in a cyber career.

2. Six Sigma

In the government consulting business, helping transform processes and procedures is an important role. A Six Sigma certification tells clients that the project team has the knowledge and ability to improve complicated systems – like the federal government. When it comes to IT, Six Sigma provides a measured and data-centric approach to improving functionality and security.

3. Project Management Professional (PMP)

While many think they can lead a project successfully across the finish line, not everyone has the skills to keep requirements in scope and within budget. Not every project manager needs a PMP, but high performing projects benefit from a PMP certified leader at the helm. The certification is offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is recognized globally. By standardizing all phases of a project, contractors reduce the risk of losing future contracts due to poor performance. 

4. CompTIA Network+

For a career in IT infrastructure, the CompTIA Network+ is a helpful certification to prove that you have what it takes to troubleshoot, configure, and manage networks, The exam covers cloud computing, critical security concepts, hardware and virtualization concepts, and a test of network resilience knowledge.

5. Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)

The ITIL certification has five levels that candidates can achieve, based on their knowledge and years of experience. The ITIL certification provides an established framework for managing IT service delivery. Providing IT services can be hard to keep under control and within budget, but the ITIL framework fights scope creep and mismanagement. Newbies can begin at the Foundations level and work their way up as they move along in their career.

6. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

The cybersecurity field has a lot of needs, and the candidate holding a CISSP certification has the proof that they can design, implement, and manage an organization’s cybersecurity program. Whether you’re going for a network architect or an IT director role, this certification can give your job search process a boost. 

7. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

Another entry certification is the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification. The benefit of the CCNA is that it gives candidates the knowledge validity that they need in network fundamentals, network access, IP connectivity and services, security fundamentals, and automation and programmability. As technologies change over time, the certification requirements adjust. A CCNA proves that you’ve put in the time learning the current IT environment in order to be successful in various roles.

8. ScrumMaster

Supporting the federal government means finding creative solutions to complex problems, and the Scrum Master certification can give leaders a leg up against their competition. While not everyone needs to be a Scrum Master, it’s a certification that can be the deciding factor on the next leadership hire, proving a candidate has what it takes to provide innovative products or implement an important organizational change. 

9. Amazon Web Services (AWS)

With cloud adoption across the government growing, more players are rising in the cloud computing space. However, the biggest cloud provider is Amazon Web Services. Some of Amazon’s most popular cloud services are Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Glacier, and Simple Storage Service (S3)—all are becoming widely adopted. Amazon offers AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, AWS Certified Solutions Architect (Associate), and AWS Certified Solutions Architect (Professional). 

10. Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)

While this certification has been retired by Microsoft, it is still a factor in earning a six-figure salary in the cleared IT industry. As part of Microsoft’s cloud certification line-up, the MCSE was just one component in proving IT experts have the ability to move their organization to the cloud and improve data security. Despite the certification’s retirement, candidates with this on their resume generally use this certification now as a step in their process for Microsoft specific role-based certifications – like the Azure Administrator Associate. 

Is There Such a Thing as a Triple Threat?

You may be wondering how to stand out from the rest. If it’s job security and high compensation that you crave, it’s time to become a triple threat. In IT and engineering, the compensation numbers vary depending on role. However, experience, education, and certifications all factor into total compensation. You may be unsure if it’s time to go for a certification or to get your master’s degree. But the reality is that if you can take the leap for either one, and for candidates in IT or engineering fields, the compensation will jump too. Candidates with 10 or more years of experience with a certification and an advanced degree earned $24,162 more than their peers who didn’t have a certification or at least one certification. Either a graduate degree or a certification in IT or engineering can give your career and your compensation the boost that you want. It’s a lot of hard work, but the return on investment is there.

To find out the certifications that paid the highest compensation, download the Top 10 Certifications for Cleared Professionals report.

 

 

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.

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