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Continuing Education: 5 Best Certifications for Career Development

If you’re looking to change careers or pursue a promotion at work, you may be looking for a way to get an added edge on your application.

One of the most common courses of action is getting a professional certification. That way, you get added credibility within the workplace without spending the money on another degree.

But not all certifications for jobs are created equal. While some career certificates pay off, others can be a waste of your hard-earned cash.

Here are the best certifications that are worth the expense (and time).

Are certifications worth it?

In some situations, a professional certification can make the difference between landing a job and getting passed over for an interview.

But for others, a certification may just be nice to have. Or, can even be completely ignored by employers. It’s dependent on your field and the program you complete.

What to look for in a professional certification

While you may be hoping for easy certifications that pay well, worthwhile accreditations are challenging and rigorous. That’s what makes them valuable additions to your application.

Some certifications are very simple. You pay a fee, then take a test. Assuming you pass, the testing company issues a certificate. These are typically the least valuable forms of certification.

Others require you to join a professional organization. And have a certain number of years working in the industry before you can apply for the certificate program and testing.

These forms of accreditations tend to be more highly respected, as they show you have the expertise and knowledge in the field. They can also result in better job offers and higher salaries.

When you are evaluating the best certifications for you, check out the profiles of leaders and influencers in your field. LinkedIn can be a great resource for this type of research.

Then, find out what societies they joined and what certifications they have. Those are likely to be well-respected programs that would be beneficial to you, too.

5 best certifications for career development

Some certifications are well-known and highly-valued in their fields. Here are five certifications that can help you take the next step in your career.

1. Senior Professional or Professional in Human Resources (SPHR/PHR)

Most job listings for human resources professionals include a caveat that “SPHR/PHR certifications are preferred.” Offered by the HR Certification Institute, these accreditations can set you apart from other applicants.

In fact, certified human resources professionals in 2013 earned nearly $20,000 more than their non-certified peers. Although the programs are rigorous and the tests are difficult, the payoff may be worth it for you.

2. Accredited in Public Relations (APR) Certification

Only about 18 percent of the Public Relations Society of America’s membership has the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) certification, as of 2012. Well-known for its rigorous application and test, getting your APR can be a way to stand out in a crowded public relations job market.

While the process can be expensive–it involves an application fee, an online course charge, and textbooks–the results can pay off.

According to PayScale, the median salary for a public relations specialist is $44,899. But a PR specialist with an APR certificate has a median salary of $50,000, an increase of more than 10 percent in salary.

3. Ruby Association Certified Ruby Programmer

Web development is always changing. And programmers need to keep on top of the latest languages and trends. One of the hottest areas in web development is Ruby on Rails.

And being proficient in Ruby can be lucrative. Mashable found that Ruby developers had the highest pay in the United States among programmers, with annual salaries averaging around $147,000.

While certification is not necessary to enter the field, it can help show your knowledge. The Ruby Association offers the Certified Ruby Programmer distinction which shows that you have high-level expertise in Ruby development capabilities.

4. Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma is an approach to business that uses the full team to eliminate waste and inefficiencies. It’s an in-demand accreditation in a wide range of fields, from manufacturing to banking.

People certified in Lean Six Sigma can command high salaries. There are Yellow Belt, Green Belt, and Black Belt certifications available.

Lean Six Sigma black belts earn an average of $83,107 a year, which does not include any bonuses.

5. Project Management Professional (PMP)

If you are looking into a career in project management, you may want to consider pursuing a PMP credential. It is one of the most well-known certifications.

And while a PMP looks good on a resume, it can also lead to an increase in salary. In a recent survey, researchers found that PMP certified professionals earned 20 percent more on average than non-certified project managers.

Pursuing a professional certification

When deciding on the best certifications for your career path, choose carefully. While some can give your career and salary a significant boost, others will just cost you money.

If you would like to learn more about how to give your career a boost or switch fields, check out this article on how to transfer your skills to a new job.