Choosing a career path is never easy, but you’ve done your research, narrowed down your options and are about to pursue a field that you are passionate about. Whether you have decided on becoming a network administrator or have it in your top choices, you’re getting closer to beginning a new career.
Before you jump into a new job or begin your educational journey, there’s some information that you still need. You know that getting a degree is one of the best ways to break into the industry, but you’ve likely noticed that some job postings ask for certifications on top of a degree. While figuring out which degree programs align with a network administrator role is pretty straightforward, sorting out certifications can be a little more confusing. How are you supposed to know which ones to get?
To help you, we’ve narrowed the field down to five of the best network administrator certificates you can get to stand out to employers. We’ve talked to experts in the industry on what they look for when hiring network administrators, so you have the most up-to-date information. While every job position will vary in requirements, this list provides a foundation for any beginning network administrator.
5 Certifications for network administrators worth considering
1. CompTIA A+
What is it? Considered a foundational certification for any new IT professional, the CompTIA A+ certification ensures a baseline of technical skills useful for a variety of IT roles. It covers the basics of network administration computer repair, software, operating systems, cloud computing, information security and troubleshooting devices. Many of the other CompTIA certifications build off of the A+ certification’s foundation, so IT professionals are recommended to begin here.
Certification process: The A+ exam consists of a maximum 90 mixed questions—some are multiple choice, while others are performance-based. The exam lasts 90 minutes and it is recommended to have 9–12 months experience in the lab or field to prepare.
2. CompTIA Network+
What is it? The CompTIA Network+ certification is for IT professionals to solidify their skills and expertise in complex computer networks. The exam covers topics such as troubleshooting of network devices and the configuration and management of both wired and wireless devices. In-demand focus areas such as cloud and virtualization technologies are also covered.
Certification process: This intermediate-level exam is recommended for those with at least nine months of networking experience as well as the CompTIA A+ certification. The exam consists of a maximum 90 questions–both multiple choice and performance-based.
3. CompTIA Security+
What is it? Even if you have no intention of pursuing a specialized information security career path down the line, anyone hoping for a career in IT should at least consider the CompTIA Security+ certification. This certification, which is approved by the U.S. Department of Defense, reinforces skills in areas such as recognizing and responding to risks and threats, installing and configuring secure applications and networks and understanding up-to-date security and safety laws and regulations.
Certification process: Like the other CompTIA certifications listed above, anyone is eligible to take this certification exam. That being said, CompTIA recommends exam takers to have at least two years of experience in IT as well as a Network+ certification. The exam itself is 90 questions, with both multiple choice and performance-based questions.
4. Cisco CCENT
What is it? The Cisco CCENT, or Certified Entry Networking Technician, certification is designed for entry-level IT professionals. It covers foundational skills such as troubleshooting networks, basic network security and installing and operating networks. Having this certification paves the way for more advanced credentials, such as the Cisco CCNA.
Certification process: There are no prerequisites for this exam, as it is intended for newer network administrators, although a basic knowledge of computers, operating system navigation and IP addresses will help. The exam is 90 minutes, with 45–55 questions.
5. Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching
What is it? The Cisco CCNA, or Certified Network Associate, Routing and Switching certification demonstrates a higher level of network knowledge to employers. The exam covers topics on local area networks (LAN) and wide area networks (WAN), different routing technologies, network fundamentals and infrastructure services, security and management.
Certification process: Cisco does not require any prerequisites, but this exam is notoriously challenging for beginners, so taking and obtaining the CCENT certification first can help. The CCNA exam is 90 minutes and contains 60–70 questions.
Are certifications worth it?
While education will teach you many of the hard and soft skills you need to obtain an entry-level job as a network administrator, these certifications show employers that you go above and beyond what’s asked. Most of these certifications need to be renewed every few years, so having one or more on your resume shows that you are invested in staying up-to-date with the latest best practices in the field.
Ian McClarty, president of PhoenixNAP Global IT Services, says that when he is hiring network administrators, he looks to see any certification or courses a potential candidate has taken. “IT is a fast-changing industry, so continuing education is essential. We pay careful attention to anything the candidate learned or accomplished in their free time.”
Your career is in your hands
Now you know some of the most common and in-demand certifications you can obtain to hone and showcase your network administration skills. However, these certifications require you to prove that you know your stuff, and there’s no better way to gain an understanding of the field than through a formal education. Learn more about how a degree can help you get your start as a network administrator in our article, “The Fast-Track Guide to Becoming a Network Administrator.”