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Best Help Desk Certifications 2018

Automated call centers, tech tools to avoid
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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 school or from other fields without the benefits that help desk certifications can provide. Nevertheless, we're seeing increasing interest in these certifications, and an increasing tendency for high schools, community colleges and even some four-year institutions to include elements of help desk training in their curricula, where some also embed certificate or certification content or credentials in their programs outright.

When it comes to help desk positions, there are a small number of certificate and certification programs that focus more or less exclusively 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 most such credentials focus on sets of vendor platforms and products.

We include a mix of such credentials in our list of leading help desk certifications, understanding 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 out-and-out help desk credentials seek to inculcate and cultivate in their recipients.

Knowing which certifications that employers want their employees to have 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 the certifications featured in this article. The clear winner is ITIL Foundation, followed by the CompTIA A+ credential.

This year, we replaced the HDI Technical Support Professional (HDI-TSP) with the HDI Customer Service Representative (HDI-CSR) credential, based mainly on popularity in the job market. We also replaced the Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP) with the Apple Certified Mac Technician (ACMT) for the same reason.

Certification

SimplyHired

Indeed

LinkedIn Jobs

Linkup

Total

A+ (CompTIA)

1,552

1,696

1,180

271

4,669

ACMT (Apple)

272

291

110

33

706

HDI-CSR (HDI)

440

477

1,093

287

2,297

ITIL Foundation (ITIL)

1,604

1,727

1,459

722

5,512

MCSA: Windows 10 (Microsoft)

206

223

148

207

784

According to SimplyHired, the average salary for a help desk technician is $34,572, capping at around $53,000. Glassdoor reports the national average at $42,052. However, stepping into a help desk management position boosts the salary to about $60,000, which can climb above $90,000, depending on company and location.

More than 1 million IT professionals have earned the CompTIA A+ credential. The popularity of this credential 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. It's the ideal foundational certification for candidates pursuing a wide variety of other IT certifications; see the CompTIA Career Roadmap to get an idea of the versatility of credentials offered. Well-known and respected in various IT circles, the A+ is recognized by the Department of Defense (DoD) and is a service technician requirement for many enterprise-level companies, including Canon, Dell, HP and Intel.

A+ credential holders are technical support technicians, either in-house or field techs, who can install, configure and maintain PCs, laptops, printers and mobile devices, dig into PC and mobile operating systems to configure and troubleshoot those systems, and perform basic networking tasks. Candidates pursuing the A+ certification must pass two exams: one with a focus on PC hardware, networking and mobile devices, and another on operating systems (desktop and mobile), security and cloud computing.
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The certification is typically valid for three years after launch; the latest exams were released on Dec. 15, 2015. Credential holders must obtain 20 continuing education units (CEUs) within the three-year period to recertify.

Certification Name

CompTIA A+

Prerequisites & Required Courses

9 to 12 months of experience recommended

Number of Exams

Two exams: CompTIA A+ 220-901 and 220-902 (90 multiple-choice, drag-and-drop and performance-based questions)

Cost per Exam

$205 per each exam ($410 total)

URL

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

Self-Study Materials

CompTIA Study Materials: CompTIA offers several self-study materials, including exam objectives, sample questions, study guides ($50 each), as well as classroom and e-learning training opportunities. Credential seekers may also want to check out the CertMaster online learning tool.

CompTIA A+ 220-901 and 220-902 Exam Cram, 1st Edition, by David L. Prowse, Jan. 30, 2016, Pearson IT Certification, Exam Cram Series, ISBN-10: 0789756315, ISBN-13: 978-0789756312

CompTIA A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide, 9th Edition (Exams 220-901 and 220-902) by Michael Meyers, Jan. 4, 2016, McGraw-Hill Education, ISBN-10: 125958951X, ISBN-13: 978-1259589515

If MacBooks and all things Apple are your thing, the AppleCare Mac Technician (ACMT) credential is the must-have credential of choice. (According to Apple, the AppleCare Mac Technician 2017 is a new version of the Apple Certified Mac Technician credential.) Targeting IT professionals who support MacBook, MacBook Pro and other related products, the ACMT validates a candidate's knowledge and technical skill necessary to support these technologies. Earning the credential helps candidates qualify to work in Apple-authorized service centers.

To earn the ACMT 2017, candidates need to pass two exams – the Apple Service Fundamentals and ACMT 2017 Mac Service Certification exams. Candidates must pass the Service Fundamentals exam before attempting the ACMT 2017 Mac Services exam. Training courses are not only available but are highly recommended. Both exams are administered by Pearson VUE and you must obtain an Apple Tech ID to register.

In addition to the ACMT, Apple offers a few additional macOS and OS X-related certifications, which include:

  • Apple Certified Associate  ̶  Mac Integration Basics 10.12 certification (one exam)
  • Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP)

Apple certifications are increasingly popular, and Apple continues to show its customer support savvy 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

AppleCare Mac Technician (ACMT) 2017

Prerequisites/Required Courses

Recommended courses through Apple Technical Learning Administration System (ATLAS)

Number of Exams

Two exams:

  • Apple Service Fundamentals Exam (SVC-17A) (70 questions, 2 hours, 80 percent to pass)
  • ACMT 2017 Mac Service Certification Exam (MAC-17A) (70 questions, 2 hours, 80 percent 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 (price may vary)

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 Apple's Technical Learning Administration System (ATLAS). Technician training is available from Apple for $229.

HDI, a UBM Tech company, is an organization that 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, and very probably the biggest certification organization to specialize in help desk and technical support subject matter.

HDI offers a complete multi-tiered certification program that spans from the entry-level credential HDI Desktop Support Technician to the HDI Support Center Director credential. Other credentials of interest include the HDI Support Center Analyst (HDI-SCA), the HDI Support Center Team Lead, the HDI Technical Support Professional (HDI-TSP) and the HDI Customer Service Representative (HDI-CSR). We featured the HDI-TSP in our list of the top five certifications for 2017. For 2018, however, we opted to feature the HDI-CSR. While the HDI-TSP still enjoys solid popularity with employers looking for help desk applicants, the HDI-CSR was the clear leader, moving it up the ladder and earning it a slot on our top five list.

Designed for IT professionals employed in call or support centers, the HDI-CSR aims at those who provide support to end users and who have a variety of 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. 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 maximizing effectiveness.

To obtain the HDI-CSR, candidates must pass one exam, which focuses on leadership (10 percent), policy and strategy (10 percent), people management (10 percent), resources (10 percent), process and procedures (55 percent) and performance results (5 percent). The HDI Learning Center administers the exam online, which must be completed within 12 weeks of purchase.

Of all the 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.

Certification Name

HDI - Customer Service Representative (HDI-CSR)

Prerequisites/Required Courses

Recommended training:

  • Virtual and public course: $795 for members, $895 for non-members
  • Online course: $345 for members, $395 for non-members

Number of Exams

One exam (65 questions, 75 minutes, 80 percent required to pass)

Cost per Exam

$145 (exam must be taken within 12 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 non-members

ITIL, formerly an acronym for 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 UK 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 the key concepts, terminology, roles and core processes involved throughout the ITIL service lifecycle. Although the ITIL Foundation training and examination syllabus include a service desk component specifically, the entire ITIL Foundation certification lends itself to the help desk industry.

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 (ITIL Foundation)

Prerequisites/Required Courses

None

Training is highly recommended; Axelos maintains a list of training providers

Classroom and instructor-led online, $1,899 to $2,199; online self-paced, $549 to $799

Number of Exams

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

Cost per Exam

$269; 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

Training and examination syllabus, and sample tests (aka sample papers), available on certification webpage. The Passing your ITIL Foundation Exam, 3rd edition, is available through AXELOS ($27). Other study guides and certification kits are available from Amazon.

Windows 10 is Microsoft's latest client operating system, which is why we chose to introduce the MCSA: Windows 10 in the 2017 list of the top five help desk certifications. Our belief was that as customers adopt and implement Microsoft's latest technologies, they need savvy technical gurus to assist when problems arise.

We received feedback from a reader who questioned our inclusion of this credential in the help desk list because of its coverage of advanced management and deployment topics, which help desk staff often don't handle (those are IT tasks). We included this credential here because Windows is the most widely used desktop OS in business, and most help desk professionals must work with Windows on a day-in, day-out basis. Those who wish to advance from help desk into IT positions will find the MCSA gives them a leg up in making this transition. The results of the informal job board search continue to support an increasing demand for professionals with Windows 10 skills, earning the MCSA: Windows 10 a slot in the 2018 top five list.

Candidates must pass two exams to achieve the MCSA: Windows 10 certification. Exam 70-698, Installing and Configuring Windows 10, covers Windows implementation, configuration, support for core services, management and maintenance. Exam 70-697, Configuring Windows Devices, dives into topics such as identity management, desktop and device deployment, networking and storage, data access and managing apps. Candidates should also know how to plan and implement a Microsoft Intune device management solution.

The MCSA: Windows 10 is a solid certification on its own, but it also serves as a prerequisite for Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certifications. Because MCSE certifications are among the most popular and sought-after in the world – by individuals and employers – earning the MCSA: Windows 10 can become a stepping stone to a great salary and a healthy job market.

Certification Name

MCSA: Windows 10

Prerequisites/Required Courses

Basic IT skills 

Recommended:
MTA: IT Infrastructure or MTA: Developer

Course 20698A: Installing and Configuring Windows 10 (on-demand or classroom training)

Course 20697-2B: Deploying and Managing Windows 10 Using Enterprise Services (classroom format only); or

Course 20697-1C: Implementing and Managing Windows 10 (on-demand or classroom)

Number of Exams

Two exams:

  • Installing and Configuring Windows 10 (exam 70-698)
  • Configuring Windows Devices (exam 70-697)

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

Free, self-paced training: www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com/
Instructor-led training, study groups and other online resources: Microsoft Learning
Practice exams: MeasureUp.com and Transcender.com
Books: Microsoft Press

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

Absent from our top five list for 2018 were the Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP) and the HDI Technical Support Professional (HDI-TSP). While the job board numbers weren't quite there to earn them a slot on this year's top five, they are still popular with employers and are worth pondering. The HDI Technical Support Technician (HDI-TST), along with the ITIL Intermediate and Expert credentials, also did well in job board searches.

Brainbench offers Technical Help Desk, Technical Help Desk (Windows) 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 register users. You'll find other companies that play in this same area as well: you can recognize them by a dual focus on employers and employees, many topics and skillsets covered, and a low, low price point per exam or credential on offer.

Ed2Go (part of Cengage Learning, a major publisher of community college textbooks for whom Ed has written dozens of texts since the late 1990s) 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 and four-year colleges, as well as 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.

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