How Does Microsoft Certification Affect Compensation? Our first annual salary survey of our readership shows that a Microsoft certification means increased income in every category.
MCP Magazine's first annual salary survey of our readership contains good news for Microsoft Certified Professionals—but there's also a message for the IS managers who employ them. On average, the salary of a Microsoft Certified Professional well exceeds that of his or her non-certified counterpart. Our survey data thus supports industry-wide reports of salary premiums for highly skilled IS professionals like MCSEs. (See Certification News item "High-tech specialists in hot demand")
Our data is compiled from responses from 533 readers whose names were statistically pulled from U.S. addresses on our mailing list. It's important to note that all respondents are either MCPs or MCP candidates (those who have completed at least one Drake exam toward certification).
One striking result of the survey is the salary differential that even a Microsoft Certified Product Specialist (MCPS) can expect over a non-Microsoft-certified counterpart. An MCPS is the entry-level certification title in the Microsoft family, requiring passage of a single exam testing expertise in a Microsoft operating system (an MCSE, by contrast, must complete six exams). As Table 2 shows, MCPSs reported a mean (or average) salary of $62,000 a year, $2,000 above the mean for all respondents ($60,000) and $5,000 a year above the mean for those holding no Microsoft certifications. The median, or midpoint, difference was somewhat less, but still visible. MCPSs reported earning $49,000, compared to a median income of $47,000 for someone with no Microsoft certifications.
"It's exciting to have the marketplace confirm the value of the MCP credential, said Nancy Lewis, director of education and certification at Microsoft, "because we've worked so hard to see that [the exams are] reliable, valid, and performance-based. Microsoft is conducting its own studies of hourly billing rates for certified individuals, Lewis said, that show the hourly rates for Novell Certified NetWare Engineers dropping while MCP billing rates rise. According to Lewis, those numbers and ours are "directly attributable to the increase in sales of NT Server and BackOffice. Lewis also pointed to an IDC study that found MCPs more productive in the workplace. "Certification does have great value in the marketplace to a hiring manager.
Technical recruiters in various areas of the country weren't surprised by the numbers. According to AnneMarie Asunto, a personnel manager at Hall Kinion, the largest tech recruiting firm in Northern California's Silicon Valley, "I certainly wouldn't be surprised. Microsoft is leading the market. The hourly rates are definitely going up; it's a job-hunter's market."
"We've gotten a number of orders recently for Windows 95 and NT network administrators, confirmed Art Narita, technical department manager for Hall Kinion. "These people are becoming more and more in high demand. MIS is a very hot area. According to Jae-Ho Synn, general manager of the technical recruitment firm 1-800-NETWORK, the numbers "don't surprise me. If I had to guess, I'd say that a lot of that premium is caused by the relative scarcity of MCPs for things like Windows 95 migration or NT, which has really exceeded forecasts.
Synn said, however, that certification may be rewarded with excessive salary premiums when the product it addresses is new and not well understood. "For example, CNEs. Because NetWare is such a mature product, the support infrastructure is easier to access. You don't see as much of a gap between [salaries of] certified and non-certified people with Novell [expertise]. Once the market becomes much more comfortable with the product, Synn predicted, "the value of certification tapers."
"If anything, I would have expected an even greater difference" in salaries, commented Thomas O'Grady, owner of an 11-person ATEC in Delaware and an MCSE himself. O'Grady said he has seen figures suggesting that daily rates for MCPs are twice that of CNEs. "There should be a premium, according to O'Grady, "because [Microsoft certification] says something about the individual. In fact, said O'Grady, whose 11-person ATEC employs several Microsoft Certified Professionals, "those figures should be climbing" depending on how effectively Microsoft promotes its certification program.
Salaries by Regions
As we'd expect, salaries differ markedly when compared by region. As the map in Table 7 shows, survey data was broken into four geographic areas for comparison Northeast, West, South, and Midwest. Salaries were highest overall in the West, where 28 percent of all respondents making over $60,000 a year reside and 43 percent of all respondents making over $50,000 reside. Salaries were lowest in the South, where over 60 percent of those respondents who earn less than $50,000 a year live.
Income Increases Due to Certification
When we asked directly whether a respondent's Microsoft certification resulted in an increase in income, the benefits of certification weren't as striking (Table 5). Respondents did indicate salary increases due to Microsoft certification the average increase was six percent for an MCPS, and seven percent for an MCSD or MCSE. But more than half of respondents 58 percent of MCPSs and 52 percent of MCSE and MCSDs reported no change in income after attaining a Microsoft certification. (There's some degree of overlap, since an MCSE or MCSD may also have responded as an MCPS.) This may be because some respondents were unable to draw a direct correlation between certification and a compensation increase.
Who Pays for Certification?
As Table 8 shows, companies are fairly willing to pay for certification 53 percent of respondents said employers picked up the certification tab. Another 30 percent of respondents said they paid for their own certifications, while 10 percent indicated the payment burden was shared between employee and company. Among our respondents, employers were somewhat more willing to pay for Microsoft certifications than Novell's 59 percent of respondents with any Microsoft certification said their firm paid, while only 49 percent of those holding Novell certifications said so. Not surprisingly, large companies (gross revenues over $10 million) were more inclined to pay for certification than firms under $10 million. Sixty percent of respondents at large companies said their employer picked up the tab; that was true for only 45 percent of those at smaller firms.
How Old Are MCPs?
One fact to keep in mind regarding Microsoft's certification program is its relative newness. This is reflected in the age of our respondents, 45 percent of whom are under 35. The median age for MCPs 37 reflects that. Age presumably affects income by tending to reflect years of experience. One statistical expert we talked to suggested that the relative youth of Microsoft Certified Professionals may have pulled down salary averages overall something to keep in mind when we recheck salaries each year. Our statistics do show a steady growth in income as age increases. For example, of respondents making less than $40,000 a year, 62 percent are under 35 years of age. Of those making more than $60,000 a year, 72 percent are 35 or older. Another interesting fact: a somewhat surprising 11 percent of our respondents are female; that ratio carries across different certification categories.
While the raw income averages we show are striking and certainly statistically valid, they're tempered by the median figures we show, and by responses to other questions on the survey. There's no doubt that figures showing a $9,000 a year differential between someone with any Microsoft certification and someone with any Novell certification show a growing awareness in the marketplace of the value of Microsoft certification. The results of our survey should gratify anyone weighing the value of the Microsoft Certified Professional credential.
Mean or Median?
Statistically, two figures are commonly used in comparing survey numbers such as compensation. The mean is the average of all numbers divided by the number of respondents. Since it's an average, it can be affected by excessive highs and lows. The median is the midpoint—half of the respondents fall above that number, half fall below. Both numbers (and other measurements we didn't use) are statistically valid, but salary medians are sometimes favored by recruitment professionals, partly because the median tends to be lower than the mean. According to Harry Brelsford, a Seattle-based manager for the technical recruitment firm 1-800-NETWORK, "Both [salary] figures are useful. The mean is certainly valid; the median is a good reality check. Somewhere in between the two lies the truth."
Who’s an MCP?
A respondent with any certification from Microsoft is referred to here as a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). An MCP can possess any of the following four types of certifications. (Respondents can hold more than one title. For example, an MCSE or MCSD may also fall into the MCPS category in Table 4.)
Microsoft Certified Product Specialists have passed at least one exam specific to a Microsoft operating system—Windows 3.1, Windows NT Server 3.5, or Windows 95. Candidates may then "specialize" by passing additional Microsoft certification exams to further qualify their skills.
Microsoft Certified Solution Developers have passed a total of four exams that qualify them to design and develop custom business solutions with Microsoft development tools, technologies, and platforms, including Microsoft Office and Microsoft BackOffice.
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers have passed a total of six exams that qualify them to plan, implement, maintain, and support information systems with Windows NT and BackOffice products.
Microsoft Certified Trainers are both instructionally and technically qualified by Microsoft to deliver Microsoft Official Curriculum in specific subjects through Microsoft authorized education sites.
Survey respondents were randomly chosen from our active magazine distribution list. That list consists of all Microsoft Certified Professionals, and anyone who has completed at least one Drake exam toward Microsoft certification. Only U.S. addresses were included.
MCP Magazine hired Simmons Market Research Bureau, Inc. to conduct this survey. Based on specifications supplied by Simmons, we selected a random sample of 1,300 readers from our distribution list. Simmons then selected a total sample of 1,000 names on an "nth" basis after eliminating incomplete addresses and those addressed to public places.
On September 25, each of the 1,000 names was sent a packet containing a four-page questionnaire. A second mailing of a letter only to those readers who did not respond was sent on October 13. Of the 1,000 questionaires mailed, five were returned by the post office; 533 were returned for a response rate of 53 percent.