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IT Certifications: Highest-Paying Certification, Exam Preparation, and Job Outlook

Raquel Santos - August 03, 2022


If you’re trying to enter or reenter the IT job market, IT certifications can give you a competitive advantage. They are real proof of your professional knowledge and skills in the field and are highly respected by employers across all IT industries.

Different types of certifications for IT can grant you access to different types of jobs and roles. In this article, we’ll be covering the highest paying IT certifications, how much they cost, where you can get them, and how you can prepare for them.

What Is a Professional Certification?

A professional certification is a credential that proves you have professional knowledge and skills in a particular industry or career field. A certification helps you qualify for specific jobs or roles and is a very competitive asset to have on your resume. The IT industry is extremely competitive and the best professionals are always in demand. Some companies already require their employees to be certified in their fields in order to be hired.

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What’s the Difference Between Certification and a Certificate?

The difference between a certification and a certificate is the main goal of each. IT certifications require some experience in the field and are used to demonstrate expertise within the IT field. These credentials are awarded by professional associations that meet industry standards.

IT certificates, on the other hand, are awarded by education institutions and are earned by completing required courses. People with IT certificates are eligible for entry-level IT jobs or IT bachelor’s degree programs .

Why Is Certification in IT Important?

Certification in IT is important because it can help improve your chances of getting hired or receiving a promotion if you’re already employed. IT certifications are a great way to stay on top of your IT game and improve your knowledge, skills, and overall confidence in your abilities.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people with certifications are more likely to be employed than those without one. In 2018, the labor force participation rate for people with certifications was 88 percent, and for people without certifications it was only 58 percent.

Best IT Certifications by Salary

Certification Provider Average Salary Cost
Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) ISACA $130,000 $760
Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) ISACA $129,000 $760
Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) (ISC)² $120,000 $749
AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Amazon Web Services $118,000 $150
Project Management Professional (PMP) Project Management Institute (PMI) $110,000 $555
VMware Certified Professional – Data Center Virtualization (VCP-DCV) VMware $99,000 $250
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Cisco $99,000 $700
Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) ISACA $99,000 $760
Oracle MySQL Database Administration Oracle $96,000 $245
CompTIA Network+ CompTIA $70,000 $338

Best IT Certifications to Further Your Career

1

Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

ISACA

ISACA’s CISM certification offers professional proof of your abilities in information security. The certification exam covers information security governance, risk management, security program development and management, and security incident management.

This advanced certification requires relevant professional experience. It is designed for IT security specialists who want to enhance their abilities in order to qualify for leadership or managerial positions.

Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) Overview

  • Average Salary: $130,000
  • Cost: $760
  • Requirements: At least five years of relevant experience
  • Valid For: Three years
  • Exam Length: 150 multiple choice questions in four hours
  • Best Suited For: IS/IT security specialists who want to move towards a security management or leadership path

Potential Careers With Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

2

Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

ISACA

Obtaining a CRISC certification is a way for IT professionals to prove they understand IT risks associated with their organization. It demonstrates that they are proficient in IT risk identification and management and can implement successful control measures.

The exam covers IT risk identification, IT risk assessment, risk response and mitigation, risk control, monitoring, and reporting. CRISC-certified professionals usually occupy roles as operational security managers, engineers, analysts, or architects.

Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) Overview

  • Average Salary: $129,000
  • Cost: $760
  • Requirements: At least three years of experience in IT risk management
  • Valid For: Three years
  • Exam Length: 150 multiple choice questions in four hours
  • Best Suited For: IT professionals looking for a security manager or director position

Potential Careers With Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

3

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

(ISC)²

This cyber security certification was created by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, known as (ISC)². It is used to prove that an IT professional has the skill set to create and run a complete cyber security program.

The exam focuses on eight domains, including security and risk management, security architecture and engineering, communication and network security, and software development security.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) Overview

  • Average Salary: $120,000
  • Cost: $749
  • Requirements: At least five years of IS experience
  • Valid For: Three years
  • Exam Length: 125 to 175 multiple choice and advanced innovative items in four hours
  • Best Suited For: IT security professionals who want to prove their knowledge in a wide range of security practices

Potential Careers With Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

4

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

Amazon Web Services

This cloud certification proves an IT professional’s skills in designing and employing systems on the AWS cloud. This certification program was designed to broaden the skill sets and career opportunities of cloud architects, cloud infrastructure designers, and software development professionals. The exam is available in nine different languages.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Overview

  • Average Salary: $118,000
  • Cost: $150
  • Requirements: At least one year of hands-on AWS experience (recommended)
  • Valid For: Three years
  • Exam Length: 130 minutes
  • Best Suited For: IT solutions architects looking for further AWS experience

Potential Careers With AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

5

Project Management Professional (PMP)

Project Management Institute (PMI)

The PMP certification is required for any IT professional who wants to work in project management at an advanced level. PMP-certified professionals are demonstrably skilled at planning every step of a project from budgeting to creating teams.

Project Management Professional (PMP) Overview

  • Average Salary: $110,000
  • Cost: $555
  • Requirements: A four-year degree, 36 months of leadership experience, and 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM® Certification
  • Valid For: Three years
  • Exam Length: 180 questions in 230 minutes
  • Best Suited For: IT professionals who want to become proficient in managerial skills

Potential Careers With Project Management Professional (PMP)

6

VMware Certified Professional - Data Center Virtualization (VCP-DCV)

VMware

This certification program teaches skills in the building of virtual infrastructure and the application of VMware virtualization technologies using vSphere. Virtualization tech allows organizations to migrate to digital environments, so this is one of the most in-demand certifications at the moment.

VMware recommends IT professionals who don’t have any VMware Certified Professional certifications become acquainted with vSphere 7.x before taking the professional Data Center Virtualization exam.

VMware Certified Professional - Data Center Virtualization (VCP-DCV) Overview

  • Average Salary: $99,000
  • Cost: $250
  • Requirements: Attend at least one of the required training courses, experience with vSphere 7.x (recommended)
  • Valid For: Doesn’t expire (can be recertified at will)
  • Exam Length: 70 questions over 130 minutes
  • Best Suited For: IT professionals looking to gain expertise in vSphere

Potential Careers With VMware Certified Professional - Data Center Virtualization (VCP-DCV)

7

Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)

Cisco

CCNP-certified professionals are skilled in network technologies. To earn this certification, you must pass a core exam and a concentration exam. Concentrations include advanced routing and services, wireless networks, and implementing automation for Cisco Enterprise Solutions.

Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Overview

  • Average Salary: $99,000
  • Cost: $700
  • Requirements: No formal prerequisites
  • Valid For: Three years
  • Exam Length: 120 minutes for the core exam, 90 minutes per concentration exam
  • Best Suited For: Professionals seeking specialized training in designing, implementing and maintaining network solutions

Potential Careers With Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)

8

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

ISACA

A CISA certification proves that someone has expert-level skills in auditing, governance, monitoring, avoiding hackers, optimizing operations, and more. People with this IT certification have what it takes to design and run privacy solutions. The exam covers five domains, including auditing information systems, governance and management of IT, and the protection of information assets.

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) Overview

  • Average Salary: $99,000
  • Cost: $760
  • Requirements: At least five years of relevant experience
  • Valid For: Three years
  • Exam Length: 150 multiple choice questions over four hours
  • Best Suited For: IT professionals who want solid technical skills in IT auditing, governance, and privacy

Potential Careers With Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

9

Oracle MySQL Database Administration

Oracle

This certification is valuable to database administrators who want to prove they can increase business performance and improve data processing. IT professionals with an Oracle MySQL Database Administration certification have deep knowledge of relational databases and MySQL applications.

Oracle MySQL Database Administration Overview

  • Average Salary: $96,000
  • Cost: $245
  • Requirements: No formal prerequisites
  • Valid For: 18 months
  • Exam Length: 85 questions over 140 minutes
  • Best Suited For: Database administrators who want to work on business-related skills

Potential Careers With Oracle MySQL Database Administration

10

CompTIA Network+

CompTIA

CompTIA’s Network+ certification covers network skills that can be applied to any platform. A CompTIA Network+ certification enables you to apply to any type of professional-level job in network administration.

This IT certification covers topics like networking fundamentals, network implementations, operations, security, and troubleshooting. Training options include virtual labs, online exam prep, a complete guide, and instructor-led training.

CompTIA Network+ Overview

  • Average Salary: $70,000
  • Cost: $338
  • Requirements: CompTIA A+ Certification and at least nine to 12 months of networking experience (recommended)
  • Valid For: Three years
  • Exam Length: 90 questions in 90 minutes
  • Best Suited For: IT professionals who are looking for career advancement in network administration

Potential Careers With CompTIA Network+

How to Choose the Best IT Certification for Your Career

To choose the best IT certification for your career path, you must start by doing some research. You should figure out what different types of certifications there are in your field and how they align with your ultimate career goals. You should also keep in mind how much money you’re able to spend on a certification.

Do Some Research

There is a wide variety of IT certifications that cover different areas in the field. You should do research to figure out what subjects each of them cover, how legitimate their providers are, and how long the certifications last before they expire to determine whether or not they are worth their cost.

Understand Your Goals

Different career goals will lead you toward different certification programs. Whether you want to get a promotion, improve a skill you already have, or even learn a new skill that’ll open some doors in a slightly different field, the right certification will help you meet those goals.

Consider Your Budget

You have to consider your budget when choosing the best IT certification for your career path. Certification prices vary with each provider and the final cost of a certification can increase drastically when including exam preparation resources.

Which IT Certifications Pay the Most?

The IT certifications that pay the most are ISACA’s Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC), and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

They are followed closely by Amazon’s AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate and Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP) information technology certifications.

Highest-Paying IT Certifications

  1. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM): $130,000
  2. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC): $129,000
  3. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): $120,000
  4. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate: $118,000
  5. Project Management Professional (PMP): $110,000

Which IT Certifications Are the Best for Beginners?

The IT certifications that are best for beginners are the CompTIA A+ certification, Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certification, and the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC).

The CompTIA A+ certification doesn’t focus on a particular job or product. This entry-level certification provides a skill set that you can use in an IT career. The MTA is another entry-level certification that tackles desktop infrastructure, private cloud computing, and more.

Finally, the GIAC certification provides fundamental knowledge of cyber security. This certification has introductory, intermediate, advanced, and expert levels, which is great for beginners.

Best College Certificate Programs

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How to Prepare for Your IT Certification Exam

The best way to prepare for your IT certification exam is to enroll in prep courses that are geared towards the specific certification you’re looking for. You can also use resources like books and dedicated Discord groups in your IT exam prep sessions.

Best Courses to Prepare for IT Certification Exams

The best IT prep courses include CompTIA’s CertMaster Labs for Network+, the CISM Online Review Course, a PMP Certification Training Course, (SAA-C02) course for AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification, and Cybrary’s CISSP Course.

1

CertMaster Labs for Network+

CompTIA

  • Cost: $179
  • Duration: 26 hours
  • Best Suited For: CompTIA Network+ Certification

CertMaster Labs for Network+ is a hands-on prep course that provides extensive step-by-step activities in line with the CompTIA Network+ exam’s objectives. You get access to course-specific software and equipment to master all of the skills you need to earn the CompTIA Network+ Certification.

2

CISM Online Review Course 2022

ISACA

  • Cost: $795 (for members); $895 (for non-members)
  • Duration: 16 hours
  • Best Suited For: Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) Certification

The CISM Online Review Course includes several resources that help you prepare for the exam. You get access to video lessons, narrated interactive modules, downloadable workbooks, job aids, and practice exams, all of which can help you on your journey to getting CISM-certified.

3

PMP Certification Training Course

Simplilearn

  • Cost: $999
  • Duration: 35 hours
  • Best Suited For: Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification

This PMP prep course was designed for software developers, project engineers, and other IT professionals that wish to become project managers with the help of a PMP certification. It covers all of the modules that are featured in the exam and focus on strategic and business knowledge. A newer section of this course provides information about project managerial positions in large and small companies.

4

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate (SAA-C02)

PluralSight

  • Cost: 10-day free trial
  • Duration: 15 hours
  • Best Suited For: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

This is actually a certification path that features four different courses. These courses cover the design of resilient architectures, high-performing architectures, secure applications and architectures, and cost-optimized architectures.

This certification path gives you the knowledge and tools you need to expertly use AWS cloud products and services as a solutions architect. The courses it offers provide in-depth learning opportunities that’ll help you get the certification.

5

CISSP Course

Cybrary

  • Cost: $39/month
  • Duration: 15 hours and 43 minutes
  • Best Suited For: Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

This CISSP prep course offers video lessons that are broken down into modules you can revisit at any time. It covers topics that are relevant for the exam, including operations security, Internet security, telecommunications, business continuity planning, and more.

Other Resources to Prepare for Your IT Certification Exams

Other relevant resources you can use as your IT exam prep can include the ones found in the provider’s official website, books, Discord servers, LinkedIn groups, and online learning platforms like Quizlet.

Provider’s Official Website

Sometimes, the official provider of the certification you’re trying to get offers study resources, as well. CompTIA, for example, has a learning and training section on its website where you can get exam objectives, practice questions, and book samples.

Provider’s Official Website Overview

  • Type of Resource : Website
  • Cost : Free
  • Ideal For: People who want to get an idea of what the certification exam entails even before applying

Quizlet

Quizlet is an interactive study tool that contains study materials across all sorts of areas. These materials include flashcards, textbook references, and even specific questions about different topics. One resource you can find there are CRISC flashcards, which you can use to study for the exam.

Quizlet Overview

  • Type of Resource : Interactive website
  • Cost : Free
  • Ideal For: People who want to try a free and interactive way of studying

CISA Certified Information Systems Auditor Study Guide

There are several books available to help you study for any IT certification. This extensive study guide offers over 500 review questions that cover all of CISA’s knowledge areas and exam objectives.

CISA Certified Information Systems Auditor Study Guide Overview

  • Type of Resource : Book
  • Cost : $31.58
  • Ideal For: People who prefer a more traditional way of studying

AlphaGrad Discord Server

The AlphaGrad Discord Server welcomes anyone who’s interested in learning more about IT certifications. Experts in the field are glad to help newbies and learners in their journeys. In the AlphaGrad server, you can participate in study sessions and find help picking the right certification for you.

AlphaGrad Discord Server Overview

  • Type of Resource : Discord server
  • Cost : Free
  • Ideal For: People who want to join a community while going through the certification process

Information / Cyber Security Certifications LinkedIn Group

The Information / Cyber Security Certifications LinkedIn Group welcomes anyone who’s interested in learning more about IT certifications. This group offers professionals at all levels a place to share advice, ideas, group discounts for certifications, personal experiences, and more.

Information / Cyber Security Certifications LinkedIn Group Overview

  • Type of Resource : LinkedIn group
  • Cost : Free
  • Ideal For: People looking for advice on choosing the right IT certification

Best Online Courses

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IT Job Outlook and Average Salary

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall IT job outlook is positive. For example, computer network architect jobs are expected to grow 5 percent while information security analyst jobs are expected to grow by 33 percent.

Professionals with IT jobs also receive an average annual salary that is well above the national average of about $58,000 . Computer network architects earn around $120,650 per year , and information security analysts receive an average annual wage of $113,270 .

Best IT Jobs After Certification

The best IT jobs to get after getting a certification are senior solutions architect, information technology director, network architect, risk management director, and senior project manager (IT). These are the highest-paying IT certification jobs.

1

Senior Solutions Architect

Average Salary: $138,708

Senior solutions architects lead and manage teams of professionals. They oversee the design and employment of systems that work as cloud solutions for a specific business. They evaluate the company’s IT needs and find a way to implement them.

Best Certification for the Job Role

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate. This certification gives IT professionals in-demand skills relating to the creation of cloud solution systems.

2

Information Technology Director

Average Salary: $122,484

IT directors manage all IT operations, provide technical advice, lead the company’s IT departments, and create internal strategies for technology and software development.

Best Certification for the Job Role

Project Management Professional (PMP). The PMP certification gives IT professionals project management experience and leadership skills.

3

Risk Management Director

Average Salary: $122,249

These IT professionals must always be on top of risk-related elements in their company. Their main objective is to identify, assess, and manage IT risks. They are also responsible for implementing control measures.

Best Certification for the Job Role

Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC). CRISC-certified professionals are capable of understanding and successfully dealing with IT risks within their organization.

4

Network Architect

Average Salary: $121,482

Network architects are responsible for evaluating a company’s networking needs, designing and creating network solutions, and overseeing the installation and maintenance of network-related hardware and software.

Best Certification for the Job Role

Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP). The CCNP certification is used by IT professionals to prove expertise in network solutions.

5

Senior Project Manager (IT)

Average Salary: $116,715

IT senior project managers must guarantee that their company’s IT functions and projects are running smoothly. They oversee a wide variety of teams, so they must have leadership skills and experience. These professionals plan every step of each project, from budgeting to goal-setting.

Best Certification for the Job Role

Project Management Professional (PMP). This essential certification is a must for any IT professional who wants to demonstrate proficiency and excellence in project management.

Best IT Associations

IT associations are a great way to stay up to date with the field, as they usually host relevant conferences, provide several newsletters and publications, and showcase new certifications for their members. Some of the best IT associations include the Association for Computing Machinery, the Network Professional Association, and the Association for Women in Computing.

Association for Computing Machinery

This international association brings together educators, researchers, and professionals in the IT field. They host conferences and workshops and promote networking and career opportunities. Their goal is to give IT experts a place to discuss the ever-evolving aspects of technology and the professional world.

Network Professional Association

The Network Professional Association is a leading global organization for network computing professionals. It was established in 1993 and has been dedicated to advancing the networking industry ever since. They publish online articles in the field and offer a job board for members.

Association for Women in Computing

The AWC has been helping women further their careers in IT since 1978. Its members occupy several positions in IT from programmers and system analysts to management and leadership roles. It focuses on providing professional growth opportunities for women in IT.

Are IT Certifications Worth It?

Yes, IT certifications are worth it because they are a great way to prove your expert-level skills to potential employers across all IT fields. Certification allows you to develop and grow as a professional and it can open doors when it comes to changing your career or even getting a promotion.

There are a range of certifications that you can choose from once you’ve done your research and decided which one is best for you. These certifications give you a competitive edge when applying to in-demand jobs in the IT industry.

Additional Reading About IT

If you’re an IT professional looking to stand out in your next job application, check out this complete guide to the best IT certifications.

Read more

IT Certifications FAQ

What are the main differences between bootcamps and certifications?

The main differences between bootcamps and certifications are the learning approaches and career services these types of programs offer. The target audience for bootcamps and certifications differ as well, as does the average cost of each. However, both bootcamps and certifications are great ways to improve your IT skills.

What skills do I need to be successful in IT?

The skills you need to be successful in IT include technical skills like programming, tech support, and cloud computing. IT professionals should also have skills in project management, problem-solving, and communication.

What are the main differences between an IT certification and a degree in IT?

The main differences between an IT certification and a degree in IT are the duration of the programs, their total cost, and the amount and type of knowledge that each has to offer.

Do certifications replace on-the-job experience?

No, IT certifications do not replace on-the-job experience. In fact, many of them require professionals to have a few years of hands-on experience before enrolling. However, certifications are a good place to start, as they’re a way to prove you have expert-level skills in IT.

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Raquel Santos

About the author: Raquel is a content writer with extensive experience in writing, education, and tech. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and a Master’s Degree in Forensic Genetics, both from Porto University. She also has a certificate in Writing in Science from Stanford University and Coursera.

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