It’s easy to become discouraged right now, particularly if you’re trying to earn an IT certification. The current economic environment is less than pleasant. Accounting concerns are adversely affecting the market, IT and technology job reduction announcements are commonplace, and MCP Magazine’s most recent salary survey notes that IT salaries have fallen for the second year in a row. In fact, the magazine’s seventh annual salary survey notes that salaries have fallen for all certifications.

Although I have read many comments and bulletin board posts suggesting that IT certification usefulness may have run its course, just the opposite is true. Here’s why IT certifications are more important than ever.

Certifications help you earn more
It’s no secret, but it is easy to forget that certifications help IT professionals command higher salaries. Software manufacturers, certification training aid publishers, and other sources routinely point to studies and surveys demonstrating that fact.

Like any other industry, IT is subject to the law of supply and demand. As more IT professionals enter the job market as a result of business closings or downsizing, more IT professionals are competing for open jobs. As a result, organizations can reduce the salaries they offer IT professionals.

Certifications still have great value, though, because many organizations require certification as a prerequisite for hiring. In many cases, companies understand they must allocate more financial resources as a result of their desiring accredited employees.

While IT salaries are dropping for certified professionals, they are likely falling even more for IT professionals without certification.

Certifications set you apart from other candidates
When you list a certification on your resume, you’re indicating far more than the mere fact that you’ve passed a test. Earning a certification proves that you’ve mastered specific skills. Accreditation demonstrates that you know how to budget your time, find resources to study and learn from, and can overcome the pressures associated with testing. Those are all accomplishments, and the certifications listed on your resume testify to your ability to accept and overcome such challenges.

Think about this too. If more IT professionals are in the job market competing for the position you might be seeking, don’t you want your resume to outshine those of your competitors? If your resume is equal to another IT pro’s in education and experience but yours lists a CCNA or MCSA that the other resume doesn’t, guess who’s likely to get the job? Both human resources and IT departments find a certain comfort level in hiring accredited professionals.

Certifications can help you gain experience
MCP Magazine’s survey supports what many, including myself, have been saying for a long time: Work experience is an important factor in compensation. The more experience you have, the more knowledge and skills you will have developed.

However, managers may be reluctant to give you responsibility for new technologies if you haven’t proven your ability to administer them. Without a chance to prove your ability, though, you can’t receive the experience. The situation is a catch-22.

Certification can solve that problem, whether you’re trying to become a help desk technician or a systems engineer responsible for administering multiple sites. You can use certification as a tool to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the latest technologies and have mastered the basics.

Eckel’s take
The economy is obviously experiencing difficulty. The IT and technology sectors have been particularly troubled. It’s easy to become demoralized if all you hear is news of failures in the technology sector and IT staff reductions. It’s even easier to use all that bad news to justify abandoning a certification effort or dismissing IT accreditation as an option.

I believe now is the worst time you could do so. In a tight job market, when salaries are falling, there’s never been a better time to earn certification. Although an IT certification won’t prevent your position from being eliminated in a cost-reduction effort or guarantee you a new job, it sure adds to your value and better positions you for a rebound.

But with an uncertain economy and difficult employment outlook, it may be wise to cut back on your certification spending. You can use various options to reduce your certification expenses. Read “Use this five-step method for lowering certification costs” for tips and recommendations.

Go ahead and bolster your certification efforts. Don’t let discouraging news depress you. Instead, use the current economic downturn as an opportunity to better position yourself for the future.