Which Microsoft Certification Should You Get?

You work with data, and you’re thinking about getting a Microsoft certification. Which one should you get?

If you need the certification to get a job…

Then get the certification you see mentioned the most often in the descriptions of the job you’re looking for.

This is just a little tricky because certifications shown on jobs often lag behind by a couple/few years. The HR department may just have copy/pasted the job requirements from the last job ad they posted. That certification may no longer even be offered by Microsoft. (Microsoft has a tendency of reinventing their certification lineup every 2-3 years, throwing the whole thing into the SlapChop for a remix, seemingly just to make their customers spend more money on new certs while learning more about Microsoft’s cloud products.)

I gotta tell you that the certificate absolutely, positively will NOT get you the job. It’s just that when you’re applying for a publicly posted job, you’re competing with a huge, huge stack of wildly unqualified applicants. In order to cut down the stack of resumes, the hiring department will use any kind of filter they can think of, and often, that’s going to be whether someone mentions a Microsoft cert number on their resume.

I don’t agree with that strategy, but I understand why they have to do it.

Long term, though, I’d say that a better strategy for getting a job is to start building your brand online. Start writing blog posts and delivering presentations, and after a couple/few years, you’ll have people coming to you with jobs. You won’t have to worry about standing out in a stack of resumes because you’ll be the only candidate. It takes time, but it’s a much better long term gamble than trying to stand out in a stack.

If you need the certification for your current job…

Sometimes companies require their staff to show that they’re continuously improving, and one way they measure it is by seeing you pass industry tests.

In that case, get whatever your manager or HR department wants you to get.

If they don’t care which one you get, then get the oldest one that’s relevant to your job. That might sound counter-intuitive: you might think you want the latest and greatest cert. The problem is that the new certs will have less training material available. If you’re only trying to check a box for your HR team, an older cert with tons of free YouTube prep videos and cheap PDFs will be easier to pass.

If you want the certification for personal growth…

Then get the newest certification that calls to you personally. It’s going to have less established training material available, but that’s okay: you’re doing this for personal growth anyway.

The best personal growth doesn’t come from reading a book with a bunch of canned test questions and answers. The best growth comes from understanding what the test is trying to measure, and then building your own experience working with that tool. Make a list of the tools and techniques you want to experiment with, and then check out Microsoft’s SQL Workshops repository on Github. It’s full of free self-learning resources for people like you who want to grow their own skills.

No matter why you want the exam,
just take it first.

You have a serious case of impostor syndrome: you believe you’re not qualified to pass the test. Because of that, you’re going to fill yourself with self-doubt as you prep for the exam, and you’re going to think the exam is incredibly challenging. It’s not – it’s just a test. It’s not the final boss of your life’s video game. After all, I bet you’ve met plenty of people who were supposedly certified, but couldn’t solve the most basic problems at work.

Go take it first. You’re going to fail, but you’ll be comfortable with that failure – because you didn’t expect to pass. Then, you’ll have a better feeling of what the test-taking process is like, the level of detail in the questions, and how much work you need to put into studying.

Go get ’em!

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8 Comments. Leave new

  • It’s not the final boss of your life’s video game…. Spectacular!

  • Another value to the approach of taking the test first and failing is that the result will often be broken down by subject area, and it will show you which areas you already know well enough, and where to concentrate your studying and experimenting.

  • Brandon Forest
    January 12, 2021 11:43 am

    The last certs I did were for SQL 2005 & SQL 2008. Someone else was paying for them, I took the tests. Now, they’ve deprecated all the SQL Server certs and are forcing people to do their cloud solution. Once again, I’ll do it on someone else’s nickel, or not at all. I’ve published a few tips on SQLServerCentral, and I just signed up to do a tip for SQLTips. Blogging all the time hasn’t been my forte, and I go through cycles of helping out in the Forums. I have presented in my local PASS group “Sacramento SQL Server User’s Group”, and I may again when I have something interesting to present. My resume gets me jobs, but I want to get more outside consulting work, so I guess I need to step up my game and do more of all of those things. Cheers!

  • Interesting to take the test expecting to fail. I have only taken a couple of Microsoft exams and none in the last 15 years so my opinion might be outdated but I never thought they really tested your knowledge. When a test asks about a certain method call and the four answers all have the same parameters just rearranged what are we really testing? Now later in my career I place almost no value on a Microsoft certification unless I’m trying to fill a newbie or intern position where having the cert shows some ambition and a desire to separate from all the other newbies using hope as a method to get a job. I’d much rather see that the candidate routinely attends a local user group meeting or has some cool project they did on their own they can show me.

  • I have some of the older SQL server database developer certs, and never regretted the effort it took, in my own time and at my own expense.
    Many moons ago I needed to create and support a project database and had never even heard of a “SELECT * FROM XXX” query. I found the certs very useful to get me going and help ensure I covered most of the relevant areas. They made me aware of the importance of normalisation and naming conventions and so helped me to create a half-decent design. Just as well, because the database outlived the project by many years and survived several company reorganisations, SQL Server upgrades and of course schema changes.
    I agree that the current cert are quite different but at the time they were just what I needed.

  • George Squillace
    January 16, 2021 8:06 am

    As someone who has sat in the testing booth 102 times I have create a PowerPoint presentation called “Strategies for Passing Certification Exams” found here, https://bit.ly/3inbhHB. I hope you find it useful!

  • Throughout 42 years in IT and 11 years as a manager, I never put much stock in certifications. Never did any myself and never really cared much about candidates having them. I was more concerned with a candidate’s real-life experience and abilities.

    Reminds me of one boss’s response when I made the mistake of rehearsing my recent work. His response was “Ok, so what have you done for me today?”


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