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Certification Bang for the Buck


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It's never hard to find articles about the most in-demand IT certifications in the market today, or the most valuable certifications. But many of these articles, while valuable, don't necessarily provide a complete picture of the value of the certifications they describe. So in essence, the question asked by this article is - when looking at all of the IT certifications in the IT marketplace, which certifications hold the most 'bang for the buck'?

Understanding 'Bang For The Buck'

To truly measure the effectiveness of a given certification, the value of the certification needs to be evaluated against the total costs incurred in obtaining the certification. The table below identifies all of the costs associated with obtaining a given certification - including the exam fees, required course fees (if any), and the costs associated with any pre-requisites for that course - and then compares those costs to the average salaries (from Payscale.com of IT professionals who hold that certification. The result is a ratio of salary dollars to certification costs. This salary/cost ratio, then, provides a rough estimate of the 'bang for the buck' provided by that certification. It says, in essence, 'for every dollar you spent on your certification, here are the dollars in salary that you can expect to make, on average'.

Introducing the BFTB Index

But it's also important to understand the marketability of the certification in the job market. It can be argued that a certification, even one with a high salary/cost ratio, isn't much good if no one is hiring for it. So, the table also includes the number of job postings (from Dice.com that indicate a preference or requirement for the certification in question. It then multiplies the salary/cost ratio by the number of job listings for the certification, and then divides the result by 1000 (this last part is simply to produce a number that's easier to digest and understand - and since it is applied equally to all of the certifications, it doesn't affect the validity of the study). This then, is the final bang-for-the-buck (BFTB) Index number for each certification.

So without any further ado, here are 22 common IT certifications, arranged in descending order, by their relative 'bang for the buck'. Ladies and gentlemen, the first About.com BFTB Index:

Bear in mind - as if you couldn't tell from the paragraphs above, this is far from a scientific study, and the methodology is fairly casual. This isn't intended to be an exhaustive study, nor does it take into account a ton of potential factors. For instance - obviously, the average salaries noted aren't earned simply by obtaining a given certification. There is a lot of experience and skills behind those numbers. But, having said that, it can be argued that the certification is at least partly responsible for the salary, and also for the ability of the IT professional with the certification to win the jobs that provide the salary.

Also not factored is the time required to study for the certification, other costs such as coursework or travel or other study aids and guides, or any other time or material costs. The reason behind this is that these costs are variable, and not all candidates will utilize all of the same materials or take the same amount of time to prepare for the exam. The only costs that were factored were those that are absolutely required to gain the certification itself.


So there are some pretty interesting findings in this study. It's to be expected that the associate level certifications have a high BFTB Index index number, because they're relatively inexpensive, and the salaries for IT professional with those certification is relatively high. But there were some surprises. For instance, whereas the ITIL Foundation certification has an excellent BFTB Index number, the Intermediate and Expert-level certifications aren't nearly as effective. That's because those certifications are, by IT certification standards, quite expensive. And at the same time, the salaries of professionals with those certifications are not drastically higher than other IT specializations. This is NOT to say that those certifications have no value. Rather, a better interpretation of the data might be to say that a potential candidate for those certifications should take a very serious look at them before going down that path, and make sure they have a complete picture of the costs and benefits of the certification in question.

The following sites were used to collect various data:

This is Part One of the study. Part will look at software, programming and database certifications, using pretty much the same methodology.

IT Certification Bang for the Buck Index

Certification Total Avg Cost - Testing, Pre-requisites, required courses, etc. Average Salary of certification holders Salary/Cost Ratio # of Job Ads BFTB Index #
PMP $555.00 $96,407.00 173.71 2136 371.0
CCNA $295.00 $69,813.00 236.65 1332 315.2
ITIL Foundation $150.00 $103,414.00 689.43 443 305.4
CISSP $599.00 $101,917.00 170.15 1672 284.5
CompTIA A+ $178.00 $50,447.00 283.41 646 183.1
MCSE - Server Infrastructure $950.00 $79,335.00 83.51 1158 96.7
CCNP $895.00 $80,360.00 89.79 1066 95.7
CISM $595.00 $100,842.00 169.48 511 86.6
Juniper Networks - JNCIA-JunOS $100.00 $66,951.00 669.51 77 51.6
$253.00 $53,602.00 211.87 196 41.5
MCSA - Windows Server $450.00 $67,387.00 149.75 274 41.03
$1,850.00 $105,294.00 56.92 659 37.5
CCDA $200.00 $84,543.00 422.72 70 29.6
RHCE $800.00 $90,208.00 112.76 140 15.8
CCDP $1,095.00 $86,777.00 79.25 186 14.7
RHCSA $400.00 $86,848.00 217.12 63 13.7
JNCIP ENT $500.00 $77,687.00 155.37 62 9.6
ITIL Expert $3,268.00 $140,348.00 42.95 201 8.6
ITIL Intermediate (Lifecycle) $2,424.00 $98,500.00 40.64 104 4.2
JNCIE $1,700.00 $93,644.00 55.08 75 4.1
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