If you want better job opportunities, a more stable career, a greater salary, and industry recognition, the answer used to be to get certified. Then, IT employees with no experience and “paper” certifications came along and ruined the party. Right? The answer’s no; the party’s still going.
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There are more reasons than ever to earn and maintain IT certification. Whether you’re an employer or an IT employee, here are the top four reasons IT professionals should pursue and maintain their IT accreditations.

Reason #1: Certification requirements have been strengthened
It’s no secret that Redmond is trying to scare IT wannabes out of its certification track. The new slate of Windows 2000 exams is supposed to be much more difficult. Microsoft’s made a concerted effort to more closely emulate real-world scenarios in its exams vs. testing book knowledge, which many have criticized in the past. Further, Microsoft is warning all candidates that they should have at least a year of experience before sitting for Windows 2000 tests.

Other vendors are toughening their certification tracks, too. Both Novell and Cisco have recently announced updates and changes designed to strengthen their programs.

Why’s that good? Because it protects and enhances the value of your certification.

Reason #2: Certified IT professionals are more efficient
If you take the time to learn the ins and outs of an OS and then pass the associated certification exams, you’ll receive more than just a few letters for your business card. You also gain hands-on familiarity and expertise, which translates to improved efficiency in the workplace.

Recent surveys, including International Data Corp. (IDC) studies of the Microsoft and Novell programs, revealed that accredited IT professionals are more efficient. Certification Magazine reported in its June 2000 issue that the IDC studies showed “companies with Novell-certified employees on staff reported they handled a greater number of support requests per help-desk employee and that the requests are more complex.”

Even more important, the report added that in both of IDC’s studies, “companies with certified IS staff reported significantly less downtime than companies without certified IS staff.”

Best of all, though, is the fact that network administrators can take those advantages to the bank.

Reason #3: Certified IT professionals receive greater salaries
It’s no secret that certified IT pros earn more dough than their noncertified counterparts. If you ask me, this is one of the fueling factors behind the “paper MCSE” debate. Many industry veterans don’t want to take the time to prove their IT skills on tests, and they often resent the newcomers who have done so. This is especially true when the newcomers can lobby for heftier salaries than the veterans can as a result of having passed those tests.

Is it fair? I don’t know.

Is it reality? You bet.

Now, IT certification isn’t the be-all and end-all many think it is. If you hire someone just because they’re an MCSE, CNE, or CCNA, you get what you deserve. I wouldn’t go to a doctor just because he or she had an M.D. I usually find one based on a referral from a friend or family member. The same is true when selecting IT professionals. All certification does is demonstrate one has proven expertise with a vendor’s product or specifically defined fundamentals. It doesn’t mean an MCSE can administer 14 Exchange servers in seven different locations in four states and three countries.

Regardless, certification can add $$ to your paycheck. A Boston Research Group study of certified Lotus professionals showed that 30 percent received promotions within six months of earning accreditation. Of those 30 percent, some 68 percent credited their Lotus certification as the reason.

According to Gartner Dataquest research (“The Value of IT Certification”), “on average, managers are willing to pay a 10 percent premium for certified employees.” Further, the report revealed that “almost 90 percent of certification candidates agreed or strongly agreed that once certified, it is important to keep a certification continually updated.”

Why? Because the benefits keep coming. Increased efficiency and better salaries are only the start.

Reason #4: Certified IT professionals are more loyal
Don’t believe the old story that if a company pays for its employees to become certified, those employees leave for better opportunities elsewhere once they earn accreditation. In fact, the opposite is true. While some employees will move on to other companies, the new accreditation isn’t always the reason, and they often gravitate to new positions with increased responsibilities within the same enterprise.

In fact, according to the Dataquest report, “Certified employees will stay with an employer longer than those who have not received certification.” The study also found that “Fewer than one out of 10 managers say that certified employees are more likely to leave than uncertified employees.”

Another IDC study corroborated the Dataquest report. According to an IDC Novell certification survey, 61 percent of respondents stated it was no more difficult to retain certified employees compared to nonaccredited employees.

So there you go. Test away.

Erik Eckel MCP+I, MCSE is editor in chief of TechRepublic’s IT communities. He’s previously held positions as a high-speed IP access product manager and a communications representative for nationwide long-distance, data networking, and Internet services providers.

If you’d like to share your opinion, please post a comment below or send the editor an e-mail.