Aug 09 2021

The Top Certifications Federal IT Pros Should Consider

A recent report shows the value they can bring to federal employees amid a push to fill cyber roles.

Amid a spate of high-profile cyberattacks, the federal government is hunting for cybersecurity talent and still faces a large number of vacancies, particularly at the Department of Homeland Security, according to The Washington Post.

As the Post reports, Jen Easterly, the recently confirmed director of DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, has “made near-daily appeals for cyber pros to join the agency on her newly launched Twitter profile.” According to CyberSeek, there is a shortage of about 36,000 public sector cybersecurity jobs across federal, state and local government agencies.

That means that federal cybersecurity and IT professionals are in extremely high demand, with agencies competing for those with appropriate education and skill sets. What can set federal IT and cyber pros apart, however, are the different industry certifications they have under their belts. A recent report, the “2021 Security Clearance Compensation Report” from ClearanceJobs, indicates that if IT pros have certain certifications, they are more likely to receive higher compensation.

The average total annual compensation for those who reported having at least one certification was $110,857, compared with $96,177 for those without a certification, a difference of $14,680, according to the report.

The Top IT Certifications That Make a Difference

Experience, education and certifications are the “triple threat” for IT professionals seeking jobs that require security clearances, according to the report. The report found that 49 percent of respondents had at least one certification.

“It can be confusing to know whether it’s worth it to go for more education, or get a certification,” the report notes. “Bottom line? Adding either one will increase compensation. At the 10+ years of experience mark, being a triple threat paid $24,162 more than respondents who just had experience without a graduate degree or at least one certification. In IT and engineering, getting a graduate degree or adding a certification boosts total compensation potential.”

Some agencies, particularly the Defense Department, are increasingly prizing certain certifications.

“There has been a long standing argument that experience trumps certifications, and I think for most positions, that argument is true,” Greg Stuart, owner and editor of vDestination and a ClearanceJobs contributor, tells Government Executive. “However, in the cleared space, IT certifications are a must to meet the requirements for specific contracts. In the case of contracts that require DOD 8570, now 8140 compliance, experience alone doesn’t cut it.”

According to the report, the most selected certification was a CompTIA Security+ certification, with 21 percent of survey respondents saying they had it. Other common certifications included Six Sigma, Project Management Professional, CompTIA Network+, Information Technology Infrastructure Library Foundations, Certified Information Systems Security Professional, Cisco Certified Network Associate, ScrumMaster, Amazon Web ServicesMicrosoft Certified Solutions Expert and Certified Information Security Manager.

According to the survey, mean total compensation and mean base pay figures in the D.C. Metro area were considerably higher than the rest of the U.S. in 2020 ($14,001 higher in total compensation and $14,719 higher in base salary).

RELATED: How can agencies compete with the corporate sector for IT workers?

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