What is an IT Support Certification?
IT support certifications are recognized acknowledgements of specific experience, knowledge, and skills relating to IT technologies and services. They are often critical to career advancement and can make all the difference for an entry-level support professional who is looking to distinguish themselves from the competition. According to a CompTIA study, 91% of employers believe IT certifications both play a key role in the hiring process and act as a reliable predictor of a successful employee.
Once in the IT support profession, IT support certifications can help with career advancement. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary is $57,910 per year, or $27.84 per hour. More specifically, the median annual wage for a computer network specialist was $62,760 in May 2021, and for computer user support specialists in May of 2021 was $49,770.
Typically, education requirements for a computer support specialist include an associate’s degree, while user support specialists require some college courses. More technical positions may require a degree in a certain field, such as computer and information technology or engineering. However, relevant IT support certifications can often act as an alternative, particularly when combined with in-field experience, allowing even those with just a high school diploma to achieve the same or more career success with the relevant information technology (IT) certifications. It is important to note, however, that the nature of technology requires IT support specialists to continue to obtain new certs and recertify to maintain their knowledge and skills through the continuous innovations and changes of the technologies they work with.
Whether you are looking to start or “reboot” your IT career, or to simply stay up to date on the skills and knowledge needed to work with the ever-changing technologies, security considerations, and best-practices of the profession, it is important that you accrue the Information Technology (IT) certs that are most likely to have the biggest impact on your organization—and your career.
This blog discusses the top ten recommended IT support certifications, along with a few insights on why they are so impactful.
1. Microsoft Certifications
Microsoft certifications train and affirm the technical skills required to perform Microsoft technology-related positions within an organization. They are some of the most critical certs for IT support professionals to get simply because of the prevalence of Microsoft in the office. According to Microsoft’s latest By The Numbers report, there are more than 1.4 billion monthly active devices running Windows 10 or 11 around the world. Office 365 usage statistics reveal that the Microsoft 365 service is the most widely used cloud service by user count and market share on Windows and Mac, with 70% of Fortune 500 companies purchasing Office 365 in the past 12 months. The same report revealed that one in five corporate employees uses a version of Office cloud service. Microsoft’s Total Economic ImpactTM 2020 study, “The Revenue And Growth Opportunities For Microsoft Azure Partners,” commissioned and conducted by Forrester Consulting, revealed that there are over 145 million daily active Microsoft Teams users, over 250,000 organizations using Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Power Platform, and over 95 percent of Fortune 500 companies are using Azure.
Which Microsoft certifications should you choose?
Microsoft offers more than 250 certifications for different levels of expertise, but some of the most popular Microsoft certification courses to participate in include:
- Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert
- MTA IT
- Microsoft Certified IT Professional
How do you gain Microsoft certifications?
Microsoft certifications are exam-based certifications. There are different levels of certifications that correspond to levels of expertise, and the certifications may need to be earned in sequential order. Microsoft typically offers certified guidance programs for free, and the typical cost for an exam is $165 USD. Microsoft certifications need to be renewed annually to ensure current knowledge of the product.
2. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
The next most important cert is the CISSP certification. Granted by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, CISSP remains one of the most respected and sought-after cybersecurity certifications. The CISSP provides training in critical areas, including security and risk management, identity and access management, security operations, and software development security. It also validates the knowledge, skills, and experience of senior cybersecurity managers and IT support professionals. CISSP was one of the original certifications included in the DoD Directive 8570.1m, which was implemented to ensure cybersecurity professionals developed a baseline understanding of the fundamental cybersecurity principles and practices. It remains the dominant certification used/obtained for those in numerous cybersecurity positions. According to the Global Knowledge 2020 IT Skills and Salary Report, it is listed as the second most common cert being pursued by IT professionals who are seeking to advance their careers.
The (ISC)2 2021 Cybersecurity Workforce Study reveals that, as of 2021, there are over 142,000 CISSP-certified individuals in over 170 countries, and those who hold the CISSP certification are employed at Fortune 500 companies, governments, small businesses, start-ups, and many operate as independent contractors.
How do you gain the CISSP certification?
The process for gaining the CISSP certification requires both an exam and an experience component:
- The professional must first gain sufficient experience in the field of cybersecurity and IT security management
- These experience requirements must be verified by others in the industry who hold CISSP
- The professional must pass the CISSP exam
Once the CISSP certification is obtained, the professional must continue to accumulate experience and continuing professional education credits (CPEs) every year.
3. IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Foundation
The ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) Foundation offers a range of certifications based on difficulty, from entry-level to expert. It is described as “the most widely accepted approach to IT service management (ITSM) in the world.” Developed by the Cabinet Office, this IT support cert is based on a set of best practices that are drawn from public and private sectors across the globe. It provides students with training on the key concepts and diverse role functions of help desk needs. This includes such foundational concepts as how to communicate with customers, common troubleshooting issues, and software navigation programs, for example. There are currently more than 2,000,000 ITIL certified professionals worldwide.
How do you obtain ITIL certifications?
ITIL Foundation certifications are obtained through a set of exams, each difference in difficulty administering a different cert. There are no prerequisites to taking the exam, but exam administrators recommend taking any of the ITIL training courses that are available on the website as preparation. The cost of taking the exam can range from $599 USD to $2,199 USD based on the study materials used and whether portions can be taken online.
4. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
The CCNA training course and exam teach networking fundamentals, IP services, security fundamentals, automation, and programmability. Having the CCNA essentially validates that you have the professional expertise and skills required to manage and optimize today's most advanced networks. The certification offers a range of courses covering cyber ops, collaboration, data center, security, and other topics. IT professionals say these courses are critical for those utilizing Cisco products.
Once you’ve completed the CCNA certification, you are able to take a variety of additional certifications with further specialization at the professional and then expert level. These advanced IT support certifications typically require completion of both a core and at least one concentration exam.
How do you obtain the CCNA certification?
To become CCNA certified, an IT support professional must gain a passing grade (80% or higher) on the 200-301 CCNA exam, which tests knowledge and skills relative to network fundamentals, network access, IP connectivity, IP services, security fundamentals, and automation and programmability. There are no formal prerequisites for the exam, but it is recommended that you have one or more years of experience implementing and administering Cisco solutions. The cost of the CCNA exam is $300 USD.
5. CompTIA A+
The CompTIA A+ certification is an entry-level IT certification that “validates understanding of the most common hardware and software technologies in business and certifies the skills necessary to support complex IT infrastructure.” It is largely considered to be the starting point for IT professionals, helping to improve their help desk abilities and learn the fundamentals of IT support, including how to install, maintain, and configure PCs, laptops, mobile devices, and printers. Many IT professionals believe CompTIA A+ to be the most impactful cert, pointing to it as providing key foundational knowledge that will become the basis for subsequent training.
How do you obtain the CompTIA A+?
The CompTIA A+ is an exam-based certification. IT professionals are required to pass two exams that review virtualization, hardware, network, and mobile device efficiency. Each exam costs $219 USD. It is strongly recommended that administrators have a minimum of 9-12 months of experience before working towards this certification.
6. CompTIA Network+
The CompTIA Network+ certification is an intermediate level certification that focuses on troubleshooting network issues within IT software, including how to diagnose inconsistent or faulty connections, how to maintain a network, and how to prevent outages and overflow consequences.
How do you obtain the CompTIA Network+?
The CompTIA Network+ certification is an exam-based cert. The exam costs approximately $350 USD. Prerequisites include the CompTIA A+ certification and a recommended 9-12 months of networking experience.
Additional CompTIA certifications
While CompTIA A+ is the highest recommended CompTIA certification for entry-level IT support professionals, more advanced or specialized CompTIA certifications may also include:
- CompTIA ITF+ certification – While the CompTIA A+ certification is designed for entry-level IT professionals, those requiring more foundational knowledge about the IT support profession may also benefit from the CompTIA ITF+ certification. IT Fundamentals (ITF+) is an introduction to foundational technology knowledge and skills, establishing an IT education framework by focusing on the essential IT skills and knowledge. The CompTIAF+ certification is obtained by writing the FC0-U61 exam. There are no requisites or experience hours required. Cost of the exam is approximately $130 USD.
- CompTIA Security+ certification – The CompTIA Security+ certification is a global certification validating the baseline skills necessary to perform core security functions. It focuses on preparing candidates to combat emerging threats and be proactive in preventing the next cyberattack. Security+ is compliant with ISO 17024 standards and is approved by the US DoD to meet directive 8140/8570.01-M requirements. To obtain the CompTIA Security+ certification, IT professionals need to pass the Security+ exam and the prerequisite CompTIA Network+ exam, and they need to have a recommended two years of experience in IT administration with a security focus. Cost for taking the exam is $381 USD.
- CompTIA Linux+ – The CompTIA Linux+ certification is internationally recognized for validating the baseline competencies that are required for Linux administrators to secure the enterprise, power the cloud and keep systems running. It is the only job-focused Linux certification covering the latest foundational skills demanded by hiring managers. To obtain the CompTIA Linux+ certification, IT support professionals must complete the CompTIA Linux+ exam. Prerequisites include CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ certifications, along with 12 months of Linux admin experience. Cost of the exam is $350 USD.
- CompTIA Server+ – The CompTIA Server+ certification is a global certification confirming the IT professionals who install, manage and troubleshoot servers in data centers as well as on-premise and hybrid environments have the technical knowledge and skills required to support and secure server hardware and software. It is the only certification that can ensure that IT professionals at the administrator-level can do the job in any environment because it is the only certification not restricted to a single platform. To obtain the CompTIA Server+ certification, IT support professionals must complete the CompTIA Server+ exam. Prerequisites include CompTIA A+ certification and a recommended 18 to 24 months of IT experience. Cost of the exam is $350 USD.
7. Microsoft Azure Fundamentals certification
Cloud computing is currently one of the fastest growing and most in-demand technologies, with Amazon Web Service (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), IBM Cloud, and Microsoft Azure leading the market. This makes Azure Certification a considerable commodity for IT support professionals who want to advance or stay relevant in their field. There are a number of Microsoft Azure role-based certifications available, but Microsoft Azure Fundamentals is the most recommended starting point for launching the certification journey. The Microsoft Azure Fundamentals certification validates an IT support professional’s basic knowledge of cloud services and cloud computing concepts, models, and services.
How do you obtain Microsoft Azure Fundamentals certification?
The Microsoft Azure Fundamentals certification is an exam-based certification requiring completion of the AZ-900 exam. There are no prerequisites for the exam, but the Azure training resources and practice exams are strongly recommended to prepare for the exam. The exam costs $100 USD.
Other Popular Azure certifications
Following the Microsoft Azure Fundamentals certification, popular additional certifications include:
8. AWS Certification
AWS certifications have become more popular as organizations around the world enter a more cloud-centric work environment. AWS certifications are important because they help to validate an IT support professional or team’s technical skills, but they also give certified individuals the knowledge and skill to drive the future of their organization and bring in more clients.
How do you get AWS certified?
There are currently nine AWS certs. The best certification to start with is the AWS Cloud Practitioner certification, followed by an associate-level or specialty certification exam (the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate certification is the most popular AWS certification).
Other AWS certifications include:
- AWS Certified Developer – Associate
- AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate
- AWS Certified Security – Specialty
- AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty
- AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional
- AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional
It is strongly recommended that you take advantage of both the free AWS tier and the many exam preparation courses and practice questions that are available before taking the exam.
9. VMware certification
VMware Certifications test and validate the critical skills required to integrate and manage the vSphere technology driving the infrastructure of many organizations. VMware offers multiple certification levels, ranging from associate to design expert, and certifications are organized into multiple technology areas with levels for those new to the industry as well as experts in the field.
How do you get VMware Certified?
VMware certification is another exam-based certification. Once you have decided on the certification and certification track, simply register for the desired exam.
The four most popular VMware certifications, as ranked by vmware.com, are:
- VCP7: Cloud Management and Automation
- VCDX: Cloud Management and Automation
- VCP7: Desktop and Mobility
- VCA6: Data Center Virtualization
10. Google IT Support Professional Certificate
The Google IT Support Certificate is a good place to start for individuals who are looking to begin a career in IT support. The certification course provides the skills needed for an introductory-level job in IT support. There are no prerequisite qualifications or experience hours. The training program focuses on troubleshooting and customer care, networking, operating systems, system administration, and security.
How do you obtain your Google IT Support Professional certification?
To get Google IT Support-certified, the online training program and exams must be completed. Costs of the program and exam may vary. There are no prerequisites for obtaining this IT support certification.
Why Should I Get an IT Support Certification?
There are a number of reasons to get IT support certifications. One includes the high demand and increasing employment rate of computer support specialists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 70,400 openings for computer support professionals each year, and overall employment of computer support specialists is expected to grow at least 9 percent by 2030.
If you are looking to get into the IT support profession, IT support certifications can offer an alternative to the standard college degree. If you have a college degree already, IT support certifications can offer you a professional edge over your competition. For those who are already working in the IT profession, IT support certifications provide the most recognized form of career development to help you move forward in your profession and remain relevant among continuously changing technologies.
Of course, while technical certifications are important, achieving certifications in combination with on-the-job experience is of unparalleled importance.
IT support professionals may have a variety of IT certifications to choose from, but one thing remains clear: working in the field means a commitment to lifelong learning and improvement. As technology continues to evolve, amassing knowledge—whether it be from an industry course or from personal experience—is critical, not only for support professionals to get ahead, but also to keep their users productive and their organizations secure.
Laura Bohnert, Content Marketing Manager
As a content marketing manager at BeyondTrust, Laura Bohnert applies a multifaceted, tech-centered marketing skillset to help drive SEO, blog, PR, and product marketing in support of BeyondTrust’s demand generation and sales enablement initiatives. She has a diverse background in product marketing, brand marketing, content writing, social media, event coordination, and public relations. Outside of the tech world, she has a passion for literature, with a BA, MA, and PhD Candidacy in English Literature, and she can either be found beekeeping, restoring her historic haunted house, or continuing her dissertation on the psychological interpretations of ghosts in gothic and horror fiction.