MCSE certification has become a must for those interested in getting the top IT/networking jobs. These days, you simply cannot be competitive and demand a top salary without MCSE certification.
But getting your MCSE isn't easy and it can't be done at all without proper preparation, study, and practice. You need an effective and inexpensive plan for pursuing your MCSE certification.
In order to qualify for MCSE certification, you must pass several challenging exams. It's quite easy to spend upwards of $5000 just preparing to take the exams!
MCSE preparation programs range from so-called "MCSE certification Bootcamps" (where you receive intensive classroom and laboratory training over a period of several weeks), to MCSE certification study programs provided by colleges or private IT training firms.
If you're disciplined and possess good study habits, you can prepare yourself for taking the MCSE certification exams yourself, saving perhaps thousands of dollars in the process.
MCSE exam preparation guidelines:
- Buy good certification books.
Yes, I know how thick they are. The exams do cover that much material, so what can you do except prepare for it? A teacher is not going to talk that much without wearing out his vocal cords, so in the final analysis you will spend a lot of time reading and studying those books anyway.
I was advised by one training school recruiter that the recommended path to MCSE certification was to take a class on each MCSE exam topic for 3 full days, study for a month, and finally take the certification exams.
So, that's a minimum of 10 days of studying a thick MCSE study guide for each day of class anyway.
So you're simply going to have to purchase and study some thick books no matter what. Is it really necessary to pay for a live teacher as well? People can and do pass the MCSE certification exams simply by studying on their own.
- Purchase computer-based CD-ROM training guides.
This is very similar to the above method, except that computer based training is more interactive, more fun, and likely more effective for most people than using books. Of course it's also more expensive, although still nowhere near $5000.
It's also easier to for you to stay awake when using the CD-ROMS. The questions and interactivity force you to interact with the material. Using it immediately and getting instant feedback helps reinforce learning and understanding of the MCSE principles and concepts that you'll have to master in order to pass the MCSE exams. This is recommended for those who really dread the thought of just sitting and poring over thick books, yet can't afford the $5000 MCSE classes.
If there's a question you just cannot find the answer to, put it out on one of the many newsgroups or listserves on the Internet, and let one of many experienced on-the-job networking professionals help you out. Live teachers can do this as well, but they often don't have the same extensive experience and background in what's happening in the real IT world.
People can and do pass the MCSE certification exams just by taking computer based training. One company, Forefront, even offers a 90 day money back guarantee on all its certification courses. If you don't pass the MCSE exams after using their CBT course, you get your money back.
There are several top-quality CBT programs available online. Visit a few of the companies' websites for more information on their offerings, pricing, and guarantees.
- Take online MCSE certification training classes. Again, it will take long hours of study, but it's a very interesting format.
- Assemble your own personal network study lab by purchasing several used PC's and hooking them up in your home or office.
You can usually find used computers for peanuts online or in your local newspaper classifieds section. And be sure to ask around. Lots of people have old 486s taking up garage or closet space. They'll probably give them to you for free just to get rid of them!
Purchase the network parts in a local computer store or online.
Setting up your own network is a great way to get hands on experience. I got the idea after seeing it mentioned in a post in a discussion forum by someone who actually did it. You'll learn directly how to work with the equipment and gain valuable hands-on experience.
It's not the same as networking 100 workstations and servers in a company setting, but it's still a great idea. You'll still have to study those thick MCSE certification guides, but you'll be able to put your hands to work on that chapter's material right away, thus reinforcing your new knowledge and skills as you go.
- If you're currently employed in a networking job, your employer may be willing to pay for the classes. You'll probably have to sign an agreement to continue working for them for a couple of years or so.
Many companies now require such an arrangement because they have been burned by paying for certification classes for employees who then left for higher paying jobs. In other words, most companies are only willing to pay for your MCSE certification if you agree to put your new knowledge and skills to work for them for a reasonable time period.
It is certainly fair however to make it clear to your boss that you will expect to be paid a higher salary commensurate with your higher level of skill, training, and job duties.
If your company doesn't agree, it means they want to keep you trapped in your current dead end job. You may be well advised to consider getting out and looking for a company that wants to build itself by helping its employees.
Of course a lot will depend on your relationship with the company and your boss. How long you've worked there? Do you act in a way that makes them believe you see a long-term future with them after they foot the bill for your MCSE certification?
- Pass the first couple of required MCSE exams on your own, then use those credentials to get an entry level job with a new employer who is willing to pay for the classes.
You're not going to be hired as a network administrator after you pass one or two of the required MCSE exams. But you may be able to use those exams to get your foot in the door with an entry-level IT job.
Many new IT job seekers are hired to answer customer technical questions. This type of position has high visibility in the organization. Do well while working toward your MCSE certification and you can move up quickly.
Make sure your boss understands that you have your sights set on networking and that you plan to continue your education whether they pay for it or not.
Don't say so in so many words, but do make it clear that if you wind up paying for your MCSE certification by yourself, you will feel no loyalty toward the company, and will therefore feel free to take any position for which you qualify once you're certified.
Why shouldn't you feel that way if have to foot the bill for your MCSE certification all on your own? That's isn't a threat, just you looking out for yourself.
- Pass the new CompTIA Network+ cross-platform certification test, use that certification to get an entry level job, then get your new employer to pay for the MCSE certification classes.
This method is very similar to the one above. You can use your new Network+ certification to get your foot in the door at a company that is willing to pay for your MCSE training and exams.
Virtually everything in these cases depends on the quality of your relationship with your employer. If the relationship is a good one, and they see you as an evolving superior asset who's going to have a lot to offer them in the future, that's obviously in your favor.
But if you're seen as someone just out for yourself, they're not going to risk investing the money in your MCSE certification. And if you do leave, good riddance.
- If you're unemployed, the government may be willing to pay for your MCSE certification training and exams.
Check with your unemployment office to see what is available in your local area. Here in St. Louis, laid off Boeing workers have a complete center paid for with a government grant, and the program is sending some to various types of computer training, MCSE included.
- If you happen to be on SSI, apply for a PASS Plan. The premise is you're capable of working as a networking professional, but you can't because you don't have the required skills or MCSE certification to qualify for the job. So you want to learn by buying the MCSE certification study guides, etc.
Consult with a career counselor or Vocational Rehabilitation representative. Come up with a good estimate for the cost of the MCSE certification. And be sure to include the cost of the exams too, not just the training. Assume you may have to repeat some of the exams - that's normal, most everybody does. Whatever that amount of money is, you don't have it.
But if you could only go to work, maybe at a fast food restaurant or whatever, you could save the money up in 6 months or so. But you can't right now because if you go to work, your SSI will be cut so much you still won't be able to save much. That's where the PASS Plan comes into play.
Not all of these methods will work for everyone. But if you're disciplined and willing to read, study, and work hard on your own, you don't have to spend top dollar to get your MCSE certification.
If you can get your employer or the government to pay for your MCSE training and exams, go for it. Each of these methods has already been used by many others and will be used by many more. Now get busy and get your MCSE certification!
Richard Stooker is the author of Secrets of Changing to a
Computer Career. Visit him at inforingpress.com.
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