Which certifications should be in your list of credentials based on salary? What’s the next up-and-coming certification? The survey was distributed globally, but this article focuses on the United States data and variations exist based on where you work, your years of experience and the type of company you work for, but this is still helpful in deciding where to spend your time and money in earning additional certifications.
To qualify for this year’s list:
1. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) $131,298
The nonprofit group ISACA, which formerly stood for Information Systems Audit and Control Association, but now is an acronym only, offers and manages the CRISC certification. This certification is designed for IT professionals, project managers and others whose job it is to identify and manage IT and business risks through appropriate Information Systems (IS) controls. The CRISC certification from ISACA, introduced in 2010, covers the entire life cycle, from design to implementation to ongoing maintenance.
Competitiveness factor: More than 20,000 people worldwide have earned this credential, and 96% of those who have earned it keep it current. Because of the demand for professionals with these skills and the relatively small supply of those who have them, CRISC is the highest-paying certification on the list year.
Path to certification: To obtain CRISC certification, you must have at least three years of experience in at least two of the four areas that the certification covers, and you must pass the exam. New for 2017, is that the exam is only offered during three eight-week windows per year (this year they are May 1 – June 30, August 1 to September 30, and November 1 to December 31) and it is computer-based.
In addition, Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits are required each year to maintain your certification. Achieving CRISC certification requires ongoing effort and years of planning, but it has been a top certification for years and with the growth of cloud computing will stay in high demand for years to come.
2. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) $128,156
ISACA also created and maintains the CISM certification. It’s aimed at management and focuses on security strategy and assessing the systems and policies in place.
Competitiveness factor: More than 32 ,000 people have been certified since its introduction in 2002, making this a highly sought-after area with a relatively small supply of certified individuals, like the CRISC.
Path to certification: The exam is only offered during the same three eight-week periods (in 2017, they are May 1 – June 30, August 1 to September 30, and November 1 to December 31) as the CRISC is, and is computer-based and is registered for and available at the same locations making taking the exam more of a challenge.
It also requires at least five years of experience in IS, with at least three of those as a security manager. Your experience must be within the 10 years before taking the exam or five years after passing it, however unlike the CRISC for which there are no exceptions to the experience requirement, there are some alternatives to the experience requirement for this certification. Continuing education credits are required each year to maintain your certification.
3. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate $125,091
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate-level exam demonstrates an individual’s expertise in designing and deploying scalable systems on AWS. It’s unsurprising to see this certification in this year’s top 15 due to the market need for skilled and certified AWS solutions architects.
This is just the first step to achieving the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional certification. According to this year's salary survey responses, each of the five AWS certifications available report an average salary of more than $100,000 (the average among them all is $125,591).
Competitiveness factor: There are more than 10,000 certified individuals, according to Quora which is a very small number given the popularity of the AWS platform, driving up salaries for certified individuals.
Path to certification: To get certified, you need to have some hands-on experience with AWS (they suggest six months or more). The exam is computer based and offered at Kryterion testing centers. You can also take our official Architecting on AWS course and/or the official exam readiness course, both which will help prepare you for the exam. The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification exam addresses a range of topics, including designing on AWS, selecting the appropriate AWS services for a given situation, ingress and egress of data to and from the AWS environment, estimating AWS costs, and identifying cost-control measures.
4. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) $121,729
Offered by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2 as a vendor-neutral credential, CISSP is designed to prove security expertise. As with the other security-related certifications, demand is high and is projected to be so for many years to come, but unlike the others, you can earn an associate credential while working on the required experience, making this a valuable certification for those wanting to get into the security field.
Competitiveness factor: There are nearly 111,000 certified people worldwide, with approximately two-thirds of them in the United States.
Path to certification: The exam is offered at Pearson Vue Testing centers. It also requires at least five years of experience in IS, with at least three of those as a security manager. Your experience must be within the 10 years before taking the exam or five years after passing it, however unlike the CRISC for which there are no exceptions to the experience requirement, there are some alternatives to the experience requirement for this certification.
Continuing education credits are required each year to maintain your certification. CISSP candidates must have at least five years of full-time, paid experience in at least two of the eight areas tested. If you don’t have the work experience, you can still earn an (ISC)2 Associate designation by passing the exam while working toward the full certification. You will have up to six years to complete the required experience.
The exam is based around eight areas in computer security, including security and risk management, communications and network security, software development security, asset security, security engineering, identity and access management, security assessment and testing, and security operations. To remain certified, CISSPs must earn Continuous Professional Education (CPE) credits every year.
5. Project Management Professional (PMP) $119,349
The fifth highest-paying certification is PMP. It was created and is administered by the Project Management Institute and is the most recognized project management certification.
Competitiveness factor: There are almost 730,000 active PMPs in 210 countries and territories worldwide.
Path to certification: The PMP certification exam tests five areas relating to the life cycle of a project: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. PMP certification validates expertise running any kind of project and is not specialized by industry.
To become certified, individuals must have 35 hours of PMP-related training. In addition, those who have less than a bachelor’s degree must have 7,500 hours of project management experience, while those who have a bachelor’s degree or higher need 4,500 hours. To become certified, you need to apply at the PMI website, and then once your application is approved, you can sign up for the actual exam via Prometric.
To maintain PMP certification, 60 professional development units (PDUs, similar to the CPEs in other certifications) are required every three years. PMP certification is another one that requires years of planning and effort, but has been on our top 15 list for many years and should continue to do so.
Preparing for the exam? PMP® Exam Prep Boot Camp – PMBOK 5
6. Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) $115,471
CISA certification is usually obtained by those whose job responsibilities include auditing, monitoring, controlling, and/or assessing IT and/or business systems. It is designed to test the candidate’s ability to manage vulnerabilities and propose controls, processes, and updates to a company’s policies to ensure compliance with accepted IT and business standards.
Competitiveness factor: CISA certification is ISACA’s oldest, dating back to 1978, with more than 126,000 people certified since its inception.
Path to certification: CISA certification requires at least five years of experience in IS auditing, control or security and passing an exam that is only offered during three eight-week windows per year, like the other ISACA exams. Maintaining CISA certification also means earning continuing professional education credits each year.
7. ITIL v3 Foundation $103,408
Over the last 30 years, ITIL has become the most widely used framework for IT management in the world. Why? It’s a set of best practices for aligning the services IT provides with the needs of the organization. It covers everything from availability and capacity management to change and incident management, in addition to application and IT operations management. ITIL selects and authorizes partners who provide education, training and certifications. These authorized and accredited partners (Global Knowledge is one of them) develop the training and certification around the ITIL framework.
ITIL Foundation is the entry-level ITIL certification and provides a broad-based understanding of the IT life cycle and the ITIL concepts and terminology. This is another area that has been in our top 15 list for years and is expected to remain so for many years in the future.
Competitiveness factor: This certification is widely used and accepted as a framework for managing the IT lifecycle. As such, it is different from the other certifications on this list and is one of the few that focuses on the intersection of IT and the needs of the business.
Path to certification: To become certified, you must simply pass the exam; there are no other prerequisites for the Foundation exam.
8. Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) – Server Infrastructure $101,150
This certification will retire on March 31, 2017 and be replaced by the MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure certification which is one of the five new expert-level areas of competence. In fall of 2016, Microsoft streamlined its MCSE offerings and migrated all current MCSE certification holders to one of four new specialties. The first one of which made it on the list this year, Cloud Platform and Infrastructure. This expert-level certification validates skills needed to run a highly efficient and modern data center, with expertise in cloud technologies, identity management, systems management, virtualization, storage, and networking. All Windows Server and Azure exams can be found in this portfolio. The other three MCSE areas are Mobility, Productivity, Data Management and Analytics.
Competitiveness factor: Whether Windows is deployed on-premises or in the cloud, understanding how to deploy it well is critical and that’s what this certification is all about.
Path to certification: It builds on the foundation of either on-premises skills (MCSA: Windows 2012 or MCSA: Windows 2016), or cloud skills (MCSA: Cloud Platform or MCSA: Linux on Azure), adding a single elective exam. These new MCSE credentials do not expire or require recertification. However, each calendar year, you have the opportunity to re-earn the certification and receive an additional entry on your transcript. You do this by passing a unique exam from the list of electives, which demonstrates your continued investment to broaden or deepen your skills in a specific technology area.
9. Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) – Windows Server $99,558
This foundational level certification demonstrates competency with server administration tasks as well as configuring both network and Active Directory infrastructure.
Competitiveness factor: This OS is nearing the end of its lifecycle and will no longer be supported soon, so it may be worthwhile to upgrade to Windows 2012 or 2016. MCSA Server 2008 is scheduled for retirement in July 31, 2017.
10. Cisco Certified Networking Professional (CCNP) Routing & Switching $96,826
The only Cisco-related certification on this year’s list is the CCNP Routing and Switching. This certification shows mastery of Cisco switch and router planning, installation, configuration, and troubleshooting.
Competitiveness factor: This certification has staying power. A form of Cisco certification in this area has been on our top 15 list for years. With this year’s results it further cements itself as one of the premiere certifications that is always in demand. While other areas come and go, routing and switching is something that is required for almost all organizations, whether they keep their data locally or in the cloud.
Path to certification: Achieving CCNP certification requires that you have achieved CCNA Routing and Switching or any CCIE and that you pass three exams, one for routing, one for switching, and one for troubleshooting.