As I help my two teenagers figure out what to do after high school, I wonder when a certification is better than a four-year degree. I’ve seen firsthand the pressure among their friends to invest a very large amount of money in college. Meanwhile, the teenager doesn’t really know what they want to do for the rest of their life, or even the next decade. And even once they’ve earned a degree, I’ve seen friends want to change careers or get promoted quicker. But their company isn’t able or willing to pay for more training. In many cases, cybersecurity certifications will help you accomplish your career goals just as easily as a degree.

But a certification isn’t the right answer for everyone. And it’s important to make the right choice for your case. Let’s take a look when it makes sense to pursue one, as well as how to pick the best cybersecurity certifications to help you land a job.

Standards boards and companies offer certifications to allow professionals to prove their knowledge of a specific topic. In addition, companies like IBM and Microsoft also offer them, both on industry-wide and their specific tech. There are two broad options here. You can do self-study, where you study on your own for the test. Or, you can opt for a class led by an instructor. While most people used to take these exams in person, many have now moved online due to the pandemic. Some require several tests to complete, while others are a single test. While there are some free cybersecurity certifications, most cost a fee, ranging from modest to over $500 dollars.

Cybersecurity Certifications Help Solve the Skills Gap

With 3.1 million unfilled cybersecurity roles last year, companies are struggling to find qualified talent. After having written numerous articles on the IT skills gap, I’ve seen certifications often brought up as a viable solution to help increase skills. After all, they are less time-consuming to earn than a four-year degree. Therefore, you can often position yourself to land one of these unfilled positions by earning one.

According to a Cisco report, 85% of organizations said that cybersecurity is extremely important or more important than it was before the pandemic, which makes filling these open positions a higher priority. Remote work and threats are increasing. So, companies are putting their names and future at risk with these unfilled positions. If getting cybersecurity certifications has been on your to-do list, now is a great time to research your options.

Is a Certification the Right Move for You?

Many people get a certification thinking it will solve their career issues. Then, they still must carefully select the right one. For the highest benefit, your certification should work together with your past work and future goals. After all, you’re getting it to bridge the gap and help you land a specific job.

Here are five steps to deciding whether you should follow the cybersecurity certification path:

  1. Step back and decide your future career goals. What specific role do you want to have? Is there a specific company you want to work for?
  2. Find job ads for the specific role you want to fill, especially at your target companies.
  3. Look to see what skills you are missing. Note which, if any, certifications the job postings you’re interested in list as recommended or required.
  4. Talk to recruiters and hiring managers. Make sure not to skip this step if you’re looking for an internal promotion. They can help you understand the benefit of specific certifications for the positions you want.
  5. Make an honest assessment of your time in terms of whether you can fully devote yourself. Studying and passing a certification test can take a long time. Attempting it when you don’t have the free time to devote could be a waste of time and money.

Popular Cybersecurity Certifications

So, let’s say you’ve reviewed job ads and talked to hiring managers. Next, narrow your list of potential certifications to a smaller list. It’s important that you select one that industry workers widely know and recognize to give you the best chance of a reward for your effort. Note that Microsoft MTA: Security Fundamentals, a formerly popular option for entry-level jobs and for college students, will no longer be in use in 2022.

Here is a list of today’s best cybersecurity certifications:

  • CompTIA Security+: This entry-level security certification is widely respected, including by the federal government, and helps early-career workers move to mid-level jobs including security administrator and security analyst.
  • IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate: This series of eight courses offered through Coursera teaches network security, endpoint protection, incident response, threat intelligence, penetration testing and vulnerability assessment, which prepare people for jobs as cybersecurity analysts.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional: People currently working in the field for at least five years and looking to improve their knowledge often select this because the skills taught are vendor-neutral.
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): With the increased focus on simulations and companies hiring ethical hackers, this advanced and challenging certification can be very valuable in terms of increased income and career path.
  • GMOB – GIAC Mobile Device Security Analyst: As mobile security continues to make headlines, professionals with mobile-specific cybersecurity certifications demonstrate their knowledge about device and app protection, which can increase earnings in a big way.

Using Your Certification to Improve Your Career

Earning the certificate is the first step. Next, you must market your status well to prospective employers. If you currently work in the IT industry, let both your manager and HR know about what you’ve accomplished. As you are looking for jobs, be sure to include your certification in your cover letter and resume. If you have more than one, consider having a section on your resume for them to help potential employees easily see your skills.  

Certifications have been a mainstay of IT hiring and promotions for decades. With new ones being created and the increased skills gap, their value is likely to only increase. By taking the time to carefully research the right one for your goals and career, a certification can be an affordable and efficient way to grow your knowledge and career.

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