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Top networking certifications for any career level

March 22, 2018

By Anastasia Anderson

In an age of rapid changes in computing, networking may qualify as ancient skill—but it’s not going away anytime soon. While cloud computing has changed the trajectory of the career path, networking still offers lot of opportunity and solid pay. But unlike many IT careers, you’ll probably need to invest in expensive and difficult certifications to break in and move up. The good news is that networking certifications tend to offer high ROI—as you’ll see in our breakdown below.

For those just getting started in IT, we’ve compiled the best certifications to help hiring managers validate that you understand the fundamentals of networking so you can score interviews. The good news is these entry-level certifications require no prerequisite exams or experience, so you’ll only need study hard to earn them.

For more tenured IT pros, acquiring higher-level certifications is often critical for helping grow your salary and career. Not only will you increase your skill and knowledge, but you’ll show current and potential employers that you have the motivation necessary to stay relevant in the ever-changing IT landscape.

Kickstart your IT career with these entry-level certifications

CompTIA Network+

CompTIA Network+ is a vendor-neutral and internationally recognized certification that validates a candidate’s general understanding of basic IT and networking tasks, including installation, configuration, diagnosing, preventative maintenance, basic networking and security. This certification can help you find employment in IT support and field service technician roles, and is recognized by many large companies, including Dell, Intel, Lenovo and Ricoh, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security—which requires it of all IT candidates.

  • Experience: Entry-level
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Exam: $300
  • How long the certification lasts: Typically three years from launch
  • Average salary range with certification:$54,000$83,000

Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)

Since Cisco’s enterprise networking systems’ global market share has grown to 54 percent—its closest rival has only 8 percent—CCENTs are more in-demand than ever. They validate that you have the skills to diagnose, restore, repair and replace critical Cisco networking and system devices at customer sites. In addition, the Cisco Certified Technician (CCT) certification is available in multiple technology tracks, providing an opportunity for Cisco support technicians to expand their areas of expertise.

  • Experience: Entry-level
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Exam: $165
  • How long the certification lasts: Lifetime
  • Average salary range with certification:$60,000$90,000

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Stay ahead of the competition with these advanced networking certifications

Wireshark Certified Network Analyst (WCNA)

Administered by Wireshark University, the WCNA exam assesses your knowledge and competency of the Wireshark tool, which is increasingly used to track down the causes of network performance issues and identify security breaches. With more than 500,000 individual downloads per month, the need for skilled and certified IT professionals to run this important program is greater than ever.

  • Experience: Mid-level
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Exam: $299
  • How long the certification lasts: Three years (you must take at least 20 Continuing Professional Education credits throughout that time)
  • Average salary range with certification:$75,000$114,000

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)

One of the more lengthy and costly networking certifications, the CCIE is known for its ROI potential, both in career and salary growth. The CCIE test consists of six written and lab exams concentrating on collaboration, data center, routing and switching, security, service provider and wireless.

  • Experience: Highly experienced
  • Prerequisites: None (though at least eight years’ relevant experience is recommended)
  • Exam: $12,300 (includes all written and lab exams)
  • How long the certification lasts: Written exam must be retaken every 18 months
  • Average salary range with certification: $85,000$140,000

Juniper Networks Enterprise Routing and Switching, Expert (JNCIE-ENT)

The JNCIE-ENT certification is for the “best of the best” technicians who deploy, configure, manage and troubleshoot Junos-based enterprise routing and switching platforms. This day-long exam will set you up to reach for top-paying jobs in this niche market. Juniper has consistently been Cisco’s key competitor over the years and shows no sign of slowing down. With revenues of $6 billion in 2016, this company is a formidable player in the networking world, meaning ad your expertise will be valuable to many employers.

  • Experience: Highly experienced
  • Prerequisites: Juniper Networks Certified Professional Enterprise Routing and Switching
  • Exam: $1,400
  • How long the certification lasts: Three years
  • Average salary range with certification: Approximately $150,000

Novell Certified Linux Professional (CLP)

The Novell CLP is perfect for the IT professional who strives to show his or her advanced administration skills on a SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. As of 2016, 67 percent of web servers ran Linux/Unix, driving a strong need for workers with advanced certifications to keep them running safely and efficiently.

  • Experience: Highly experienced
  • Prerequisites: Certified Linux Administrator
  • Exam: $195
  • How long the certification lasts: Lifetime (with possible required exams to keep skills current)
  • Average salary range with certification: $61,000$100,000

Don’t look at these as investments in certifications, but investments in yourself and your career. The IT job market continues to grow, along with its candidate pool. While certifications are no replacement for experience and critical thinking, a certification that matches or goes beyond your experience level can validate your skills and give employers a better glimpse into your career interests and goals.

Salary estimates: CareerBuilder, 2018

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