Less Premium Pay for Certifications Doesn't Make Them Unimportant

Don Tennant
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Top 15 Tech Certifications in Today's Market

In her recent post, "Are Certifications Just a Foot in the Door?" my colleague, Susan Hall, wrote about a report by IT trade association CompTIA, which found that 86 percent of hiring IT managers considered IT certifications as a high or medium priority during the candidate evaluation process.


As Hall pointed out, the CompTIA report provided an interesting juxtaposition to a Foote Partners report I had written about, which found that pay premiums for 241 noncertified IT skills monitored by Foote posted a fourth consecutive quarterly pay gain, while pay premiums for 225 IT certifications it monitors declined for the 17th time in the last 18 quarters. Hall asked her readers to weigh in:

So is it possible that both pieces of research are accurate? Perhaps certifications are what it takes to get your foot in the door, past the gatekeepers in HR, but won't necessarily boost your salary once you're talking to the IT hiring manager. What do you think?

I think Hall's conclusion is spot on. So anyone who read my post about certifications commanding less premium pay and took that as advice to avoid the IT certification route altogether should absolutely rethink that.


In fact, the CompTIA report provided a lot of additional information that readers would be well advised to consider. Here are the key findings that I found most interesting:


  • Roughly 80 percent of U.S. HR executives say it's challenging to find the right candidate with the right skill set to fill their openings. Many hiring IT managers share a similar sentiment.
  • Experience, track record and accomplishments rank as the most important factors among employers when evaluating job candidates. Credentials such as education and certifications rank second.
  • Policies toward using IT certifications during the hiring process vary. For 25 percent of companies, a formal policy dictated by the HR department governs the use of how/when certifications are used during the evaluation process. In 29 percent of companies, the IT department directs the process, while in the remaining 46 percent, there is an informal policy or no policy.
  • Sixty-four percent of hiring IT managers rate IT certifications as having extremely high or high value in validating IT skills and expertise. Value is rated highest among senior IT managers, such as CIOs, and in medium-size firms.
  • The top benefits of IT certification from the perspective of employers include the ability to understand new or complex technologies, higher productivity and more insightful problem solving.
  • Eight in 10 HR professionals believe IT certifications will grow in usefulness and importance over the next two years. Their opinion of IT certifications rates slightly higher than their opinion of HR certifications.
  • Verifying job candidates' credentials is a challenge for some companies. Employers formally verify roughly two-thirds of IT job candidates, while the remaining 34 percent are verified informally or not at all. Top obstacles to verification include time (44 percent) and effort (38 percent).
  • Fifty-two percent of U.S. organizations pay for IT staff to sit for an IT certification exam. Forty-five percent provide financial support for training classes or learning materials.
  • More than half of U.S. organizations have a formal policy in place to reward employees that pass IT certification exams.
  • Among the sub-segment of organizations that do not support IT certifications, the primary reason is that experience is valued over credentials.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 10, 2011 10:27 AM Ann All Ann All  says:


I think another issue is that certifications continue to lag the skills desired by the market. Last month you wrote about a new cloud computing certification from CompTIA that's due in April -- maybe.


And of course, there are no certifications for many soft skills such as vendor management that most folks agree are becoming more important for IT staff. Those are the kinds of skills that come from experience.

Feb 11, 2011 9:24 AM Bill Reynolds Bill Reynolds  says:

What is absent from this conversation about noncertified skills vs. certifications is the fact that many of the 241 noncertified IT skills that we track in our IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index simply do not have certifications associated with them. That is, there is no dominant vendor who 'owns' them, therefore there is no marketing muscle behind promoting them in the marketplace. If they have value it's because people using these skills in the workplace have created value for them. And that's why track record, accomplishments, and experience are generally more highly valued compared to certifications in recruiting and retaining workers. This is sometimes also the case when noncertified and certified skills do exist for the same skills. For example, we're reporting pay for 76 SAP skills in our survey and zero SAP certifications because we haven't found very many employers willing to pay for SAP certifications.

Feb 11, 2011 6:32 PM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to Bill Reynolds

Thanks for that input, Bill. I think what needs to be clear is that readers should not necessarily focus on acquiring a certified skill over a noncertified skill in the hopes that it will necessarily be more highly-valued and profitable.


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