What are the steps to getting certified?
There is no one route to get your destination. The approach you employ will depend on a various factors. What are your goals, what are the resources at your disposal? And what is your work situation or need? Are you employed, unemployed, a newcomer, an experienced IT professional, or an IT entrepreneur?
There are many different options. What is realistic and affordable for you? As I keep emphasizing career development is an individual experience. The route you choose must make sense to you.
Here are suggestions for steps to take in achieving your certification.
Start with your career agenda step. Your certification choices ride on your career agenda. Set the agenda and determine if and how certification will fit in. Too many put the cart before the horse – by choosing certifications without even having a career focus. What is your choice of Oracle OCP or Microsoft MCITP based on? In setting your career agenda, how much do you know about the active areas of IT – Programming, Database, Technical Support, Web Design and Development, Networking, etc?
Let me extend that question further – you seem so mesmerized by CCNA and you just have to have it – but what do you know about networking and internetworking? In establishing your career agenda define yourself. Who are you and what are you doing looking for a career in IT? What are interests and strengths and how will your potentials find expression in the IT field? You may not be certified yet, you may be a newcomer but your career development requires direction, a sense of purpose.
Or are you just coming into IT because it’s a fad and you have nothing else to do? That would be a waste. Following the noise is a recipe for career heartbreak. Wandering around jumping on bandwagons won’t help. And speed isn’t helpful without direction. End your fixation on certification and open your mind. Understand who you are, what you have and where you are going – and use these to set your career agenda.
Do your research on IT opportunities, attend straight talk career forums like the free IT career seminar to get you know about the amazing possibilities in IT. Too many people rush into IT certification and get their fingers burnt because they neglect this career assessment step. It is certification that must fit into your agenda not the other way around. Have a clear understanding of the various IT career opportunities and requirements. Connect this knowledge and understanding with your career needs as well as resources and opportunities available to you.
Look for all information you can get on the certification exam that interests you. It is important that you understand the objectives and requirements of the certification. Certification information is available online on certification sponsor sites and IT certification sites.
Always be on the lookout for information needed to understand the certification, pass the exam and actually work in the real world. Indeed throughout the preparation process take care to understand how the certification will add value not just for you but also for your clients, employers and your peers.
Choose and use your learning options – training, study guides, books, hands-on experience, labs, Internet, etc. The options you choose will depend on what is practical to you.
Instructor-led training with a practical, career oriented organization that has a track record is usually the most effective learning option. Often your training choices can make the difference. Focus on substance not window dressing. Training is a major part of exam preparation. Good instructors get you to concentrate on areas that matter, without wasting effort on irrelevant issues. Training also provides guidance on other important aspects of certification such as reading and practice.
What works for most is a training institution that adopts approachable and understandable teaching methods. Training that makes a difference is learner centred – the trainers and institution want you to succeed and they ensure training connects with your career needs. Never forget that no matter how good the institution or trainer is you must still put in your own shift.
In addition to information from sponsors, read exam preparation materials such as study/prep guides to supplement your skills and experience. Because of the huge demand a wide variety of preparation materials are published by certification sponsors and third party publishers. Each exam preparation material aim to provide candidates with a thorough guide for the particular exam. Popular guides will include in-depth coverage of exam objectives, test preparation tips as well as practice test questions. Some study guides contain exam preparation software as well.
Get hands-on experience. Essential in the preparation for any certification is hands-on experience in the particular skill area, or with the related product. This will give you a better understanding of the theories, than just studying the exam guides. Technical support experience isn’t too difficult to obtain – the opportunities are everywhere. And in some areas, if you have the resources you can also create your own home lab for practice and experience.
However practical learning experience may be more difficult in some fields of IT. For example in Cisco certification preparation, access to live equipment can be costly. However, the market has created many opportunities now to practice and get experience from software simulators.
Volunteering and trainee opportunities are other options candidates should explore for work experience. Uncommon avenues may look unattractive but they are opportunities to get your hands dirty and learn hands-on. Without practical experience, some certifications are hard to achieve and in some cases, it may be difficult to scale through live technical interviews during the job search.
Review and practice. Your exam should not be your first test. Practice well before attempting any exam. Make sure you use your practice time to get familiar with the testing format and environment. Use practice tests not for monkey-like cramming but to gauge your level of preparedness for the exam. Remember your aim is not to become a paper MCITP. A good practice test or lab will let you know whether you’re ready for the test or not. “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect”. – Vincent T Lombardi.
Register for the exam at a testing center.
Take the exam at the testing center.
In choosing the options that work for you and considering these steps, note that certifications can be changed and updated at any time by the sponsor. The IT industry is one of constant and rapid change. Lifelong learning must be in your package.
Go put your certification preparation into gear now!