Your personal toolkit for a future-proofed career in IT: Part 1 - Certifications

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At first glance, 2018 looks like a good year to be seeking a new role in IT and cybersecurity. Demand for technology professionals has grown by almost 25% since 2015 and still outstrips supply; average salaries in tech roles have risen by nearly 5% in the last year; graduate roles in the industry pay well above the national average wage.

Here’s the question though: can you make the most of it?

Emergent technology is the key driver for talent demand in the IT and cybersecurity industry. To prove they fit the bill, IT professionals need to future-proof their skills and CVs. Preparing for the tech of tomorrow means doing the work today, engaging in that process of continual learning and development - and acquiring the certifications to prove it.

Why are certifications so important?

Certifications provide your prospective employers with evidence. It’s one thing to say you have twenty years’ experience, but that doesn’t prove you’ve invested in yourself by improving your skills and staying ahead of developments. If you can show an updated certification, employers know you’re up to date.

The specific certifications that are of most value in your target role will vary, of course. CIO’s research into the most in-demand certificates of 2017 provides a solid profile for the up-to-date IT generalist, starting with core Microsoft certifications in office software, solutions and development, then radiating out into security and project management certifications that may be useful.

For cybersecurity professionals, however, the focus should be on information systems, system management and ETHICAL HACKING certifications. Within these specialisms are further niche subsets. The EC Council UK, for instance, offers a generalist Ethical Hacking cert, a big part of which is system penetration testing. And there are plenty of penetration testing certs to get stuck into.

Specialist project managers won’t be adequately served by PMI by itself, which is suited to particularly large organisations with a traditional project structure; they’ll need agility and scrum certifications to demonstrate competency in a range of organisational cultures and styles.

One thing to remember, there is no limit - the more certifications the merrier.

Showcase your personal development

Aside from showing up-to-date knowledge and skills, certifications also demonstrate your attitude and mindset. They evidence your capability in focused, personal work, your willingness to grow, and your dedication to personal development.

In IT and cybersecurity, where tech moves so quickly and priorities can shift dramatically near-overnight - think of events like the discovery of Meltdown and Spectre - you need to show a willingness to learn and improve.

If you’re looking to transition into a specialism you’ll need to show what shape you are in with certifications that demonstrate your deep dive into a specific area, or your cross-skill potential to lead people and processes.

Compete in a changing industry

IT certifications have gone through something of a transformation, mirroring a sea change in the industry’s approaches and attitudes. Nowadays, accreditations are mapped to real-world needs, and the quality of training has seen a marked improvement. In 2012, the International Organisation for Standardisation improved their ISO 17024 standard for personnel certification programmes to ensure their validity, making it easier to identify certifications with integrity.

This isn’t the only change in how IT and cybersecurity fields recruit. Any time you’re pursuing a new role - particularly with emergent technologies - you’ll be competing with new graduates. They may be fresh out of their training, but their training is fresh from the cutting edge of the field. Certifications allow experienced professionals to tip the playing field back in their favour: if you can offer experience and up-to-date qualifications, you give yourself a serious competitive edge.

To find the right certification for your career plans:

  • Work out your end goal: are you staying current in a generalist field, or transitioning into a professional specialism.
  • Do the diligence: find out what employers want to see on a new hire’s CV.
  • Think holistically: what will this certification say about your personal development, your ambition, and how you fit into your workplace?
  • Think about context: what will you need to stay competitive with the new blood?

Ultimately, a certification is an investment in yourself, and in your future. Paying or pushing for these certifications in your current roles demonstrates to present and future employers that you’re developing. We find candidates are staying in roles for less and less time, which means there’s all the more pressure to demonstrate exactly what they did in the last role, to point to concrete evidence what they achieved. If you can point to certifications, it’s a win/win scenario.