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Best Help Desk Certifications 2019

image for Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Technical support and help desk positions remain traditional points of entry into IT for many people nowadays. One way to make yourself stand out as a help desk professional is to validate your knowledge and skills by earning one of these leading help desk certifications.

Although training and credentials for help desk positions are available, many candidates come into these jobs fresh out of college or from other fields without the benefit of formal help desk certifications. Perhaps that's why we're seeing ongoing interest in these certifications, with an increasing tendency for high schools, community colleges and even some four-year institutions to include elements of help desk training in their curricula. Some also embed certificate or certification content and even help desk credentials in their programs outright.

When it comes to help desk positions, a small number of certificate and certification programs focus mainly on the help desk function and the various job roles it supports. A greater number of credentials that style themselves as verifying technical support skills are also available, where many such credentials focus on specific sets of vendor platforms and products.

We include a mix of such credentials in our list of leading help desk certifications. We do understand that in some organizations, help desk positions may be staffed to meet support requirements for specific vendor products, platforms and tools. Other positions may be open to anyone with a good general technical background and an understanding of IT operations, practices and procedures.

Not coincidentally, it is this latter set of skills that most help desk credential programs seek to inculcate and cultivate in their recipients.

Knowing which certifications employers want can be a big help when choosing the best certification for you. We've compiled information from searches performed on four major job-related sites for certifications featured in this article. Overall, the clear winner is the CompTIA A+, followed by the ITIL Foundation and HDI Customer Service Representative (HDI-CSR) credential. Apple's ACMT has maintained a well-deserved spot on the leaderboard. The only newcomer this year is the Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator, which replaces the retired Microsoft Certified Solutions Association (MCSA): Windows 10.

Certification

SimplyHired 

 Indeed 

 LinkedIn Jobs 

 LinkUp 

Total

A+ (CompTIA)

1,418

1,921

2,492

288

6119

ACMT (Apple)

128

329

176

41

674

HDI-CSR (HDI)

266

522

546

262

1596

ITIL Foundation (ITIL)

639

795

1225

400

3059

Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern

Desktop Administrator**

187

213

600

82

1082

**Because the Modern Desktop Administrator credential is so new, we didn't find many hits on this credential yet. The numbers reflected were conducted on the former Microsoft cert – MCSA: Windows 10.

SimplyHired reports the average salary for a desktop support technician is $36,565, topping off around $61,848. Similar salaries are reported for help desk analysts, with $36,314 on average and $56,054 on the high end. Glassdoor reports a national average of $44,402 for help desk technicians. However, stepping into help desk management boosts salaries to about $64,490, and it can climb above $100,000, depending on company and location.

More than 1 million IT professionals have earned the CompTIA A+ credential. Its popularity with IT professionals and employers alike remains unquestioned. CompTIA A+ is an excellent entry-level certification for those entering the IT help desk and hardware support professions. One of CompTIA's Core credentials, it's an ideal foundational certification for candidates pursuing a wide range of other IT certifications; see the CompTIA Career Roadmap to get an idea of the versatility of credentials it offers. Well-known and respected in various IT circles, the A+ is recognized by the Department of Defense and is a service technician requirement for many enterprise-level companies, including Dell, HP and Intel.

A+ credential holders are support technicians, either in-house or field techs, who can install, configure and maintain PCs, laptops, printers and mobile devices. They can also dig into PC and mobile operating systems to configure and troubleshoot those systems, and perform basic networking tasks.

In January 2019, CompTIA launched a new CompTIA A+ credential (CompTIA A+ 2019). Candidates can expect to find a greater emphasis on security and on using scripting tools when providing tech support, and cloud and virtualization in the new exams. According to CompTIA, the new A+ exams focus on "enabling end users and devices to securely access the data needed to complete a task."

The new exams address nine core competencies:

  1. Hardware and network troubleshooting: Troubleshooting network and device issues
  2. Security: Identifying and protecting network connections and devices against security threats
  3. Networking: Explaining networks and types of connections such as TCP/IP, Wi-Fi and SOHO
  4. Software troubleshooting: Troubleshooting software for PCs, mobile devices and application security support
  5. Windows operating systems: Installing and supporting Windows OS systems (command line and client support)
  6. Hardware: Identifying, using, and connecting hardware components and devices
  7. Mobile devices: Installing and configuring mobile devices
  8. Other OS and technologies: Demonstrating a basic understanding of operating systems for mobile, Linux and Mac
  9. Operation procedures: Demonstrating and following best practices for communication, safety and environmental factors

Two exams are still required to earn the credential. The Core 1 exam (220-1001) focuses on network troubleshooting, cloud computing and virtualization, hardware, network technology, and mobile devices. The Core 2 (220-1002) covers operating system installation and configuration, security, operational procedures, and troubleshooting software.

The 900 series exams will retire in July 2019, so if you've already started work on earning the A+ credential, you'll want to make sure you take all exams before they retire. If you are just beginning to prepare for the CompTIA A+ exam, plan to test on the new version of the exam.

Certification name

CompTIA A+ 2019

Prerequisites and required courses

9-12 months of experience recommended

Number of exams

Two exams: CompTIA A+ Core 1 (220-1001) and Core 2 (220-1002) (90 multiple-choice, drag-and-drop, and performance-based questions)

Cost per exam

$219 ($438 total)

URL

https://certification.comptia.org/certifications/a

Self-study materials

Self-study materials for the exams are available on the CompTIA Marketplace. CompTIA offers several self-study materials, including exam objectives, sample questions and study guides, as well as classroom and e-learning opportunities. Credential seekers may also want to check out the CertMaster online learning tool.

If MacBooks and all things Apple are your thing, the AppleCare Mac Technician (ACMT) 2019 credential is a must-have. (According to Apple, the AppleCare Mac Technician 2019 is a newer version of the Apple Certified Mac Technician credential.) Targeting IT professionals who support MacBooks, MacBook Pros and related products, the ACMT validates a candidate's knowledge and the technical skills necessary to support these platforms and Mac products produced before 2019. Earning the ACMT also helps candidates qualify to work in Apple-authorized service centers.

To earn the ACMT 2019, candidates need to pass two exams – the Apple Service Fundamentals (SVC-19A or SVC-18A) and ACMT 2019 Mac Service Certification (MAC-19A) exams. Candidates must pass the Service Fundamentals exam before attempting the ACMT 2019 Mac Services exam. Training courses are not only available but come highly recommended. Both exams are administered by Pearson VUE; you must obtain an Apple Tech ID to register for either or both of them.

Apple offers a few additional MacOS and OS X-related certifications, including the following:

  • Apple Certified Associate  ̶  Mac Integration Basics 10.13 certification (one exam)
  • Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP)
  • Apple Certified iOS Technician (ACiT)

Apple certifications are increasingly popular, and Apple continues to show high-quality customer support by preparing in-house support professionals to help their organizations support Apple computers. Check out Apple's Training and Certification page and click the certification of your choice for more info. 

Certification name

Apple Certified Mac Technician (ACMT) 2019

Prerequisites and required courses

Recommended courses through Apple Technical Learning Administration System (ATLAS)

Number of exams

Two exams:

  • Apple Service Fundamentals Exam (SVC-19A or SVC-18A) (70 questions, 2 hours, 80% to pass)
  • ACMT 2019 Mac Service Certification Exam (MAC-19A) (70 questions, 2 hours, 80% to pass)

Exams administered by Pearson VUE. Apple Tech ID required.
Note: Candidates must pass the Apple Service Fundamentals exam before taking the ACMT 2017 Mac Service Certification exam. 

Cost per exam

$20

URL

https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT205332

Self-study materials

Apple offers numerous training options, including instructor-led training from LearnQuest and self-paced training through the Apple Technical Learning Administration System (ATLAS). Technician training is available from Apple for $299.

HDI was part of the UBM Tech companies, which recently combined with Informa to create a new entity – Informa Tech. A U.K.-based business, Informa Tech indicates that it is the "leading B-to-B information provider with depth and specialism in the information and communications (ICT) technology sector." HDI identifies itself as "the first professional association created for the technical support industry" and "a community built by industry peers and leaders that gives you the resources, knowledge and drive to be great at what you do." The organization also claims a base of more than 150,000 members, making it the biggest certification outfit we know that specializes in help desk and technical support subjects.

HDI offers a complete multitiered certification program that spans from the entry-level HDI Desktop Support Technician to the HDI Support Center Director. Other credentials of interest include the HDI Support Center Analyst (HDI-SCA), HDI Support Center Team Lead, HDI Technical Support Professional (HDI-TSP), HDI Customer Service Representative (HDI-CSR) and HDI Support Center Manager.

This year, the HDI-CSR once again made a strong showing on the job boards, earning a place on the leaderboard. The HDI-TSP credential also continues to enjoy solid popularity with employers looking for help desk applicants. It was in the top five in 2017 but lost its place on the leaderboard in 2018. This year, the HDI-TSP job board numbers were slightly lower than in 2018 but solid enough to demonstrate its appeal to employers.

Designed for IT professionals employed in call or support centers, the HDI-CSR aims at those who provide support to end users and have various soft skills that facilitate communications. Tasks vary, but candidates typically possess technical skills necessary to assess customer needs and the ability to troubleshoot and quickly resolve issues. HDI-CSRs employ effective communication and listening skills and manage challenging customer interactions.

HDI highly recommends training for the HDI-CSR, which is available as traditional classroom (which HDI refers to as a public course), virtual instructor-led and online self-paced courses. Companies can arrange for onsite training through the HDI Customer Care Center (1-800-248-5667). The training course contains four units that cover the IT professional's role in the support center, communication skills, problem-solving and troubleshooting skills, and maximum effectiveness. To obtain the HDI-CSR, candidates must pass one exam, which focuses on leadership (10%), policy and strategy (10 %), people management (10%), resources (20%), process and procedures (45%), and performance results (5%). The HDI Learning Center administers the exam online, and it must be completed within six weeks of purchase.

It should be noted that we were unable to verify the exam content. The certification website had a different look from the last time we visited. Also, we could not locate information on the exam content, but the information here was accurate in 2018. Since UBM merged with Informa, it's possible that the certification webpages are in the process of being updated.

Of all these help desk certifications, HDI's offerings are probably the best known and most respected of their kind in the industry. Anyone interested in career advancement in this fast-growing area of IT should dig into HDI's certification credentials, especially at management levels. While we didn't find any announcements about changes to the certification program, it is not unusual to see a new parent company make changes (either in the form of content or rebranding) to certification programs after a merger. Candidates should check back frequently to see what changes, if any, Informa Tech may make to the HDI certification program. 

Certification name

HDI Customer Service Representative (HDI-CSR)

Prerequisites and required courses

Recommended online course: $349 for members, $399 for nonmembers

Number of exams

One exam

Cost per exam

$145 (exam must be taken within six weeks of purchase); exam fee included with training courses

URL

http://www.thinkhdi.com/education/courses/hdi-customer-service-representative.aspx#

Self-study materials

  • HDI Customer Service Representative (HDI-CSR) Certification Standard, $29
  • HDI Customer Service Representative (HDI-CSR) practice exams, $69 members/$79 nonmembers

ITIL (formerly Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is an industry-accepted framework for managing IT service delivery. ITIL defines a service lifecycle model for processes and activities that take place during the design, development, delivery and support of IT services. Axelos, a U.K. company, develops best practices, maintains ITIL and administers the ITIL certification program.

The ITIL Foundation is the entry-level certification in the ITIL scheme, which also includes Practitioner, Intermediate, Expert and Master certifications. At the Foundation level, an individual understands key concepts, terminology, roles and core processes involved throughout the ITIL service lifecycle. Although the ITIL Foundation training and examination syllabus includes a service desk component specifically, the entire ITIL Foundation certification lends itself well to the help desk industry.

ITIL is currently in the process of moving from ITIL 3 to ITIL 4. The ITIL 4 Foundation was released in February 2019, so candidates should plan on testing on ITIL 4. Candidates can take a three-day training course through an Accredited Training Organization (ATO) or Accredited Trainer and then take the exam at the end of the course, or self-study for the exam and take it at an ITIL Examination Institute. 

Certification name

ITIL Foundation Certification – IT Service Management

Prerequisites and required courses

None, but training is highly recommended. Axelos maintains a list of training providers.
Classroom and instructor-led training online cost $599 (live online) and $1,899 to $2,199 respectively; online self-paced courses cost $299 to $799 (prices vary depending on training provider).

Number of exams

One exam: ITIL Foundation (40 multiple-choice questions, 60 minutes)

Cost per exam

$384; PeopleCert partners with Pearson VUE to administer ITIL exams. Exams may be taken at the end of a training course.

URL

https://www.axelos.com/certifications/itil-certifications/itil-foundation-level

Self-study materials

The training and examination syllabus and sample tests (aka sample papers) are available on the certification webpage. The Passing Your ITIL Foundation Exam, 4th Edition, is available through Axelos ($58, depending on currency conversion rates). Other study guides and certification kits are available from Amazon. You can also enroll in the ITIL 4 Foundation course on Udemy.

ITIL Foundation's Cram to Pass the ITIL in 7 Days program offers practice tests, downloadable resources and three hours of on-demand video. For those seeking to study on the go, Axelos has an ITIL Foundation mobile study app available.

Absent from our top five this year is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Windows 10 credential, which has been retired. The MCSA webpage contains no migration plan to a replacement cert. However, knowing what we know about Microsoft, it made no sense to retire a popular cert without a replacement ready and waiting for credential seekers. By delving into the Microsoft certification pages, we found that many of our favorite MCSA and MCSE certifications also retired with no direction given on the cert page about a migration plan. Of course, that led to curiosity, and while we never found a formal announcement, it appears that Microsoft is revamping its certification program and moving to a role-based certification portfolio.

The role-based certification program offers credentials at the Fundamental, Associate and Expert levels. According to the Training and Certification Guide, certs are available for four main focus areas: Apps and Infrastructure (Azure certifications), Data and AI, Business Apps (Dynamics 365), and Modern Workplace.

The technology covered by the former MCSA: Windows 10 credential appears to be part of the Microsoft Modern Workplace solution track. The Modern Workplace track includes a single credential at the Fundamental and Expert levels, plus four Associate-level certs: Modern Desktop Administrator (Windows 10), Teamwork Administrator (SharePoint, OneDrive for Business), Messaging Administrator, and Security Administrator.

Our pick (and the cert that appears to most closely align with the MCSA: Windows 10 cert) is the Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate. The credential validates these skills:

  • Deploy Windows: Deploying Windows 10 and performing post-installation configuration tasks
  • Manage Devices and Data: Managing local users, local groups and devices; configuring data access and protection; configuring devices by using local policies; managing Windows security
  • Configure Connectivity: Configuring networking and remote connectivity
  • Maintain Windows: Configuring system and data recovery; monitoring and managing Windows; managing updates
  • Deploy and Update Operating Systems: Managing updates and device authentication; planning and implementing Windows 10 using Windows Autopilot and dynamic deployment
  • Manage Policies and Profiles: Planning and implementing co-management; implementing conditional access and device compliance policies; managing user profiles
  • Manage and Protect Devices: Monitoring devices; managing Windows Defender and Intune device enrollment and inventory
  • Manage Apps and Data: Deploying and updating applications; implementing mobile application management (MAM)

To earn the credential, candidates must pass two exams – on Windows 10 (Exam MD-100) and Managing Modern Desktops (MD-101). Until July 31, 2019, candidates who were previously preparing for the MCSA: Windows 10 credential and have already passed Installing and Configuring Windows 10 (Exam 70-698) need only take Exam MD-101. However, after Aug. 1, 2019, both MD-100 and MD-101 will be required. The Fundamentals course is not required but highly recommended. The credential also serves as one of the prerequisites for the Expert-level cert.

It's worth mentioning that the MCSE: Productivity Solutions Expert credential serves as one of the possible prerequisites for the Expert-level Enterprise Administrator credential. The MCSE Productivity credential has either the MCSA Windows Server 2012 or 2016 as a prereq. Candidates also need to pass a single exam from a list of four: Designing and Deploying Microsoft Exchange Server 2016, Managing Microsoft SharePoint Server 2016, Deploying Enterprise Voice with Skype for Business 2015, or Core Solutions of Microsoft Skype for Business 2015.

Certification name

Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate

Prerequisites and required courses

Microsoft 365 Certified: Fundamentals recommended but not required

Number of exams

Two exams:

  • Windows 10 (Exam MD-100)
  • Managing Modern Desktops (Exam MD-101)

Cost per exam

$165 each ($330 total)

Exams administered through Pearson VUE

URL

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/mcsa-windows-10-certifications.aspx

Self-study materials

Links to free, self-paced training as well as fee-based instructor-led training and on-demand learning are included on the certification webpage.

Above and beyond the various help desk credentials mentioned in this article, you'll find numerous tech support certification offerings through various outlets.

As mentioned above, the HDI-TSP professional continues to be popular with employers, as does the Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP). Also popular with employers are the HDI-TSP credential and the ITIL Practitioner, Intermediate and Expert credentials, which all did well in job board searches.

Brainbench offers several support-related certifications, including the Technical Help Desk, Technical Help Desk (Microsoft) Network Technical Support, and Computer Technical Support credentials, from its catalog of more than 600 tests. The company claims to have delivered more than 30 million exams to more than 11 million registered users. You'll find other companies that play in this same area: You can recognize them by a dual focus on employers and employees, many topics and skill sets covered, and a low price point per exam or credential on offer.

Ed2Go (which is part of Cengage Learning, a major publisher of community college textbooks) offers a certificate program called Help Desk Analyst: Tier 1 Support Specialist. The program is included as part of business, computer science, and information technology curricula at community colleges, universities, four-year colleges, and private higher-education companies that offer IT training programs.

For help desk professionals in leadership roles, RCCSP Professional Education Alliance offers Help Desk Team Lead training and certification program. The two-day training specifically targets professionals in leadership and management roles. Topics covered include escalation and conflict management, help desk processes and best practices, people management, coaching, and quality assurance. APGM International offers several help desk certifications for our friends across the ocean, including SDI's Service Desk Analyst (SDA).

This is one area where the more you look around, and the more specific a target you choose, the more such options you'll find. Outside those credentials that we recognize or recommend here, we urge you to proceed with caution.

 

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.

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