Best Entry-Level IT Certifications
If you’re thinking about getting started in an IT career, certifications are a great way to demonstrate your skills to potential employers when you don’t yet have a lot of experience.
If you’ve started looking, though, you know there are a lot of certifications out there. Where should you begin?
To help you narrow down your decision, we’ve put together a list of the best entry-level IT certifications you can earn to get started in your career in information technology. We’ll start with a brief overview of IT certifications, explain our methodology for selecting “the best,” and then dive into the list.
Understanding Entry-Level IT Certifications
Let’s start with an important question: What, exactly, is a certification? A certification is an official recognition given by a certifying organization after the successful completion of an examination. It’s usually in some highly-specific area and is designed to assess both knowledge and practical skills. A certification in IT is evidence that you have what it takes to do a particular job.
Certifications play an important role in the tech sector where rapid developments mean even those with college degrees are constantly needing to learn new skills. Interestingly, employers in tech are more and more shifting towards skills-based hiring that downplays the traditional role of degrees in favor of certifications.
That’s great news if you don’t have a four-year degree. That isn’t going to hold you back from getting started in IT. But if you are new to the field, an entry-level certification is where you’ll need to begin. This is a certification that doesn’t assume any significant background in IT and that can help to qualify you for an entry-level position.
One other thing to note about IT certifications. You’ll see that the list below is divided between vendor-specific and vendor-neutral certifications. A vendor-specific certification is focused on a particular company and its products. The AWS certification, for instance, relates to Amazon’s web services. Vendor-neutral certifications test for skills and knowledge that can be used with technologies from a variety of different vendors.
What Makes a Certification “Best’?
Before getting to the list of “best” certifications, we’d like to explain how we selected the certifications on this list. It’s not just a collection of all the entry-level certifications out there. Instead, we narrowed the field by focusing on the purpose that most people have in earning a certification: to get a job. A certification that is most helpful in achieving that end should be widely recognized and also represent a skill set that is in demand.
We looked at two pieces of data to help us determine the certifications that are most likely to help you land a job in IT.
First, we searched through the job sites Indeed and Dice. Indeed is probably the most popular job site out there and Dice focuses specifically on tech jobs. What we looked for is mentions of certifications in job postings. We eliminated certifications, like Apple’s Certified Support Specialist, that rarely appeared.
We also considered the Dice Tech Job Report’s information about the top skills that are showing the most growth in the volume of job postings in which they appear. That’s why, for example, Certified ScrumMaster appears below. It’s a version of the agile project management methodology that tops the list of skills with growing demand.
We ended up with the following list of our top choices when it comes to an entry-level IT certification.
The List: The Best Entry-Level IT Certifications
As we noted above, we’re going to divide the list into vendor-specific and vendor-neutral certifications.
AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner: Amazon Web Services is one of the largest cloud computing platforms. This certification tests for competence in the basic concepts, terminology, and services offered by AWS.
Amazon recommends it as a good starting place for those with no background in IT or cloud computing who may want to go on to earn more advanced AWS certifications. It’s a lucrative career path; a common mid-level position, Cloud Engineer, has an average salary of over $120,000/year.
Cisco Certified Network Associate: Cisco is one of the main creators of the networking hardware and software on which many businesses depend. This certification shows that you know the basics in networking, including understanding access, IP connectivity & services, network security, and automation.
This certification can be the foundation for more advanced Cisco certifications or entry-level jobs in networking like Junior Network Administrator.
Microsoft Certified: Microsoft needs no introduction. Their office software is ubiquitous and they have a sizable slice of the market share for cloud services as well.
They used to offer several certifications under the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) label. Those have recently been retired, however, and replaced by the Microsoft Certified brand. There are currently eight of these, each of which is designed to cover the basics of one of Microsoft’s product offerings.
For example, you could earn Microsoft 365 Certified: Fundamentals or Microsoft Certified: Azure fundamentals.
How these certifications connect to a job depends upon which you choose. Azure Fundamentals, for instance, gives you a starting point to specialize in Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, another skill area showing strong growth in demand in Dice’s report.
CompTIA A+: CompTIA is a leading trade association in the technology industry known for its highly-respected vendor-neutral certifications.
There is no question that the A+ is the most widely-recognized certification for those beginning a career in IT, particularly in technical support roles. We found more job postings mentioning this certification than any other on our list. For entry-level certifications that aren’t vendor specific, there wasn’t anything else even close.
This certification will help you be qualified for support roles like Helpdesk Technician or IT Support Specialist.
Certified ScrumMaster: In recent years, an approach to project management called “agile” has been growing in popularity. It’s a form of project management that tries to increase efficiency and flexibility by breaking down projects into smaller parts with more feedback earlier in the process. Knowledge of agile methodologies is the skill with the highest growth in tech job postings.
Scrum is a particular agile framework. The ScrumMaster’s role is to thoroughly understand this project management process and help a team proceed according to its principles.
You will find job listings specifically for ScrumMaster (or Scrum Master). The certification can also be an asset for jobs like Project Coordinator or Project Manager.
As we already noted, a certification is a credential you receive after successfully completing an examination. You can find details about what each examination involves and how to take it in the links provided above.
But how can you get ready to successfully pass an exam? The resources available to help you prepare differ depending upon the certification in question.
If you visit the site for the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, for instance, you’ll find some study guides as well as some subscription-based exam prep resources. The ScrumAlliance, which offers the Certified ScrumMaster credential, has created an entire course to help you prepare for the exam.
You can also find third-party courses to help you get ready for any of these certifications. A quick Google search will turn up plenty of options.
If you’re interested specifically in the CompTIA A+ certification, CompTIA Career Tech Academy has created an online course that is professionally designed and taught to give you everything you need to successfully pass the exam.
Something that makes our course distinctive, however, is that we also focus on helping you develop the soft skills employers are also looking for. In addition, we provide support for every step of the process of finding your first entry-level job in tech, including career coaching, resume review, and interview prep.
We’ll even help you connect to our network of employers looking for qualified tech support staff.
Interested in finding out more? Explore CompTIA Tech Career Academy's IT-Ready Technical Support (online) program.