If you’re looking to change careers to pursue a promotion, you may be looking to improve your application. One cost-effective option is seeking professional certifications, as you can add credibility without spending money on another degree.
But not all certifications for jobs are created equal. While some career certificates lead to increased pay, others can be a waste of your hard-earned cash. Below, we’ll outline five certifications worth the expense — plus how to pay for them.
5 fields with worthwhile professional certifications What to look for in professional certifications How to pay for professional certifications 5 fields with worthwhile professional certifications
Some certifications are well-known and highly valued in their fields. Below are five certifications that can help you take the next step in your career.
1. Human resources
Most job listings for human resources professionals include a caveat that “SPHR/PHR certifications are preferred.” Offered by the HR Certification Institute, the Senior Professional or Professional in Human Resources (SPHR/PHR) accreditations can set you apart from other applicants.
In fact, certified human resources professionals earn nearly $20,000 more than their non-certified peers, according to PayScale. The programs are rigorous and the tests difficult, but the payoff may be worth it for you.
Read about how a human resources professional paid off student loans — and then borrowed again to further his career.
2. Public relations
Less than 20% of the Public Relations Society of America’s membership has the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) certification. Well known for its rigorous application and test, getting your APR can be a way to stand out in a crowded public relations job market.
While the process can be expensive — it involves an application fee, an online course charge and textbooks — the results can pay off. Professional development scholarships could also soften the blow of initial costs.
According to PayScale, the average salary for a public relations specialist is $48,846. But a PR specialist with an APR certificate has an average salary of $56,464, an increase of over 15% in salary.
3. Web development
In a constantly changing field, programmers need to keep on top of the latest languages and trends. One of the hottest areas in web development is Ruby on Rails.
And being proficient in Ruby can be lucrative. Ruby on Rails developers have among the highest pay in the U.S. among programmers, with annual salaries averaging around $122,000, according to Indeed.
While certification is not necessary to enter the field, it can help show your knowledge. The Ruby Association offers the Certified Ruby Programmer distinction, which shows that you have high-level expertise in Ruby development capabilities.
You might also check out coding boot camps that specialize in Ruby on Rails or similar skills.
Back to non-IT certifications: Lean Six Sigma is an approach to business that uses the full team to eliminate waste and inefficiencies. It’s an in-demand accreditation in a wide range of fields, from manufacturing to banking.
People certified in Lean Six Sigma — and there are White, Yellow, Green and Black Belt certifications available — can command high salaries.
Lean Six Sigma black belts earn an average of $83,107 a year, and that’s not counting any bonuses.
5. Project management
If you are looking into a career in project management, you may want to consider pursuing a Project Management Professional (PMP) credential. It is one of the most well-known certifications.
While a PMP looks good on a resume, it can also lead to an increase in salary. A 2020 survey performed by the Project Management Institute found that PMP certified professionals earned 22% more on average than non-certified project managers.
What to look for in professional certifications
In some situations, a professional certification can make the difference between landing a job and getting passed over for an interview. But in others, a certification is just a nice-to-have, or can even be completely ignored. It is dependent on your field and the program you complete.
While you may be hoping for easy certifications that pay well, worthwhile accreditations are challenging and rigorous. That’s what makes them valuable additions to your application.
Some certifications are very simple. You pay a fee, then take a test. Assuming you pass, the testing company issues a certificate. These are typically the least valuable forms of certification.
Other certifications require you to join a professional organization and have a certain number of years working in the industry before you can apply for the certificate program and testing. These forms of accreditations tend to be more highly respected, as they show you have the expertise and knowledge in the field. They can result in better job offers and higher salaries.
When you are evaluating the best certifications for you, check out the profiles of leaders in your field — LinkedIn can be a great resource for your research. Find out what societies they joined and what certifications they have; those are likely to be well-respected programs that would be beneficial to you, too.
If you’re earlier in your career, your professional network could be bare. In that case, visit the Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop website to find certifications related to your role.
How to pay for professional certifications
The harder-to-earn certifications are usually harder to pay for. Whether they cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, it’s always best to save up before resorting to student loans.
In fact, your first stop should be your current employer, if you have one. Many companies offer education reimbursement to employees pursuing professional development courses that will make them more valuable in the workplace.
Without employer support, affording a costly but worthwhile professional certification can be more difficult. Try these strategies, too:
Ask the certifying organization about scholarships See if your state provides grants for continuing education Work a side hustle and sock away earnings Negotiate a raise at work and leverage your larger paycheck Wait for tax season and apply for tax refund Cut down on current expenses and tally up savings
If tactics like these aren’t enough, borrowing a student loan could be necessary. Check with your certificate-granting program to see if it’s eligible for federal student aid, including grants and federal student loans. If it’s not, private student loans could come in handy.
Long-standing lender Sallie Mae, for example, has career training loans if you’re pursuing a culinary, aviation or technical certificate, among others. (Although licensure is different from certification, Sallie Mae also provides bar study loans for aspiring lawyers.)
Before zeroing in on a specific loan, however, seek out lenders like Sallie Mae that allow borrowing for professional development certificates. Many banks, credit unions and online companies limit their lending for undergraduate degrees.
You might begin your quest with our recommended private student loan companies. Then you can shop around for your best deal.
Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.
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