Money isn’t everything, but when it comes to investing time and money into gaining a career certification, it’s important to make sure that it will increase earning potential. It’s why not everyone rushes out to get a graduate degree. Not every degree translates to more money in your bank account – in fact, some put a significant dent in savings. The reality is that certifications follow the same trend. So how can clearance holders know when it’s the right time to enroll in a certificate program?

How to Decide if a Certification is the Right Step

The decision to get a certification has a few key factors that go into it.

1. Career Field

It’s important to look around at your career field. See what the norm is. Do all the project managers you interact with have a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification? Is it a requirement for you to have specific tech certifications, like COMPTIA or Cisco, in order to be listed on a DoD contract? Know your career landscape and look for ways to stay on an even playing field or a step ahead.

2. Career Trajectory

Similar to looking at the norms in your field, is taking a pause to look at your personal career goals. Knowing where you want to go is an important piece of the certification decision process. But when time is also money and could be spent on other ventures that could lead to a long term goal, it’s important to make sure that a certification lines up with where you’re headed. Sometimes, we don’t really know where we want to head, and that’s also okay. It’s still important to spend some time mulling over it while you keep moving forward.

3. Funding

Not every employer offers education reimbursement, but the majority have this feature. If you’re not planning on using it on a graduate degree, investing in a certification could be a short term goal that’s 100% covered by your employer. Any way that you don’t have to make a financial commitment – except with your personal time – is a definite advantage to the earning equation upon program completion. While your current employer may not provide a raise immediately (especially if they paid for the certificate), once you fulfill your time at the company required for their investment, your compensation has the potential to increase, given your experience and certification. The reality is that if you have the time to personally invest and an employer willing to pay, getting a certification should be a no-brainer.

The Compensation Question

Once you’ve gone through the decision process, the question of compensation still looms. Bottom line? On average, certified professionals typically earn a higher salary in the cleared world. For some, the salary differential is highly dependent on the career field and the value an employer places on a specific certification. But, according to the 2022 Security Clearance Compensation Report, on average, clearance holders who have at least one certification earn about $13,000 more than the 49% who said they don’t have one. So, a certification pays, but it’s important to walk through all the factors in the decision process.

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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.