There is a lot of back and forth on this with on one side the extreme advocates that will claim you can’t get employed without it to the oversimplifying belittlers that will claim A+ is so basic it’s irrelevant and of course, as is almost always the case, both extremes are wrong.
Different ways A+ can “pay”
Typically a question not fully understood will generate confusing answers. When we are answering the “Does it pay to be A+ Certified?” question it is important to be very specific about exactly what “does it pay” may mean. The way I look at it there are three major ways in which a certification track can “pay”:
1) If it gives you a higher pay reflecting the high value of the certification.
2) If it lands you the job when competing with someone applying for the same job but that is not certified.
3) If the certification process is such that for you to succeed you have to acquire new skills/knowledge that you will then be rewarded for.
How much experience do you have?
Where you are in your career will have a huge bearing on which of above three scenarios may be the most relevant to your situation.
If you are new to the industry with little or no experience then 2) will by far be the most important one. You are not going to worry about making 20% more than nothing. You are going to worry about landing that job that will be your foot in the door.
If you already have a few years’ experience then 1) above may be all that matters to you.
If three materializes for you, then in the long run that will translate into faster advancement, more job security/stability and ultimately better pay.
As you may have noticed, all three points above are prefaced by an “if”. Let’s look closer at the data and try to figure out what the answers really are.
The PC Support Pay Scale and A+ Certification
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the outlook for the PC Repairman position is attractive with a projected growth rate of 17% between 2012 -2022. As demand drives price, technicians are looking at an average pay of $48,900 annually (for more on this read the CertBlaster salary survey for PC Support Technicians). It is important to understand that that number is a national average and many support technicians are currently paid substantially less. The two most determining factors for that variance is A) geography – the tech in Boise, Idaho is not getting the same pay as the tech on Manhattan (on the bright side he does not pay the same rent either…) and B) experience. There is a huge difference between zero and say three years’ experience. Having said that let’s try to get a bit more of a detailed idea of what that pay looks like.
According to CompTIA: “IT professionals with certifications on their resume command better jobs, earn higher salaries and have more doors open to new multi-industry opportunities. The average salary for a CompTIA A+ certified tech in 2010 was $50,364, according to a ComputerWorld salary survey.” Now that’s what the stats say, let’s fact check that against real jobs being offered right now. As of February 2015 the “Desktop Support Technician” job at simplyhired.com was advertized at $47,000:
…while the A+ Certified Desktop Support Technician on that same site was offered an average of $56,000 per year:
That is a pretty significant spread of 12% or $6,000 more per year for the A+ Certification.
Looking at the various sources above it seems that assuming that a non-certified tech would make a bit under 50,000 and those that are A+ certified a bit above 50,000 would not be unreasonable.
I mentioned geography above, so let’s see what those differences may be. I have chosen New York and Boise to represent the very large city vs the small heartland city. I have also selected the non-certified support tech because I worry that Boise may not have enough openings requiring A+ certification to yield a relevant statistical sample.
Desktop Support Technician average: $47,000
Desktop Support Technician in Boise, ID: $41,000 (-$6,000)
Desktop Support Technician in Boise, ID: $58,000 (+$8,000)
As you can see the spread is a pretty dramatic 40%+ or a $14,000 spread from lowest to the highest again, it does reflect a dramatic difference in cost of living between these two extremes.
Experience vs. Certification
Experience vs. certification is always a very significant consideration when it comes to IT certification but even more so when it comes to A+ certification. Why? Because since A+ certification is an entry level certification the experience vs. certification conundrum can be especially acute for the job seeker. It’s the issue of all those ads asking for experience that the newly trained, newly A+ certified individual faces. Now, don’t get me wrong, just because this issue is out there it does not make entry level certification useless as some will claim. Although I don’t have any studies on this, my belief has always been that the candidate in this position without certification will have a much longer job search that the one that at least has that on his resume. What I have seen is employers that just ended up taking a chance on somebody new and inexperienced even when their ideal scenario required experience. There is no question that the employer who in that situation, is facing two more or less equal applications, will lessen the risk by hiring the certified candidate.
If you are a new entrant into the profession and you know you are going to only face ads requiring experience then go volunteer somewhere. Offer your free support services at a local nonprofit, for profit, local high school or college. It doesn’t matter where just get even a few months experience because in the eyes of most employers there is a world of difference between no experience and a little experience. In part this is because now, even after just a handful of months of volunteering, you have not only a little experience but also a professional reference in desktop support. That is very significant as it will, in the eyes of your prospective employer, contribute to reducing the risk of hiring you.
The impact of A+ on the likely hood of getting the job
We covered the A+ certification vs. no certification above. In addition to this there are situations where employers will only hire technicians that are A+ certified. The most common situations where that occurs is 1) the vendors that employer works with will only allow A+ certified technicians to perform warranty work, 2) the company is an A+ certified service center which means at least half their technicians have to be certified.
Here is an example of an ad that asks for A+:
Geek Squad Advanced Repair Agent
What does a Geek Squad Advanced Repair Agent do?
Do all things technology fire you up? Can you swap a motherboard or hook up a home theater system blindfolded? Does the thought of installing an LCD in an SUV, and getting paid for it, make you salivate? If you answered yes to any of these questions, congratulations, your dream career might be waiting for you at Geek Squad. We invite you to join our illustrious ranks.
High School diploma or equivalent
Associate degree in PC repair/Networking
1+ year’s retail or customer service experience
A+ certification or equivalent
Here is another add this one requires ability to pass A+ within 90 days of employment:
A+ Certified, Level 1 Field Technician – Augusta, GA – Contract to Hire
At CompuCom, we set you up for job success right from the start. Our precision recruiting process aligns the right fit for the right people.
Provides technical support to customers on operational or maintenance aspects of system equipment. Performs service, repair and/or installation of company product(s) including system hardware, software, PCs and Point of Sale (POS) equipment. Diagnoses mechanical, hardware, software and systems failures, using established procedures. Determines most cost effective repair / resolution to minimize customer downtime.
Ability to attain A+ certification with 90 days of employment
This second ad (seen at dice.com) does not list any prior experience under requirements.
So, does it pay to be A+ Certified?
With over 1,000,000 certified individuals (since February this year), the A+ certification is hands down the most successful IT certification program ever offered. This level of success does not come by accident and certainly not to an “irrelevant” certification.
It stands to reason that whatever your situation, you will be more compelling as an applicant with it than without it. We have also seen that it is very likely that if you are A+ certified and competing with a similar applicant but without certification you are clearly at an advantage.
Finally, as we have seen above, the annual salary difference of several thousands of dollars between certified vs. not certified would easily justify the expense and effort to get A+ certified.
Taking all this into consideration, it seems to me there are practically no scenarios whereby a non-certified individual would not see a significant advantage by gaining A+ certification.
So what does it take to get the CompTIA A+ certification?
You have to succeed at two exams:
A+ Hardware Exam 220-801- 90 questions – 1:30 hrs
A+ Software Exam 220-802- 90 questions – 1:30 hrs
The grading scale is a bit funky as you are evaluated on a scale from 100 to 900. The passing score on the CompTIA A+ 220-801 exam is 675 and for the CompTIA 220-802 exam it is 700. What this works out to in terms of percentages is about 72% for 220-801 and about 75% 220-802. This means that with a total of 90 questions per exam you will need at least 65 correct answers on 220-801 and no less than 68 on 220-802.
Whatever you do don’t underestimate the “entry level” exam
Because the objectives are so wide ranging and unless you have a lot of professional experience, it will take a fair amount of work to prepare for this exam. If you doubt this just take a look the A+ objectives as published by CompTIA, between the two exams you are looking at 44 pages of published exam objectives you could get queried on…
If you need to get a feeling for the A+ exam before sitting at the Pearson/VUE Testing Center then the CertBlaster CompTIA A+ practice test can be a good way to go.