One of the big conclusions of our new research on certifications is that relatively few have traction in the job market—but what about the ones that do? What are the top five certifications in demand?
Overall, as reported in The Narrow Ladder: The Value of Certifications in the Job Market, the top 50 certifications account for two-thirds of all requests in job postings. The top five certifications represent a cross-section of what certifications can do for workers.
Some certifications are what we’ve described as Door Openers—qualifications that get you into a field. The Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification is a good example. You can certainly become an auto mechanic without the ASE–roughly 3 in 10 entry level auto mechanic openings request the certification. But having an ASE can both jump you to the front of the hiring line and raise your pay. The ASE is the equivalent of seven years’ experience in job postings, and applicants who have the ASE command a 21% salary premium.
A certification that serves a similar purpose in a white-collar occupation is Certified Public Accountant. While there are accounting positions that don’t require a CPA, getting a CPA opens a lot more doors and provides a significant salary premium.
Other certifications are Career Escalators, meaning that they are beyond entry level, but they enable workers to move upward. Usually Career Escalators demonstrate higher levels of specialization in a field. Without these certifications, your career may stall.
Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) plays that role in the rapidly expanding field of cybersecurity. Many mid-level and senior positions in the cybersecurity field demand this qualification, and it is not for entry level workers. CISSP candidates must have five years’ experience even to be eligible. Cybersecurity postings asking for CISSP pay a net premium of 7%, or more than $6,000 per year on average.
One of the top five certifications, however, is a little different: it’s a Career Escalator qualification that applies to a wide range of occupations. This is the Project Management Professional certification (PMP), which is designed to demonstrate the ability to manage effectively, regardless of the field. To get the PMP, candidates must have at least 3,500 hours leading projects. Project Management job postings asking for a PMP pay 11% more than those that don’t, and on average that’s worth an additional $10,000 per year.
The bottom line: not every certification may pay off, but the certifications in high demand can pay off handsomely.
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