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IT certifications once had a guaranteed value. In the wake of the dot-com bust, large numbers of IT professionals stocked up on letters after their names to improve their job security and prove to their business departments that they had value. In return, they were paid at a higher premium for those letters.

Years later, nearly every IT manager has a story about hiring someone with the right certification, but little knowledge behind the paper.

Rich Gautier, IT manager and senior product architect at Dynamics Research, in Arlington, Va., a provider of IT products and professional services, said he no longer pays extra for widely held certifications such as MCSEs.

“We’ve been burned on what you would call paper MCSEs, who had the certifications but certainly didn’t understand how the systems worked,” said Gautier. “They’re a dime a dozen, and it is hard to figure out how many just memorized the test, came in and passed it, and how many will actually benefit my company.”

Click here to read more about the battle to keep IT skills current.

Gautier’s sentiments about the decreased value of “paper-certified” IT professionals versus those with proven IT skills are in line with research released Oct. 15 by Foote Partners, an IT work-force research consultancy in Vero Beach, Fla. The report found that for the first time since 2000, the average pay for noncertified IT skills topped that of IT certifications.

“I realize that we’ve been reporting the build-up to this event for many months,” said David Foote, co-founder and president of Foote Partners, referring to previous reports that have pointed to the decline in value of IT certifications. “But now the corner has been officially turned for IT professionals who choose to market the diversity of their talents and not just their technical skills.”

Foote sees the roles of IT and business converging, something that has shifted what is demanded of IT professionals.

“This is not so much ‘dis’ on certifications, but evidence of that fact that IT is looking for a whole different set of skills. This is about people being willing to pay for skills, and we think that this is a run that will last for a long time,” Foote said.

Through monitoring the pay of about 74,000 IT professionals in the United States and Canada, Foote found that IT pay has been resurrected by skills related to enterprise business applications (SAP and Oracle), application development, Web/e-commerce, databases and management processes, such as project management, CRM (customer relationship management), business intelligence and ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library).

“IT professionals today have to be routinely knowledgeable about a whole lot of things that have to do with their employers’ industry, customers and products, enough to take a strategic as well as tactical role in growing the business,” said Foote.

But it is not that all IT certifications have lost their value. In fact, several are stronger than ever, including those that are in the security category (CISSP, CISA, CISM and more), related to project management (PMP and more), networking and databases.

These certifications were more immune from depreciating value, in part because they’re in short supply, but also because the organization that created them made a continued effort to increase their value.

“I am taking the CISSP exam tomorrow, and I have to say, this is really tough. I have two to three years experience in seven of the 10 areas it tests and the level of detail is very specific. Even this does not guarantee that you’ll pass the exam,” Gautier said.

ISC, the non-profit that governs the CISSP, recently made it more difficult for individuals to obtain the certification by increasing the minimum amount of work experience required and requiring endorsement by other credential holders.

Furthermore, certified IT skills, especially those that are held by a smaller group, still have some pull in the recruiting process.

“If I have 15 candidates in front of me, 10 will have a certification and five will not. I might look at them all, but a hiring manager might be willing to risk losing a few good ones to shorten the stack,” said Gautier. “If you’re in the contracting business, as I am, and you need to contract your employees out to people, certifications can be a distinguishing feature. For me, it’s a bidding point, but I don’t have to pay them more.”

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