In the IT job market, one of the best ways for job seekers to stand out from the rest of the crowd is to have a certification under their belt.
It's also a great way to earn a high-paying salary.
An IT certification is a standardized way to prove a person has a certain level of knowledge and ability within a specific domain of IT expertise.
A certification shows an individual has completed a course within that area of study. Certification also usually involves some form of examination. It can be in person or virtual, where a series of questions are asked to test an individual's knowledge of the subject. Upon successful complete of the exam, the recipient is usually granted an IT certificate.
There are IT certifications for general IT knowledge categories and more specific areas. Some of the more specific certifications include cloud architect, cloud services, systems control, networking, cybersecurity, development, infrastructure and project management.
Earning an IT certification is different than earning a post-secondary degree. IT certifications are often focused on very specific IT skills. Degrees tend to provide higher-level skills across computer sciences and engineering domains.
Learn more here about the differences between certifications and degrees, and which is best for you.
Highest-paying IT certifications
The highest-paying IT certifications vary based on the survey source. Among the most cited sources for IT certification pay scales is the Global Knowledge IT Skills and Salary Report, which provides a listing of the top certifications and salaries.
Here are the highest-paying IT certifications in North America:
1. Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect
Average salary: $169,611
Skills: This certification focuses on validating skills to help design and use cloud architecture on the Google Cloud Platform.
2. CISM: Certified Information Security Manager
Skills: This is a certification from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA). It validates an individual's skills in information security governance, incident and risk management.
Average salary: $142,585
3. AWS Certified Solutions Architect -- Associate
Skills: For individuals looking to validate knowledge on how to develop and deploy secure applications on the AWS cloud platform.
Average salary: $142,191
4. CRISC: Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control
Skills: This ISACA certification is about demonstrating expertise in identifying, analyzing and responding to enterprise IT risks.
Average salary: $141,172
5. CISSP: Certified Information Systems Security Professional
Skills: This certification is operated by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium. With this cert, professionals can demonstrate competence and expertise in security IT systems and reducing risk.
Average salary: $138,647
6. PMP: Project Management Professional
Skills: This certification is administered by the Project Management Institute. It helps professionals show knowledge and expertise about effective IT project management.
Average salary: $136,236
7. AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner
Skills: This is a cloud-focused certification for AWS. It helps professional demonstrate a high level of understanding of how to use and manage AWS services.
Average salary: $128,620
8. CISA: Certified Information Systems Auditor
Skills: This is an ISACA certification. It is designed to help professionals validate IT auditing skills and expertise -- including the ability to control, monitor and access IT systems.
Average salary: $128,086
9. VCP6-DCV: VMware Certified Professional 6 -- Data Center Virtualization
Skills: This certification validates an individual's skills to implement, manage and troubleshoot a VMware vSphere virtualization infrastructure.
Average salary: $125,918
10. Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate
Skills: This certification helps professionals show expertise implementing, managing and monitoring an organization's Microsoft Azure environment.
Average Salary: $122,768
11. Citrix Certified Associate -- App Delivery and Security
Skills: This was previously known as Citrix Certified Associate -- Networking. This certification is designed to demonstrate proficiency implementing and managing enterprise environments using Citrix ADC and Citrix Gateway.
Average salary: $122,313
12. ITIL Foundation
Skills: This certification is designed for professionals who want to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of Information Technology Infrastructure Library framework practices.
Average salary: $120,228
13. Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals
Skills: This certification is about demonstrating a foundational knowledge in how the Microsoft Azure cloud works. It addresses general and network security, and identity, governance, privacy and compliance features.
Average salary: $119,030
14. Citrix Certified Professional -- Virtualization
Skills: This certification is about validating the skills needed to design, deploy and operate Citrix virtualization environments.
Average salary: $115,676
15. CCNP Enterprise
Skills: The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) has undergone some restructuring in recent years. Formerly known as CCNP Routing and Switching, the CCNP Enterprise certification provides a validation of skills needed to plan, implement and verify Cisco network technology deployments.
Average salary: $113,052
Other IT certifications
Now that you know what the highest-paying IT certifications are in North America, here are some other certifications that are also worth exploring:
What are the benefits of an IT certification?
There are multiple benefits of an IT certification for both individuals and employers.
On-the-job experience is a good indicator of an individual's capabilities, but an IT certification provides a third-party validation of knowledge. This can help employers make employment decisions. A certification can also potentially lead to a higher average salary.
For individuals, an IT certification can make them stand out against peers who don't have one. Certification is also a form of validation, showing that a professional has achieved a specific milestone.
IT certification is also a vital component for career development. Nothing remains the same for long in IT. And with training and certification, individuals can ensure that they are advancing in their careers.
An IT certification is also often a prerequisite for certain job roles. Among the top eight most in-demand IT tech jobs, having some form of IT certification is a key requirement.
How to obtain an IT certification
Getting an IT certification can vary based on the certificate. But in general, there are several primary activities:
- Training. The first step in many IT certifications is to get some form of training. The training often includes the need to read and learn from a certain number of source materials. Training can also sometimes include hands-on labs or a virtual simulation of labs, where skills are demonstrated and practiced. Many certifying bodies for specific certificates also offer training materials and courses for certificates. For example, AWS offers training for its cloud certifications.
- Experience. Some IT certifications require that an individual have a certain amount of on-the-job or hands-on experience with a given technology or activity.
- Certification exam. This is the final and most critical step of the IT certification process. The exam validates skills, knowledge and understanding in the professional's area of study. Most certifications are granted to those who pass an examination of skills from a recognized testing center. The testing center could be a third-party resource, or it could be from the certifying body itself.
What careers require or benefit from an IT certification?
For those who don't have a lengthy resume of established IT experience, an IT certification can be a way to get in the door.
The PMP certification is often a specific job requirement to qualify for mid- to senior-level project management roles. The CISSP certification is a common requirement for cybersecurity roles. And in the area of auditing -- for both compliance and risk -- the CISA certification is often a prerequisite for employment.
For areas of expertise regarding specific vendor technology, an IT certification can be highly beneficial. For example, those who work specifically with AWS would benefit from an AWS cloud certification. The same is true for those who use Google Cloud, where the Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect certification is highly sought after. In the networking sector, Cisco's CCNP is often a job prerequisite. It can help an employer validate a candidate has a certain level of expertise and skills.
While an IT certification does not guarantee that an employer will hire a candidate -- or offer them a higher salary -- it is never seen as a negative. It provides both a validation of skills and continuing education to IT professionals.