If you want a strong and successful career in IT, then you are going to need some certifications. The right certs will help push your resume to the top of the stack, and eventually help you earn more money.

Getting started in IT can be as simple as choosing the right cert.Certification shows that you are knowledgeable and serious about your career. One important aspect of certification training is working with actual components in a real-world scenario. Doing so will give you real-world knowledge, showing employers not just what you know, but more importantly what you can do.

Two of the more obvious benefits to having IT certs are that you become more employable, and earn a greater salary. According to Certification Magazine’s 2014 Annual Salary Survey, almost 92 percent of the 18,000 IT pros who responded to the survey are employed full-time, and 61 percent reported receiving a raise in 2014.

Certs do not come easy, they require great effort and commitment. With more than 1,700 IT industry related certs on the market today, it can be difficult for beginners to know on which ones they should spend their money and time.

Before you pay to study a cert you should carefully, and honestly, answer a few questions:

  • What domain of IT is of interest to you? (Security, programming, etc.)
  • What are your career goals?
  • Will a particular cert help you achieve those goals?
  • Do you have the money and time to pursue a particular cert?

For those of you who can answer all those questions to your satisfaction, I recommend the following four entry-level certs as a way to get your foot in the industry door and find that first job:

CompTIA’s A+ is an entry level, vendor-neutral cert that covers the basic foundational level IT skills. A+ is an internationally recognized credential and is seen as the “industry standard” for IT and tech support workers working with most of the popular platforms and operating systems.

Earning the A+ will require you to pass several exams that are designed to keep this cert relevant. Jobs that utilize this cert include tech support, field service tech, support administrators and IT support specialists.

Possessing this cert is proof that you have the knowledge and skills to install, secure, maintain and troubleshoot networks. While there is some truth that this might not be a “glamourous cert,” it will give you a competitive edge as you enter the IT field.

CompTIA’s Network+ is another great cert for the beginner. Network+ is vendor-neutral and recognized globally. Additionally, there is strong demand for this cert.

Network+ certifies that you possess the knowledge and skills to build, manage and secure data networks. With all the occurrences of security breaches for businesses and organizations, this cert is taken seriously by employers.

Jobs that utilize Network+ include network administrator, network technician, network installer, help desk tech and IT cable installer.

CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) offered by Cisco is considered by some to be a second-level career cert. If you want to work in the networking field, or if you will be working regularly with Cisco hardware, you should consider adding this cert to your IT toolkit.

There are a number of different types of focus for CCNA: Routing and Switching, Security, Collaboration, Data Center, Service Provider, Video, Voice and Wireless. Earning a CCNA gives you the ability “to install configure, operate and troubleshoot medium size routed and switched networks.”

Salaries for CCNAs continues to rise across the industry and, with the increased demand for security so too will the number of job opportunities.

Additionally, earning the CCNA will help, if inclined, in your future pursuit of professional, expert and architect levels in the various Cisco domains.

Getting started in IT can be as simple as choosing the right cert.Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) is great for IT newcomers, especially for those focusing on Microsoft technologies. Even if you are not focused solely on Microsoft products this is still valuable. Microsoft technologies seem to be almost everywhere these days — you will run into them regularly.

MTA deals with the fundamental concepts of IT infrastructure, database and software development. As an added bonus, earning an MTA cert opens the door for pursuing the additional Microsoft certifications: MCSA, MCSE and MCSD.

Possessing an MTA lets you employer know you understand and appreciate the essential role IT plays in the operations of the organization. Best of all you need only pass one exam, and this cert does not expire.