Each month, I hear about another new certification that seems like the wave of the future or promises big bucks. How can I avoid cert hopping?

A. Many IT pros can really identify with your problem since they have the same tendency. Some certifications have greater salary potential and this may sway you to change your certification path. Be cautious in pursuing an area solely because it has better salary potential. If you are not going to like the work or your gifts are not used there, the increased salary will be hard to enjoy.

Try to complete one primary and pursue one secondary certification path. As an MCSE, for example, your primary goal right now might be to upgrade your NT 4.0 MCSE by passing the Windows 2000 tests. After this primary goal is achieved you could begin working on some of the Cisco certifications. Ask yourself a few questions to help you determine which certification path you should pursue:

1. What do you enjoy and feel most rewarded in doing? If you pick a job that you despise just because of the money, the luster of the paycheck will wear off someday soon.

2. What do others tell you you’re gifted at? If you have gifts that others see and validate, these gifts might be indications of where you can excel.

3. What cert would make the most sense given my current employment? If you are planning to stay with your current employer, what are the logical things that would improve your value in their eyes?

4. What cert would make you the most marketable given the rest of your resume? Are there gaps in your resume that a certain certification would fill?

5. Does your existing certification still fit changing IT industry needs? What technologies do you see developing in 3 to 5 years, and what certifications should you pursue in light of that?

6. Does the certification make sense given your family situation? It doesn’t really make sense to get a certification in troubleshooting network firewalls that could require you to travel to remote sites if you don’t like to travel or if you have just started a new family. For a single person, this might be a dream situation.

The important point here is to get started now. When I started out studying for the NT 3.51 MCSE track, some people decided to wait until the next NT version. Some of them have watched the NT 4.0 track come and go, they've watched Windows 2000 come, and they're now waiting for Windows XP. If you keep procrastinating, there will always be a new version to wait for.

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