How to Decide: Earn More Work Experience or Get a Certification ?

As technological businesses begin to focus more on IT strategies and the currently available resources to support them, the demand for the most qualified workers continues to increase.

When administrative security and IT infrastructure are a part of a business, that business will require employees with knowledge and expertise in their field to succeed. In many cases, this infrastructure will actually require around-the-clock management to keep all systems safe, organized, and functional. Even the highest-quality hardware and software are only capable of so much without an active, qualified team who can adeptly keep the business on track.

This may lead some business leaders to inquire into what work experience, IT certifications or other qualifications are most important to their strategy and business structure. This frequently asked question is also pondered by IT students or recent graduates who are looking to enter the workforce as a member of the IT industry. Are IT certifications the most important? What about hands-on working experience?


IT Certification vs. Work Experience Statistics


Foote Partners, a Florida-based independent IT benchmark research and advisory firm, recently created an IT skills and Certifications Pay Index Report. This research discovered that in recent years, the pay scale for employees without IT certifications has begun to drop. In some of the years where the rate seemed to be falling for non-certified IT staff, there seemed to be a noticeable trend of employers who showed that they were willing to pay far more for hands-on working experience than for their IT certified counterparts.


However, it’s rather difficult to ignore the fact that those same years were some of the toughest economic times in decades. This must have had the same effect across many different industries. Whereas many businesses do prefer to grab those expert IT certified guys and gals straight from college, allowing them to be trained minimally for maximum effectiveness, it’s not a hidden fact that it’s almost expected that non-certified workers will make less. For businesses struggling through a failing economy, there seemed very little choice but to choose those with hands-on over those who had received vital certifications.

To Certify, or Not to Certify


While the trend seemed concerning for those who had invested in their certifications, it is also notable that the pay boost for non-certified skilled workers has only risen an average of 2.8% across all industries. It’s critical to also acknowledge from the point-of-view of IT hiring managers, that hands-on experience usually requires experience in a very similar business environment. When that targeted experience is available it is definitely an advantage to the prospective employee.

Alternately, many employers do desire that fresh-from-an-IT-certification staff member. That employee comes with the knowledge required to execute the needs they are hired for. It is only a matter of repetition and skill-building that is needed to make them a work-experienced staff member with the added bonus of a general IT education.

Additionally, there are actually IT certifications that do require hands-on working experience to achieve, with the CISSP and PMP being two great examples. The PMP alone requires 4,500 hours of project management work experience if you do have a bachelors degree. If you do not, the requirement is 7,500+. This significant chunk of working experience is certainly far more desired to a serious IT firm when it comes complete with a certification they know will align you with their available position. Regardless, certifications in non-relevant skills are most likely to be trumped by hands-on experience in a similar working environment.


IT Certification Benefits vs Work Experience Benefits


Always dependent on the needs of the employer, there are benefits to both hands-on working experience and IT certifications.

IT Certifications

  1. IT Certified employees can provide valuable proposition material for that company’s prospective clients. Clients often ask about specialized or certified skills before committing to a contract. IT certifications can make great selling points.
  2. 64% of hiring managers in the IT industry rate prospective employees with IT certifications as competent and highly-valuable when they are weighing applications.
  3. 54% of hiring managers believe a certification gives the employee credibility.
  4. IT certifications indicate a dedication to education, knowledge, skills and success.
  5. Differing IT certifications gives a prospective employee a significantly larger safety net, as well as more companies and industries to choose from.


Work Experience Benefits

  1. Work experience enables one to quickly identify, execute and solve tasks that can be required in many entry-level positions. Hiring managers do rely on on-site experience when measuring a prospective employee’s level of expertise.
  2. Industry and skill specific work experience is highly sought and valued. Many hiring managers will share that whether or not a certification is on-hand is insignificant when compared to specific industry knowledge, doubly so when with that business’s particular type of customer.
  3. Work experience reduces downtime required for orientation efforts, training and reaching an acceptable productivity level. These employees come on board being able to participate in teams with already familiar company dynamics, structure and customers.
  4. Working experience also lends to an area that a newly achieved IT certification employee has and that is the soft skills required to help any new employee blend nicely into the team fold.
  5. Working experience can in some cases, allow the technically unskilled worker, to take the place of an IT certified employee. Especially in times where a company is struggling with a failing economy and paying those higher salaries just isn’t an option.


The economy is beginning to look up, great strides are being made in improving the state of student loans and the IT industry itself will only continue to grow. As you can see, in many cases, the benefit is to the employer, in others, the employee. An IT certification without opportunities can be more than disappointing, it can be tragic to one’s financial affairs.

Not without its own disappointments, work experience without certification can often be quite stagnant. It can be critical to spend a good portion of time researching not only your own options, but the job market and availability when it comes to any given IT certification you may find yourself interested in.

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