Career Development

10 IT Certifications To Explore in 2021

April 2, 2021

IT is a powerhouse industry which means it’s accessible but competitive. Learn what the top 10 IT certifications employers are looking for, what they require and how to choose the best one for your career goals.

Why are IT certifications important?

If you’re thinking about improving your IT skills to begin or advance your career in the IT industry, certifications are a great method to gain credibility, knowledge and hiring value to employers. Certifications can show not only your skill level but also dedication to your craft through professional development and that you have the foresight necessary to stay ahead of industry trends.

Additionally, in highly competitive industries where you might share similar experience, education and skills with other candidates, a certification may be the qualification that gets you the job.

Which certification is best for you?

Embarking on choosing the right certifications for your schedule and career goals can feel overwhelming. The best place to start is to refer back to job posting requirements. Are there certifications acknowledged or required in the descriptions? Do all of the job postings ask for the same credentials? This can help you decide which certifications to prioritize.

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Top IT certifications

Here’s a list of 10 of the most popular certifications that employers are looking for in their candidates right now:

1. Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect

GCPCA or Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect certification is one of the most valuable and important certifications you can attain. According to Google, you’ll learn to “design, develop, and manage robust, secure, scalable, highly available, and dynamic solutions to drive business objectives.”

Qualifications: While there are no official prerequisites, Google recommends three+ years of industry experience, including at least one year designing and managing solutions using GCP.
How to prepare: Before taking this exam, it can be helpful to real-world experience, training and practice with architecture within the GCP. There are several prep courses to expand your knowledge and help you prepare you for this test.

2. Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)

The Global Information Assurance Certification or “GIAC'' gives you in-depth learning and real-world experience in cybersecurity. According to a recent report by Fortinet, “94% of cybersecurity practitioners believe their certs have better prepared them for their current role.” The GIAC certification will take you deep into the world of cybersecurity, covering cyber defense, penetration testing, digital forensics and incident response, developer, and information security management.

Qualifications: There are four different levels of certification available: introductory, intermediate, advanced, and expert.
How to prepare: There are several ways to prepare for the GIAC, from SANS-certified instructors, self-paced online or with a mentor. GIAC suggests taking a few practice tests before the exam to have a better understanding of what to expect.

3. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect certification demonstrates a person's ability to create and use scalable systems on AWS. It’s recommended for those who have a solutions architect position and have at least a year of experience designing and implementing effective scalable AWS systems.

Qualifications: According to AWS, it’s helpful to have a minimum of one year of hands-on experience creating and maintaining AWS applications, a solid understanding of AWS services and scalable distributed systems on AWS.
How to prepare: There are several AWS training courses and studying materials available to help you prepare for this certification.

4. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

The Certified Information Security Manager certification is offered by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) and demonstrates the ability to create, implement and manage a company's security systems. It focuses on information security governance, program development and management, incident management and risk management. This certification is ideal for information systems professionals looking to further their knowledge and advance to management.

Qualifications: You must have a minimum of five years of experience in information systems to take this exam. This experience must be within the last 10 years of taking the exam.
How to prepare: There are self-paced, online, and live options available for CISM exam training and preparation. ISACA offers exam prep courses and supplemental resources to fit a variety of studying needs.

5. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

If you’re looking to advance your career to the management or director level, the Certified in Risk Information Systems Control (CRISC) certification may help you boost your career and deepen your knowledge of risk management.

The CRISC certification is offered through ISACA and teaches risk management and the development and implementation of information systems controls. This is a great certification for most IT industry professionals.

Qualifications: It’s a good idea to have at least three years of experience in two of the four sectors covered on the exam.
How to prepare: There are self-paced, online and live prep courses available for the CRISC exam. ISACA offers test prep courses and study materials to help professionals prepare.

6. Project Management Professional (PMP)

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is all about people, process and your business environment. Offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), it’s considered one of the most important and beneficial certifications for project managers. This certification focuses on three methodologies: predictive life cycle (waterfall), agile, and a hybrid approach.

Qualifications: To take the exam, you’ll need a four-year degree, three years of project management experience and 35 hours of PMP-related education or CAPM Certification. If you don’t have a four-year degree, don’t sweat just yet. You can also qualify with a high school diploma or associate degree, 5 years of project management experience and 35 hours of PMP-related education or CAPM Certification.
How to prepare: There are several prep courses for the PMP and PMI offers exam content outlines to help professionals prepare for the certification exam.

Related: Understanding the Project Management Processes and Phases

7. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification is offered through the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)². This certification indicates the ability to design, implement and manage an exquisite cybersecurity program.

Qualifications: The CISSP certification is ideal for experienced security practitioners, managers and executives. It’s important to have a minimum of five years of experience in information security as well as three years of experience as a security manager to take this exam.
How to prepare: To prepare for the CISSP exam, you should familiarize yourself with the eight components that will be covered on the test: software development security, security assessment and testing, security operations, risk management, communications and network security, asset security, security architecture and engineering and identity and access management. You can also download an exam outline from the (ISC)² website.

8. Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

ISACA offers the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification to “prove your expertise in IS/IT auditing, control and security and be among the most qualified in the industry.”

This certification empowers professionals to manage every stage of the auditing process. The CISA is recognized on a global level as the primary certification for information security audit control. If you work in IS auditing, security or control, this certification may be a good choice for you.

Qualifications: You’ll need at least five years of experience in information security control, auditing or security and must pass an entry-level exam before being able to take the CISA exam.
How to prepare: The entry-level exam is a great way to prepare for this test. There are also online courses available for CISA training. ISACA offers several prep resources and a free 10-question CISA practice quiz.

9. Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Foundation

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) or “ITIL 4” focuses on IT service management and implementing best practices for aligning IT efforts to business needs. This certification will introduce you to a widely recognized and accepted framework to manage the IT lifecycle.

Qualifications: There are no prerequisites for this exam.
How to prepare: There are several options available to prepare for the ITIL exam. Some are free and some charge a fee. AXELOS offers a search function to find ITIL training by region.

10. Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)

For those who’ve already earned your CCNA, the Cisco Certified Network Professional certification or “CCNP” is a solid choice. This certification focuses on enterprise network technologies and allows professionals to choose a core specialty.

Qualifications: There are no prerequisites to take this exam. The CCNA certification is no longer required.
How to prepare: There are self-study and in-course options to prepare for the CCNP exam. Cisco also offers training programs.

Use your network and job descriptions to identify the best certification for yourself. Chat with your IT network and refer to a few of your top choice job postings. Which certifications keep surfacing? This research may save you time and money in the long run.

Additional IT certifications

Here are a few more in-demand IT certifications to consider:

Related: Explore Career Paths


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