You have to break some eggs to make an omelet, and you have to spend some money to get a certification. Or do you? Whether or not you spend a nickel to acquire study and review materials, or take classes, or use online training tools, there's an unavoidable fee for taking a certification exam. Or is there? Our friends at Certification Magazine have been gradually releasing data from their annual Salary Survey since early February. They also conduct smaller, more targeted salary surveys throughout the year, and one item of data that turns up over and over again is that there is a fairly large contingent of people who pursue and earn certifications without making any out-of-pocket investment. Zippo. Zero dollars spent. Total withdrawal from personal accounts: nada.
Do those people have a magic formula? Sort of. There are grants, scholarships, state and municipal assistance funds, and even vouchers from certification organizations that can cover all or most of the cost of taking a certification exam. For quite a few certification candidates, however, the certification silver bullet is just three little words: ask your boss. Slightly more than 55 percent of those who responded to CertMag's annual Salary Survey report that their employer paid 100 percent of the costs associated with their most recent certification. Can we all agree that 100 percent off is a pretty good discount? There may, of course, be strings attached: Any employer who pays for your certification may require you to remain in their employ for a certain period of time in exchange for the company's largess. Still, it's not a bad way to cut (or eliminate) costs.
Apart from taking the actual exam, what about study and training materials? Many people, of course, especially those who have specialized job roles that address a particular line of products — say, from Oracle or Cisco — rely on work experience and on-the-job training to prepare them for certification. So their training is "free" in a sense. There are also numerous actually free resources available to an enterprising IT professional who may not have money to spend, but is willing to be creative and work hard. (Check out this article from GoCertify for more information.) And it never hurts to talk to your employer about training costs. Many IT employers will pay for your certification training, too. And don't forget about special offers and discounts. Most organizations that sell training materials usually have a promotion or two up their sleeve.
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