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Rebuilding Momentum

As the other UPDATE commentators and I have said many times, if you want to remain competitive in today's difficult job market, you must think of certification as an ongoing process, not an endpoint. This is not to say that you must earn five new certifications a year, but that you should try to take four to six certification exams annually. Such a target demonstrates that you're continuing to develop your skill set and that you're not willing to sit idly as the ever-changing IT field surges ahead.

Goal setting is important, of course, but following through is something else entirely. Perhaps you set out to earn an MCSE and follow it up with a certification such as the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). But earning the MCSE is a significant achievement, and you might pause to celebrate, which is perfectly understandable. However, be aware that in savoring your accomplishment, you might lose one of the most valuable factors in your earlier success—momentum.

Putting off that next step is something I'm guilty of. I last passed a certification exam in January 2001. Before that, between 1999 and the start of 2001, I took a certification exam every 6 to 8 weeks. Studying had become a habit, and I was accustomed to spending time each day preparing for whichever exam was next on my list. After I finished the Linux+ exam, I decided to give myself a break. I figured I could walk away for a short period and come back refreshed and stronger. I figured wrong.

I have many good excuses for my lack of progress since then. I got married, moved into a new place, found new work, and celebrated the arrival of my first child. A new family brings new responsibilities, of course, and suddenly, the cost of the exams began to weigh more heavily into my considerations. In the past, a fail meant that I might not be able to buy a new set of DVDs or a peripheral for my system. Now, a fail means I've wasted the equivalent of several weeks of grocery money.

Nevertheless, I should have managed one or two trips to the testing center during the past year. Unfortunately, my momentum was gone, and I'd forgotten how to generate more. I needed to get back into the competitive groove in which I enjoyed updating my skill set. I wanted to get back in the saddle, and taking new exams was something that my wife and I discussed regularly. But talking isn't doing.

Nothing focuses the mind like a deadline, and during one of those periods when I was telling myself that I should take another exam soon, I picked up the phone, called Prometric, and locked myself into an exam. With this step, I quickly put the previous 12 months of procrastination behind me. Paying for the exam changed my attitude and built some momentum. Now I'm concentrating on doing, not just promising to do.

With certification, you get to set your own pace—which is both a blessing and a curse. If, like me, you find yourself repeatedly delaying your next exam, it's time to pick up the phone and commit. You'll suddenly have a new deadline, and you'll be surprised how quickly the momentum will return.

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