NEWS + ADVICE
The Importance of Certifications for Cleared Job Seekers
Federal procurements, including those in the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community (IC) landscapes, are increasingly calling out specific Information Technology (IT) certifications as requirements for personnel. While these certifications shouldn’t take the place of experience as an evaluation tool, they simplify the vetting process for United States Government (USG) customers so it’s not likely to be a diminishing trend.
The complex world of IT is trending increasingly towards specialization, making it difficult and costly to certify in a broad range of disciplines. For early career candidates the basics still hold value, primarily as foundations for next steps. A+, Network+, Security+, and Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) designations are solid choices as a start.
It’s still a Microsoft (MS) world in large part, so a natural progression can be a move into a specialty in that area: Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) or Microsoft Certified System Administrator (MCSA). The summit of the MS track is arguably the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS). Its value stems from its breadth of coverage – Operating Systems, Visual Studio, Exchange, and SQL, to name a few components – and its emphasis on design and new product integration. Software Engineering certifications are not often referenced in procurements, but as Oracle remains a USG mainstay it can pay dividends to be certified in recent versions.
In the network engineering realm, Juniper certifications are gaining traction but Cisco remains the market leader. In that world the basics still apply: Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), and by extension the CCNP + Security (CCNP + S).
The pinnacle in this line is the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE). It’s difficult to achieve, but the depth of experience and knowledge it requires guarantees that those who possess it are truly experts in the field and will always be highly sought after.
The emergence of Information Security (InfoSec) as a budget driver shows no sign of waning. The DoD was at the forefront of codifying certification requirements for Information Assurance efforts with DoD 8570; it’s easy to find information on the specifics online and it’s mandatory information for anyone hoping to plan a thriving career in the space.
It’s also a useful primer for IT specialists since Information Security and IT intersect necessarily. There are a broad range of GIAC certifications that hold value, but the increasing emphasis on Cyber Security makes the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) designation a good value-add; it requires only two years of related experience and can be achieved through self-study, making it a less arduous climb than some other options. Agencies across the DoD and IC are requiring higher percentages of staff to have either Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) or Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certifications, so anyone interested in management in the InfoSec stovepipe will need one or the other.
On the management track, the Project Management Professional (PMP) is the gold standard. Customers in the Federal space are specifically calling it out on an ever-increasing basis. The requirements for ongoing education and experience make it labor-intensive to maintain, but the value is undeniable. Information Technical Infrastructure Library (ITIL) certifications may hold some value on the management track, but they remain more valuable to companies than to individuals at this point.
Cloud Computing is growing rapidly in emphasis in the Federal sectors. Certifications typically lag behind industry trends, but an increasing number of organizations are offering designations in the arena. CompTIA offers a Cloud Essentials certification as a good jumping-off point, with Certified Cloud Technology Professional (CCTP) and Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK) – offered through Cloud Security Alliance – being excellent next steps. In a related vein, virtualization continues to gain traction so the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) certification is a valuable asset. These tools will continue to grow in popularity and focus, so related certifications will only increase in value in the coming years.
Education and experience remain the foundations of a successful career, but certifications provide Federal customers with specific, codified validation of knowledge and expertise. Based on current trends in procurement it is imperative for the career-oriented professional to obtain and maintain pertinent certifications to achieve their professional goals.
Doug Munro is a VP at Interferometrics, an innovative small business in the federal space. He wears many hats, including Recruiting, Business Development, Proposal Development and Project/Personnel Management. Follow Doug on Twitter @DoDRecruiterDC