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Relative Popularity of CompTIA Certifications

By  Apr 13, 2008

Topics: Certification, CompTIA

First, the bad news: I have neither a proverbial crystal ball nor hard numbers regarding the relative popularity and market penetration of the CompTIA certifications. However, I have almost one dozen years of industry experience, as well as the experience of the thousands of men and women whom I have helped to get certified to assist us in filling in the blanks.

CompTIA, as of this writing, offers 13 certifications (with more on the way, trust me). However, in my professional experience only three CompTIA certification programs have developed any appreciable amount of traction in the IT marketplace:

  1. A+ (PC repair and troubleshooting)
  2. Network+ (Ethernet network support)
  3. Security+ (IT security best practices)

Trailing a distant fourth would be Linux+, although the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) certification appears to have more industry buy-in for folks desiring competency verification in the Linux OS.

What do I mean by "traction" when I describe the A+, Network+, and Security+ credentials? Actually, I intend this noun to apply both to certification candidates as well as to hiring managers.

First, human resource (HR) managers and IT managers need to (a) recognize the credential in the first place; and (b) believe that the certification accurately measures technical competency in IT.

By "recognize the credential" I speak literally. In other words, I can tell you first-hand that many HR managers have no earthly idea what a CCENT or an MCTS is.

One reason for this low profile is nothing more than time. Neither of the aforementioned titles has been around for very long. That having been said, I will bet you 50 dollars to a dried-up piece of pepperoni pizza that it will be a long time indeed before hiring manager make sense of the major IT certification vendors' recent trend to rename/rescope all of their titles.

It is an IT truism that, almost without exception, IT certification candidates will not invest the time, money, and effort to attain a credential without at least a reasonable probability of gaining positive return on investment (ROI). This ROI might be advancement in his or her currrent position, or it may be having a leg up on his or her next professional post.

Therefore, if an individual invests thousands of dollars for training and practice tests in order to earn, for example, the CompTIA Project+ credential, and then gets either no response from hiring managers or (at worst), "Why don't you have
the PMP certification?" then what is the point?

The take-home message as I see it is this: Certification candidates should perform research, talk to industry folks, and select their certifications judiciously.

Please don't put too much stock in what training/test-prep salespeople try to sell you; they are looking for the traditional "upsell" and will tend to offer you far more training and/or practice materials than you need.

HR people should also be engaged in research to determine the relative worth of
different IT certifications. In addition, more frequent and meaningful communication between HR and the IT management personnel is helpful because the 'techies' can train the 'non-techies' in terms of what to look for in job candidates, with or without certifications.

Some IT recruiters (also called "headhunters") appear almost intoxicated by certain letters that appear after a candidate's last name. "You have a CCNP? Wow! You have an MCSE? Stellar!" are common IT recruitment mantras.

Trouble is, as we all know, a hiring manager may be introduced to Candidate A with 20 years of hardcore industry experience and no certs, and to Candidate B with zero years of any industry experience and a number of flashy certification titles after his or her name.

Which candidate do you think will be selected for an initial interview?

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