The current state of the Information Technology field is more competitive than ever. The number of job seekers far outweighs the number of jobs available. Currently IT employment is harder and harder to obtain. New job seekers continue to enter the market but the overall number of opportunities are shrinking. This is definitely a sellers market so to speak. In order to compete against other job seekers you really have to make yourself stand out in a crowd.
Over saturation of prospective employees has allowed businesses to set qualifications at an all time high. The possibility of getting employed without experience is not looking good. Recent graduates hoping to land a job might have a hard time achieving their goal. Companies are looking to consolidate job duties into positions that can perform multiple functions. Sure there are still jobs out there that allow you to specialize in a specific area but more often than not you will need to possess a wide range of skills. Programmers are expected to know more than one language or maybe even some back end administration. The competitiveness of job seekers has propagated this new trend and it doesn't look like it will go away any time soon.
So how might you differentiate yourself during these cut throat days of working in the IT field? One way to make yourself stand out in the crowd is through certifications. A 4 year college degree is a great thing and a wonderful starting point. After graduation the next step is real world employment. The problem is most companies want someone who has experience and you can't obtain experience without being employed. Just getting a company to call you back once they look at your resume has become difficult.
Certifications in the technology field can give you the edge needed to get your foot in the door and start your career. A industry recognized certification can help validate your level of comprehension in the eyes of an employer. A certification can be the difference between getting a call and getting a thanks but no thanks letter in the mail. There are a large number of certifications provided by a vast amount of vendors and organizations. Being certified in a specific technology gives potential employers a "security blanket" in a way. Your certification validates your skill set and automatically lets people know that at least you know what your doing to some extent.
Obtaining certifications can be a daunting task. Some certs will require a long list of exams which measure various levels of your comprehension. You will need to study the material and most likely work with the specific technology enough to understand various intricacies. The nice thing about becoming certified is that you only need time and the money to take the exams. There are some certifications that strictly require hands on experience, however, most of them you can obtain as long as you have enough money to sit for the exam.
All certifications are not created equal. Since there are multiple vendors offering various certs some are more marketable than others. If you hope to work on computers then perhaps the A+ certification would be of interest for you. However if you want to work with computer networks then perhaps the Network+ cert is more appropriate. Although an employer looking to hire someone to work on their network would probably prefer a CCNA instead.
A system administrator might hold the MCTS certification which would make them a strong candidate for an available job. Then they are informed they did not get the job because someone who holds the MCITP has applied for the position. If you were wanting to be a Linux administrator you might obtain a variety of certifications such as Linux+, LPIC, or RHCE.
The number of certifications can be overwhelming. Whatever you choose to do in the IT field a certification certainly cannot hurt. There are some in the industry who view certifications as merely a piece of paper but there are also those who view them as a required level of understanding. To help yourself stand out in the crowd becoming certified is an excellent challenge.
If you have the opportunity to continue your education and obtain various certifications then take full advantage. I personally am quite satisfied with my current employer but that does not stop me from pursuing more certifications. Currently I hold the SCSA for Solaris 9 & 10, Security+, and C|EH certifications. I hope to one day obtain the CISSP but it will not be easy by any means.
I encourage you to work towards obtaining certifications for yourself. The fact that employers prefer and a large amount of job seekers have obtained certs should be a wake up call. These pieces of paper are becoming more important than ever before. Work on them for yourself and your future because they can open a lot of doors that might otherwise be closed in this tuff economy. This information might not be anything new to you but you should realize that if you are not trying to get ahead you are falling behind.