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Seven certifications that add big value to your resume

Certificate programs are increasing in reputation and carrying more weight around the office. These certificates can add big value to your resume and your wallet.

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    Sterling R. Alam asks a question to Stephen C. Gross, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, who spoke at a public forum on Social Security reform, held on the campus of the University of Massachusetts in Boston (2005). An actuary certificate can help advance careers
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A certification can strengthen your degree, and maybe even improve your income. Better still? It can do all this without you ever having to set foot inside a classroom, as all of the seven certifications listed below are offered online. Take a look, and start moving ahead today.

1. Project Management

Aside from IT, project managers work in engineering, healthcare, and construction. They are responsible for overseeing the completion of a project — on budget, and on time. It's a high-pressure career, but the salary is great (average $89,000 for entry-level). Fortunately, you don't have to quit your day job to earn your certification. The average cost varies widely, but reputable UC Berkeley lists it as around $5,600. Here is a list of online project management programs where you can study.

2. Microsoft Certified IT Professional

My friend Chad, who has a degree in IT, obtained this Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification on his own, reasoning that "I thought it might be helpful." Upon completion, he showed it to his manager...and was immediately promoted and reimbursed for the cost of obtaining the certification. The cost? A very affordable $150 for the first level (Microsoft Certified); then you can take more courses and build into Professional (MCITP), Architect (MCA), Professional Developer, etc.

Recommended: Fifteen best entry-level jobs of 2015

How much can you expect to earn from certifications? From Microsoft:

"In high-growth industries, entry-level employees who hold a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification or Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification can earn up to $16,000 more, annually, than their peers."

3. CPA

An accountant with a Bachelor's degree can expect annual earnings of $63,550 per year. But what if that accountant passes the licensure exam and becomes a Certified Public Accountant? Here is an interesting breakdown from the folks at Becker Professional Education:

"Over the course of a 40-year career, a CPA can earn as much as $1 million more than a non-certified accountant. Here's an example:

  • Two non-Certified Public Accountants with Bachelor's degrees begin working at the same time at the same large public accounting firm in Audit/Assurance Services at the same annual salary of $68,000.
     
  • One earns the CPA credential, creating a 10% salary differential of about $7,000 more than the other (CPA's can earn between 5% and 15% more than their non-credentialed counterparts).
     
  • Over time, more frequent and higher-level promotions can widen the salary gap to as much as $50,000.
     
  • Over a full career that can mean an additional $1 million or more in lifetime earnings."

The licensure exam is very rigorous, but what a difference in income obtaining that license makes.

4. Process Management

The question I get most often in HR about this position is, "What is it that those people DO?" Well, they look at a process, or flow, that isn't working, reorganize it, and implement it so that things work better. As a rule, they are really good at seeing the "big picture" and being diplomatic about change. Process managers have a governing body and must pass an exam. Earnings are estimated at $79,000 annually. Fortunately, this is another position where you can obtain online certification (here are sometraining resources) while keeping your day job.

5. Medical Coder

With the implementation of ICD-10 medical coding, knowledgeable coders are in high demand. Already have your B.A.? Good, because those with Bachelor's degrees "...out-earned those with only a high school diploma by a dramatic $10,000 per year ($51,825 vs. $41,802)." The American Health Information Management Association is the governing body for health information management. It also provides information about education and certification courses. I personally know coders who are able to work from home, which is a nice option if you have a family.

6. Exercise Physiologist

The median salary for a fitness instructor is $40,996. But, obtain certification as an exercise physiologist, and that jumps to $44,470. Perhaps more importantly, though, is that if you are interested in this field, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 19% growth, higher than the average for all occupations.

7. Actuary

Have a degree in mathematics? Or, maybe you work in the field of finance, or statistics? The BLS cites median pay in 2012 for actuaries to have been $93,680, with job growth outlook of 26% (much higher than average). Actuaries analyze the financial costs of risk and uncertainty. They often work for insurance companies or in finance. A series of examsmust be passed to obtain certification. It's not all about number-crunching, though — a good actuary needs the skills to be able to communicate, too.

Remember: Do your research before you leap. Some of these certifications are extremely rigorous and, although likely worth it in the long run, will put a strain on your time. Take a look at job listings to see what employers are looking for.

This article first appeared at Wise Bread.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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