In the 2021 Security Clearance Compensation Report, 49% of the respondents said they had at least one certification. Those who had a certification earned $14,680 more, and that certification can get a recruiter’s attention. Although some certifications are more common, not all certifications offer the same compensation. The higher you are on the career ladder and the harder the certification process, the more compensation candidates can earn.

Top 10 Certifications That Pay

Since time is money and getting certified is a commitment, you want to make sure the extra work is worth it. Candidates weighed in on which certifications pay the most in the cleared industry.

1. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) – $152,057

With software, networking, and infrastructure getting more connected everyday, expert level Cisco certification capitalizes on meeting that need. While the certification process may seem straightforward, completing this program is a clear signal that a candidate has the skills and knowledge to back up the expert price tag. 

2. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) – $143,294

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.

3. Project Management Professional (PMP) – $142,120

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. Scrum Master – $137,704

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.

5. Amazon Web Services – $134,393

The biggest certification 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.

6. GIAC Certifications – $134,262

With cybersecurity a hot button topic, the GIAC certifications help employers know who is actually skilled and who is just skilled on paper.

7. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) – $134,226

The Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) is not for the fresh out of college, as it’s a certification designed for roles focused on overseeing and designing or assessing an organization’s information security

8. VMware Certified Professional/VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCP/VCAP) – $132,792

VMware certification is a stamp of dedication on a resume, as it’s a large investment in time and money. But it also proves that a candidate has the knowledge and skills needed in order to provide a scalable and reliable virtualization platform.

9. Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate – $127,922

The Azure certification validates understanding levels and capabilities in network security. Cloud is a key skill set component, and having the validation in hand can verify bullet points on a resume.

10. Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) – $127,564

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. This certification is now retired, but candidates with it on their resume get compensated. 

Is Money Everything?

Money doesn’t have to be the driver for the certification, but for many, the return on investment is a major factor. And if it doesn’t help you do your job more effectively or give you more enjoyment in your work or get you paid more, you will want to skip it. And some certifications are worth more than others and not every employer will be wiling to foot the bill. So, it’s important to spend the time figuring out if it makes sense to get the certification in the first place. At times, it seems like the graduate degree is the new bachelor’s, so certifications make a candidate shine a little brighter than the rest.

However, the more common a certification, the lower the pay. In the 2021 Security Clearance Compensation report, 21% said they held a CompTIA Security + certification. But this certification had an average compensation of $103, 404, making it a baseline certification in meeting the DoD 8570 compliance. Make sure the certification you’re after will get you closer to your career and compensation goals before you make the time and money commitment.


Download the full certifications report here. 




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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.