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March 11, 2013

Start your career with the right IT certifications

By studying

Often when trying to select a certification program the biggest question is: What is your destination going to be? For example, do you want to be a desktop support person, server support person, networking support?

Often this is a sticking point for people when they don’t have enough experience to know what they like to do and what they don’t like to do. This article will cover a number of the most common entry-level certifications, all of which have a market for people who have these skills. Use what I’ve outlined here to see what looks interesting to you, and that can be your starting point.


CompTIA has existed for over 15 years and offers certifications that are vendor-neutral. This can often be an advantage when someone does not want to be tethered to specific vendors’ products. It’s a perfect option when the individual looking has little or no experience with the specific knowledge area. However, this advantage is typically relegated to the entry-level, as many employers are looking for specialization when recruiting individuals for higher-level positions.

Some of the more popular CompTIA certifications include:

Certification Exam
CompTIA A+ Overview 220-801 Details
220-802 Details
CompTIA Network+ N10-005 Details
CompTIA Security+ SY0-301 Details
CompTIA Server+ SKO-003 Details


There are a number of different certifications that are offered from Microsoft, including everything from product specific certifications to ones that cover complete solutions. When beginning in the Microsoft world, with little or no experience, it is often best to look at the lower-level product certifications. This way, a certification can be obtained along with some knowledge that will immediately be useful both to the employer and to the employee (or prospective employee).

Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS)

The first thing to note is that there is no single MOS certification; one certification is given per product in the Office suite. This way, you are able to gain a MOS certification for the products that you are most familiar with and go from there.

The options include:

Certification Exam
MOS: Microsoft Office Word 2010 881
MOS: Microsoft Office Excel 2010 882
MOS: Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2010 883
MOS: Microsoft Office Outlook 2010 884
MOS: Microsoft Office Access 2010 885
MOS: Microsoft SharePoint 2010 886
MOS: Microsoft Office OneNote 2010 853
MOS: Microsoft Office 365 891

Microsoft Certification Solutions Associate (MCSA)

There are two versions of the MCSA that you’ll find worth pursuing: Windows 7 and Windows 8. Both test on the ability to configure, manage and maintain the Windows desktop operating system in an enterprise environment.

Certification Exam Name Exam Number
MCSA – Windows 7 Windows 7, Configuring 680
Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician 685
MCSA  – Windows 8 Configuring Windows 8 687
Managing and Maintaining Windows 8 688

Linux Professional Institute (LPI)

For those more interested in the Linux side of computing there are options as well. Linux (*nix) has existed for a long time and has a very strong implementation base, especially on servers. Since Linux is free, it is often selected as an option for those businesses so small that they can’t justify the expense, as well as very large businesses (like Google and Facebook) who are able to obtain the talent to take advantage of the many Linux features (many which outperform other commercial offerings).

There are two entry-level offerings from LPI: The Linux Essentials certificate and the Linux Professional Institute Certification (LPIC-1) – Junior Level Linux Certification. The first is focused on the academic sector and for those just getting into the field in general, as it’s intended to offer a well-rounded base. The LPIC-1 is the entry-level professional certification designated by LPI. The higher level offerings include the LPIC-2 and LPIC-3.

The Linux Essentials certificate exam is not offered through the traditional VUE testing center, rather it is only offered at participating LPI affiliate locations.

Certification Exam
LPIC-1 – Junior Level Linux Certification 101


Like many of the other vendors, VMware has a number of different certifications depending on the product or solution that is being tested upon. A good place to start for VMware is the VMware Certified Professional – Desktop. These certifications focus on the management of the VMware desktop offerings and enable the student to become familiar with VMware’s products. Once students become more familiar with the VMware solution, they can move on to the VCP-Datacenter Virtualization or VCP-Cloud offerings.

Certification Exam
VMware Certified Professional – Desktop VCP-DT


Citrix, being a direct competitor to VMware, has certifications similar to what VMware has to offer. Citrix structures its certifications to the specific product/solution that is being targeted. For example, there are offerings for XenDesktop 5, XenApp 6, etc. So, the specific certification path to select depends on where the student wants to go. A good start is with the Citrix Certified Administrator (CCA) for XenDesktop, XenApp and/or XenServer.

Certification Exam
CCA for Citrix XenDesktop 5 A19 Citrix XenDesktop 5 Administration
CCA for Citrix XenApp 6 A20 Basic Administration for XenApp 6.5
CCA for Citrix XenServer 6 A26 Citrix XenServer 6.0 Administration


For those interested in the networking side of things, there is no better place to get your start than with a Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) because Cisco is the market leader and has a wide focus. This way the student is able to learn not only how a specific product works, but also how the technologies work. This knowledge can then be taken to any number of different environments regardless of whether they are using Cisco equipment or other popular networking vendors like Juniper.

It also offer many advancement levels between its CCENT and its highest designation, Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) certification.

Certification Exam Link
CCENT Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 1 (ICND1)


There are a large number of certification offerings out there, and selecting which one to spend money and time working towards can be a big decision to a person beginning their IT career. Several certifications listed above require only a single exam, thus the amount of resources dedicated to their acquisition is rather small. Select one that sounds the most interesting and go for it, make the investment and begin your career.

If you’re ready to practice Windows administration and Cisco networking for exam day, then sign up for a free trial to access TrainSignal’s entire training library.

About the Author

is an accomplished networking consultant for SR-W Consulting ( and writer/editor for infoDispersion ( Sean has been in the IT field for over 15 years, working with companies like Cisco, Lucent, Verizon and AT&T as well as several other private companies. Sean holds certifications with Cisco (CCNP/CCDP), Microsoft (MCSE) and CompTIA (A+ and Network+). His educational accomplishments include: a Master’s of Science in Information Technology with a focus in Network Architecture and Design, a Master’s of Science in Organizational Management, a Master’s Certificate in Network Security, a Bachelors of Science in Computer Networking, and an Associates of Applied Science in Computer Information Systems.

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