7 Expert Certifications That Command The Highest Salaries in IT

If you’re looking to expand your existing credentials to qualify for expert-level positions, consider the following certifications to give you a definitive edge over the competition. These high-end certifications can be difficult to obtain, but they’re in demand and highly lucrative, making them a worthwhile goal for any IT professional. 

Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

Offered by the ISACA, the Certified Information Security Manager, or CISM, certification has become a common requirement for high-level IT security positions. The CISM is aimed at those who design, manage, and build enterprise level information security programs. It’s an internationally acclaimed certification, which enhances its value.

In a 2011 report, Global Knowledge and TechRepublic reported that the average salary of a CISM is $117,500. The exam costs $445 for ISACA members and $595 for non-members.

The CISM exam is only offered twice a year, in select locations. The exam is expensive and the timing of the exams limits the amount of new CISM certified professionals each year. It requires a high level of security knowledge and is notoriously difficult to pass. As a result, this certification is in high demand; holding it can help you get the big bucks in the IT security field.

Self-paced CompTIA training

Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE)

The Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert, or CCIE, certification is considered the holy grail of networking certifications. The CCIE certification includes a written and lab exam. The written exam is considered the easy part because it’s in multiple choice format. The lab exam is more challenging, and many people expect to fail it on their first try.

The lab exam is the main reason this certification is such a hot commodity. In the United States, you need to travel to San Jose to take the exam at the Cisco facility located there. The exam is eight hours long, and you’re not allowed to bring any notes or outside materials into the lab room.

In addition to configuring devices and answering questions, you’re also given a set of trouble tickets for a preconfigured network that you must resolve. The lab requires extensive hands-on experience, making this a tough certification to achieve. The controlled lab environment and tight time constraints also combine to create a sense of intense stress and pressure while you take the exam.

While the exam is tough to pass and physically demanding, it’s hard to beat the benefits gained from having CCIE credentials. A CCIE is seen as a networking master, and has proven his skill and ability to work in high-stress environments. It’s one of the most highly sought-after certifications, and many employers are willing to pay top dollar to have a CCIE join their ranks.

GIAC Security Expert (GSE)

The Global Information Assurance Certification, or GIAC, is considered one of the most prestigious certification entities in the IT field. The GIAC Security Expert, or GSE, certification is one of the hardest security certifications to obtain. While the CISSP certification (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) has traditionally been seen as the top security cert, the GSE looks poised to take over that title in the near future. 

The GSE exam has two parts. The first part is a proctored, multiple choice exam, similar to the CISSP exam. Candidates must score at least 75 percent on the written portion of the exam to be eligible to take the second part of the exam. The second part of the exam is a two-day lab that includes a large scope of hands-on exercises from a wide variety of knowledge domains. The second day of the lab exam is a practical application of security skills, and the candidate is required to analyze data and then create a comprehensive written and oral report about what the data actually means. 

GSE certified candidates are seen as high quality candidates who really know their stuff, and there are a limited number of them in the field. The GSE has quickly gained traction in the IT certification world, and it would not be surprising to see the demand for GSE certified individuals overcome the demand for CISSP certified individuals in the near future. 

Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA)

The MCA, or Microsoft Certified Architect, is the pinnacle of Microsoft certification. Microsoft touts this certification as being for only the highest-achieving IT professionals, and the exam matches this level of expertise. To enter the MCA program, you first need to be a Microsoft Certified Master, which is a rigorous and expensive program as well. Then, MCA candidates are carefully screened and individually reviewed by Microsoft staff before they are allowed into the MCA program.

To gain the title of MCA, you have to prepare a detailed work history, a relevant architectural solutions case study and extensive documentation demonstrating your relevant skills and history. Then, you attend a two hour interview conducted by the Microsoft Review Board. During the interview, you have to make a 30-minute presentation about your case study, and the board will scrutinize and question your study. You need to be ready to defend your study against harsh questioning, and you also must strongly support the real-world viability of your study.

This difficult process has made the MCA the rarest Microsoft certification out there—fewer than 40,000 MCA certified individuals currently exist in the world. An MCA can demand the highest salaries in IT and can choose from the best positions available. The MCA shows definitively that you are a master in the field, and many companies, especially consulting firms, are willing to pay whatever it takes to get an MCA to join their team.

IT Infrastructure Library Certification (ITIL)

IT Infrastructure Library certification, or ITIL, has skyrocketed in demand in recent years. The ITIL started as a set of reference documents that laid the groundwork for effective IT departments. It has grown to become an industry standard, and the ITIL certification is sought after for a wide range of high-level IT jobs, including ones in the security field. The ITIL certification shows that you understand how IT works, and it shows that you understand how to make IT departments work efficiently.

ITIL certification is offered on four levels: foundation, intermediate, expert, and master. To reach the master level, you need to have the foundation certification and a total of 22 learning credits. Each level requires extensive training courses that are fairly costly. The cost and amount of time required to achieve the master level has made this a rare but lucrative certification to pursue.

SAS 9 Certification

SAS certification is a relative newcomer in the realm of programming certifications. SAS is a programming platform that is widely used in the mainframe and corporate world, and the SAS Institute has been around since 1976. While their software has been in wide use for decades, the SAS Institute was a latecomer to the certification field. As a result, the number of SAS certified professionals is low compared to other certifications. The SAS exams cover a wide range of programming features and skill sets. Due to the highly customized nature of these exams, they can be very difficult to pass.

SAS certifications correspond directly to the release level of the programming platform that the holder is certified on. In other words, a SAS 9 certified programmer is certified on SAS 9, the latest version of the platform. With skills that are proven to be fresh and comprehensive, SAS 9 certified IT professionals are in high demand and command high salaries as well.

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

The CISA exam is a tough test. It's not tied solely to IT, but there's strong demand for it in the IT field because of the increasing need for skilled auditors. There are more positions available than there are CISA certified professionals, which makes this certification an excellent choice for job security.

Similar to the CISSP, the CISA exam is not available through mainstream testing centers. Instead, it’s offered twice a year by the ISACA, with registration cut-off dates two months prior to the exam date. This creates a waiting period to take the exam and makes the certification even harder to attain.


These certifications can be difficult and expensive to obtain, but they create opportunities for advancement that simply cannot be matched by lower level certifications. Even though a significant investment is involved, achieving these certifications is well worth the time and effort.

Thank you for the article, specially for the GSE part.

"To become a CCIE, you need to first pass lower level Cisco exams, including the CCNA"

False, CCIE exam and cert need no requirements.

Thanks for pointing out that mistake! We have updated the article accordingly.

As far as I know, the Microsoft Certified Architecture credential is no longer provided and hasn't been available from Microsoft for more quite some time. They decided to stop the program and defer to the CITA-P credential made available from IASA. If you Google:

Microsoft Certified Architect CITA-P

You'll find a number of articles explaining this. Here is just one.

MCA is still Microsoft's premier cert:


I think you're referring to a specific domain of the MCA that is no longer offered, but not the MCA program as a whole. Back in 2010, Microsoft decided to let the International Association of Software Architects (IASA) handle the vendor-neutral aspects of the MCA program and re-focus the MCA on Microsoft technologies only. So, the MCA certification still exists, it's just a more Microsoft-centric offering than it was originally.

Where is PMP ..or Prince 2 Certifications??

Where is OCP?

OCP is not an expert-level cert. The Oracle Certified Master is considered an expert certification.

PMP certification also does not qualify you as an expert in any area of IT even though documentation of successful project management is required. Unfortunately, I met PMP and Sigma certified Black Belts with no legitimate project management experience. In past years, with the 'Black Belt' and PMP certification programs, it was possible to falsify project management experience and have 'references' vouch for applicants - FACT. I know this from someone who held or may still hold both and who self-admittedly had no relevant IT or project management experience other than that gained while training or as a result of the positions held briefly after obtaining. I don't know if it is currently possible to skirt the system in this way. Beware of so-called PMP or Black Belts and interview thoroughly before hiring.

Post new comment