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Ten Essential steps to plan & ace your certification goals


I am frequently being asked for suggestions on certification planning & tips to successfully clear certifications. So, here are my ten essential steps that any aspirant would need to do to plan for any certification & accomplish them. These steps could be adopted by anyone trying to move to a new domain (or) enhance their current domain knowledge to move up the professional ladder.

1. Understanding Market demand

One of the primary steps to identify which certification to pursue will largely depend on the professional requirements you are working on. The best way to assess this is to talk to your peers, managers & do research on internal job portals to see which key certifications/skills are required in the market. Another good reflection of the market demand for a certification is to follow recruiter posts about job openings on professional platforms such as LinkedIn & Quora. Additionally, a simple lookup in Google(or) any other search engine will reveal the recently active job posts in your location.

All of the above steps will help you narrow down with the broader certification options that you had in the first place. Understanding Market demand is the most critical step as this will drive the rest of your planning & decide the outcome of your efforts in the learning journey.

2. Knowing the what, who, when & how’s of your dream certification

Based on the outcome of the previous step, you will now have to obtain answers to key questions about the certification that you are targeting. The certifying body for your certification will most likely have a website that will have the information you are seeking.  An Aspirant at a bare minimum is expected to know & understand the below details, but not limited to

  • Certification curriculum (what?)
  • Prerequisites for taking up the certification, such as experience, mandated classroom training (or) other certifications (who? & how?)
  • Recommended resources for certification preparation ( Courseware, review manual & other content officially available with the certifying authority) (how?)
  • Timelines for registering the exam & price of the certification (When?)
  • Mode of taking up an exam, such as remote proctored (or) exam center proctored ) (how?)
  • Exam structure such as no of questions, subjective(or) Objective, breaks within the exam, and timelines of sharing results with candidates) (how?)

Knowing the detail of the above points will help establish a proper understanding of your certification & plan the next steps for your preparation.

3. Leveraging professional Networks & seeking help from Connections

This step is probably something most of us already do today, but the difference in my approach is to a little research before reaching out to professionals through e-mails (or) Direct messages. I would personally find & connect professionals who hold the certification that you are pursuing. A fundamental factor during this phase is to direct only specific questions to the connections, rather asking them to do the job of taking through all the details of the certification. Trust me, not many like doing charity on something that they are good at.

Based on my personal experience, you should be able to find at least a few exam reviews on the internet (or) LinkedIn. Please pay attention to such reviews & check if you are progressing in line with the idea proposed. Also, you may raise specific questions on Quora to try your luck for queries that are unanswered by your existing resources.

4. Knowing the financial & other advantages of your certifications

Personally, this step is the most motivating part of your certification journey, and you will need to understand how your certification is going to impact your professional growth & your salary. Resources such as Payscale & glass door will let you know the average salary of an expert with the same certification & experience. The rationale for doing this is to make sure that our efforts either make us Job ready for a better-paying job (or/and) help us demonstrate expertise in our doamain.

Renowned global organizations such as Forbes & Gartner might release a list of top 10/20 certifications in a specific technology on an annual basis. You might want to check if your certification is featured on the list. If yes, you can be very confident that you are progressing the right way on your knowledge quest. This is optional & should not be considered as a mandatory check for validating the value of your certification. Some vendors also release the global count of certified professionals based on geography. This information will undoubtedly help to ascertain how soon (or) late are you in this certification race.

5. Exploring training options for your exam prep

Now that you know the resources & content of your certification, it is now advisable to explore all the possible avenues for certification preparation. Some of the possible routes that you can take are listed below, but not limited to

  • Certifying vendor’s boot camp training
  • External training partners *offering training
  • Self-study of resources identified.
  • Some certs will mandate you a undergo their official training program to take up the ex

For Certs where training is not mandated, my recommendation is to go through the exam resources & assess if you might need external training (or) if you can prepare through a self-study approach.

6. Prepare, Plan & Execute

Basis on the information collected thus far, you will need to come up with an action plan of how you intend to complete the preparation & certification journey. As the proverb says, “ A goal without a plan is just a wish.” & your certification journey is no exception to it. Please be advised that your action plan should have the below details as a bare minimum.

  • Day wise coverage of the official resources & books
  • Timelines of Different phases of your preparation such as initial review, revision, external training (if opted) & Mock exams
  • Time should be allocated to manage any slips/misses during the coverage of the official curriculum
  • Tentative date of your final exam day.

7. “It’s time for action.”

Now that you have done 80% of the work on research & planning, it is now time to ace your certification exam. With all the knowledge that you have gained all through in your preparation phases, it should be a cakewalk to go for the final kill.

8. Post-exam checks

Congratulations on passing/achieving your dream certification!!!. It’s time to reap the benefits of the work that you had put in. You might have to consider doing the below checks post-certification,

  • Updating resume with your latest certification achievement Include Logo, it works.
  • Apply for certification with the vendor, if that is not bundled as one of the benefits of clearing the exam
  • Make sure you Brag !!! Never fail to update your professional network about your recent certification hun This bragging has multiple benefits
    1. You become more eligible for other opportunities that recruiters in your network might h
    2. You might be unknowingly helping someone to follow your path & inspire a lo Thus you invite attention from other professionals in the networking world.

9. Knowing your certification compliance requirements

In exceptions to certifications that are lifetime valid after you become certified, you will need to be aware of the requirements that will make you certified for the rest of your professional tenure. Some of the standard compliance requirements might include, but not limited to

  • Gathering professional credits over a time period to demonstrate continuous learning. Please be aware of the total number of hours/credits that are required for a cycle This cycle might be one year period (or) might differ depending on the certificate issuing authority.
  • Paying certification membership fees for a cycle to make sure you are certified over the entire period.
  • Some issuing authorities even expect you to rewrite the exam upon cycle expiration to validate your expertise on the domain.

Please make sure you are aware of your certification compliance requirements & you are compliant with it.

10. Sharing is caring

Remember, you were seeking information & guidance from other professionals when you wanted to pursue your dream certification. Now that you are successful in doing so, it is highly recommended that you give it back to the community who need such mentoring (or) help. You could perhaps help them by sharing the resources you had used, your action plan & drafting a review on the exam experience. Sharing these insights creates a healthy environment &, based on my experience, will be rewarded appropriately by your professional contacts when you need it again.

All the best for your certification prep !!. Below is the high-level pictorial synopsis of the entire writeup.

InfosecTrain is a Leading Provider of Advanced IT Security Trainings Worldwide. InfosecTrain offers Employees Up-Skilling Training & Certification. To know more about this course and other training we conduct, please visit https://www.infosectrain.com

Shriram Kumar NS ( )
Shriram Kumar NS is an information security risk management consultant with over 10+ years of experience holding industry-leading certifications such as CISSP, CISM, CCSP & CRISC. He has experience in information security risk management, SOC engagements, governance & compliance projects for IT and BFS enterprises.
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