Career Development

A Guide To Microsoft Certifications: Types and Paths

June 3, 2021

Certifications can bring you closer to getting the job and salary you want. In this article, we discuss Microsoft’s newly adopted role-based certifications and how to obtain them.

What is a Microsoft certification?

A Microsoft certification affirms your technical skills concerning performing certain Microsoft technology-related positions. Microsoft offers more than 250 certifications for different levels of expertise based on associated exams, and you may need to earn them in sequential order. The typical cost for an exam is $165. Renewal is required each year to ensure you maintain current knowledge of the product.

Why get a certification?

Proof of knowledge or expertise with Microsoft products can help you advance in your career, open up opportunities and lead to higher pay. Listing certifications on your resume can help you stand out from other applicants. Certifications require one to three exams, depending on the specialty.

Related: Benefits of a Microsoft Certification Training

Types of certification

In early 2021, Microsoft shifted its product-based certifications to role-based certification models. Certifications were retired for:

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
  • Microsoft Solutions Developer (MCSD)
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)

The role-based certifications validate the technical skills, as defined by Microsoft, that you would acquire in the first year (beginner), three to five years (intermediate) or five to seven years (expert) in one of nine job roles:

1. Administrator certification path

Administrators implement, monitor and maintain Microsoft solutions. This certification path has fundamental, associate and expert levels. Popular certifications sought by employers include:

  • Azure Administrator Associate: Candidates should have subject matter expertise implementing, managing and monitoring an organization’s Microsoft Azure environment. Required exam: AZ-104.

  • Azure for SAP Workloads Specialty: Candidates should be architects or engineers with extensive experience and knowledge of the SAP system landscape and industry standards specific to the initial migration or integration and the long-term operation of an SAP solution on Microsoft Azure. Required exam: AZ-120.

  • Windows Virtual Desktop Specialty: Candidates are Microsoft Azure administrators with subject matter expertise in planning, delivering and managing virtual desktop experiences and remote apps, for any device, on Azure. Required exam: AZ-140.

  • Azure Stack Hub Operator Associate: Candidates are Azure administrators or Azure Stack Hub operators who provide cloud services to end-users or customers from within their own datacenter using Azure Stack Hub. Required exam: AZ-600.

  • Messaging Administrator Associate: Candidates deploy, configure, manage, troubleshoot and monitor recipients, permissions, mail protection, mail flow and public folders in hybrid and cloud enterprise environments. Required exam: MS-203.

  • Modern Desktop Administrator Associate: Candidates deploy, configure, secure, manage and monitor devices and client applications in an enterprise environment. Required exams: MD-100 and MD-101.

  • Security Administrator Associate: Candidates proactively secure Microsoft 365 enterprise and hybrid environments, implement and manage security and compliance solutions, respond to threats and enforce data governance. Required exam: MS-500.

  • Enterprise Administrator Expert: Candidates evaluate, plan, migrate, deploy and manage Microsoft 365 services. Required exam: MS-100 and MS-101.

  • Teams Administrator Associate: Candidates configure, deploy and manage Office 365 workloads for Microsoft Teams that focus on efficient and effective collaboration and communication in an enterprise environment. Required exam: MS-700.

  • Identity and Access Administrator Associate: Candidates design, implement and operate an organization’s identity and access management systems by using Azure AD. They manage tasks such as providing secure authentication and authorization access to enterprise applications. Required exam: SC-300.

  • Information Protection Administrator Associate: Candidates plan and implement controls that meet organizational compliance needs, translate requirements and compliance controls into technical implementation and assist organizational control owners to become and stay compliant. Required exam: SC-400.

2. AI engineer certification path

Artificial intelligence engineers use cognitive services, machine learning and knowledge mining to architect and implement Microsoft AI solutions. This certification path has fundamental, associate and expert levels. A certification sought by employers includes:

  • Azure AI Engineer Associate: Candidates should have subject matter expertise building, managing and deploying AI solutions that leverage Azure Cognitive Services, Azure Cognitive Search and Microsoft Bot Framework. Required exam: AI-102, which replaced AI-100 on June 30, 2021.

3. Data engineer certification path

Data engineers design and implement the management, monitoring, security and data privacy using data services. This certification path has fundamental, associate and expert levels. A certification sought by employers includes:

  • Azure Data Engineer Associate: Candidates should have subject matter expertise integrating, transforming and consolidating data from various structured and unstructured data systems into structures that are suitable for building analytics solutions. Required exam: DP-203, which replaced DP-200 and DP-201 on June 30, 2021.

4. Data scientist certification path

Data scientists apply machine-learning techniques to train, evaluate and deploy models that solve business problems. This certification path has fundamental, associate and expert levels. A certification sought by employers includes:

  • Azure Data Scientist Associate: Candidates should have subject matter expertise applying data science and machine learning to implement and run machine learning workloads on Azure. Required exam: DP-100.

5. Developer certification path

Developers design, build, test and maintain solutions. This certification path has fundamental, associate and expert levels. Popular certifications sought by employers include:

  • Azure Developer Associate: Candidates should have subject matter expertise in designing, building, testing and maintaining cloud applications and services on Microsoft Azure. Required exam: AZ-204.

  • Dynamics 365: Finance and Operations Apps Developer Associate: Candidates should have experience providing fully realized solutions using standardized application coding patterns, extensible features and external integrations. Required exam: MB-300 and MB 500.

  • Developer Associate: Candidates are proficient in Microsoft identity and Microsoft Graph and have general knowledge of user interface elements, integration points and determining workload platform targets. Required exam: MS-600.

  • Power Platform Developer Associate: Candidates design, develop, secure and troubleshoot Power Platform solutions. Required exam: PL-400.

  • Azure Internet of Things (IoT) Developer Speciality: Candidates should have a general understanding of devices, types and Azure services, including data storage options, data analysis, data processing, AI and other Platform-as-a-Service options. They must be able to program in at least one Azure IoT SDK-supported language. Required exam: AZ-220.

6. DevOps engineer certification path

DevOps engineers combine people, processes and technologies to deliver products and services that meet end-user needs and business objectives. This certification path has fundamental, associate and expert levels. A certification sought by employers includes:

  • DevOps Engineer Expert: Candidates should have subject matter expertise working with people, processes and technologies to continuously deliver business value. Prerequisites: Azure Administrator Associate and Azure Developer Associate. Required exam: AZ-400.

7. Functional consultant certification path

Functional consultants leverage Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Power Platform to anticipate and plan for customer needs. This certification path has fundamental, associate and expert levels. Popular certifications sought by employers include:

  • Dynamics 365 Customer Service Functional Consultant Associate: Candidates implement omnichannel solutions that focus on service, quality, reliability, efficiency and customer satisfaction. Prerequisite: Minimum of one to three years of experience as a functional consultant implementing Dynamics 365. Required exams: PL-200 and MB-230.

  • Dynamics 365 Field Service Functional Consultant Associate: Candidates implement solutions that manage resources to complete the field service life cycle. Prerequisite: Minimum of one to three years of experience as a functional consultant implementing Dynamics 365. Required exams: PL-200 and MB-240.

  • Dynamics 365 Finance Functional Consultant Associate: Candidates analyze business requirements and translate them into business processes and solutions based on industry best practices. Prerequisite: Experience in implementing and configuring Dynamics 365 Finance to meet business requirements. Required exams: MB-300 and MB-310.

  • Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management, Manufacturing Functional Consultant Associate: Candidates are key resources who work with developers, solution architects, project managers and functional consultants in finance, commerce and supply chain. Required exams: MB-300 and MB-320.

  • Dynamics 365 Marketing Functional Consultant Associate: Candidates should know Dynamics 365 model-driven applications, data modeling principles and Microsoft Power Platform configurations. Required exams: PL-200 and MB-220.

  • Dynamics 365 Sales Functional Consultant Associate: Candidates should have experience configuring Microsoft Power Platform and know Dynamics 365 model-driven applications and data-modeling principles. Required exams: PL-200M and B-210.

  • Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management Functional Consultant Associate: Candidates are key resources who work with developers, solution architects, project managers, and functional consultants in finance, commerce and manufacturing. Required exams: MB-300 and MB-330.

  • Dynamics 365 Power Platform Functional Consultant Associate: Candidates work with an organization’s stakeholders and subject matter experts, such as solution architects, developers and testers, to gather requirements and then implement Microsoft Power Platform solutions. Required exam: PL-200.

  • Dynamics 365 Business Central Functional Consultant Associate: Candidates should have experience configuring Dynamics 365 Business Central role centers, including adapting insights, cues, action tiles, reports and charts and extend Business Central by using Microsoft Power Platform components. Required exam: MB-800.

8. Security engineer certification path

Security engineers implement security controls and threat protection, manage identity and access as well as protect data, applications and networks. This certification path has fundamental, associate and expert levels. Popular certifications sought by employers include:

  • Azure Security Engineer Associate: Candidates should have subject matter expertise implementing security controls and threat protection; managing identity and access; and protecting data, applications and networks in cloud and hybrid environments as part of an end-to-end infrastructure. Required exam: AZ-500.

  • Security Operations Analyst Associate: Candidates should have experience with threat management, monitoring and response by using a variety of security solutions across their environment. Required exam: SC-200.

  • Identity and Access Administrator Associate: Candidates should have experience collaborating with many other roles in the organization to drive strategic identity projects to modernize identity solutions and implement hybrid identity solutions and identity governance. Required exam: SC-300.

  • Information Protection Administrator Associate: Candidates should have experience planning and implementing controls that meet organizational compliance needs, translating requirements and compliance controls into technical implementation and assisting organizational control owners to become and stay compliant. Required exam: SC-400.

9. Solutions architect certification path

Solutions architects are experts in compute, network, storage and security. This certification path has fundamental, associate and expert levels. Popular certifications sought by employers include:

  • Azure Solutions Architect Expert: Candidates should have subject matter expertise in designing and implementing solutions that run on Microsoft Azure, including aspects like compute, network, storage and security. Required exams: AZ-303 and AZ-304.

  • Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations Apps Solution Architect Expert: Candidates should be able to advise stakeholders and translate business requirements into secure, scalable and reliable solutions. Prerequisites include four certificates: Dynamics 365 Finance Functional Consultant Associate; Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management, Manufacturing Functional Consultant Associate; Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management Functional Consultant Associate; and Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations Apps Developer Associate. Required exam: MB-700.

  • Azure for SAP Workloads Specialty: Candidates should be architects or engineers with extensive experience and knowledge of the SAP system landscape and industry standards specific to the initial migration or integration and the long-term operation of an SAP solution on Microsoft Azure. Required exam: AZ-120.


    -Power Platform Solution Architect Expert: Candidates work with stakeholders and focus on solutions that affect the organization’s broad business and technical needs. Prerequisites: Power Platform Functional Consultant Associate and Power Platform Developer Associate. Required exams: PL-600.

Related: 10 Six-Month Certificate Programs That Pay Well

How to get a Microsoft certification

Follow these basic steps to earn a Microsoft certification:

1. Determine the certification you need

There are many certifications available in varying degrees, so you’ll need to determine which one is most beneficial for your career. Consider asking your manager if there’s a specific certification they prefer you obtain. If you’re searching for a job, review job postings to determine which certification most employers seek.

2. Study or complete training courses

While training is not required, you may consider finding a trainer to help you prepare. If a trainer is not in your budget, you can use an at-home test lab. Practice the labs in the books you have purchased or received from your trainer. You will want to design your own solution for these labs.

3. Take a practice exam

A low score on this practice exam is fine and will motivate you to study. It is normal to score low, especially since the material will be new to you.

4. Renew your certification

You may need to renew your certification every year. Make sure you know if and when you need to renew your certification so you can continue to list it on your resume.

Related: Your Guide To an MS Certification

Jobs that typically require a Microsoft certification

These jobs either require or prefer those who have earned Microsoft certifications:

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