This past June, I found myself assisting at the Cisco Live conference in Orlando by checking in Cisco certification test takers at the testing center there. I processed scores of certification candidates in the minutes before they headed into the exam room for their written test—and was impressed by the quiet air of self-assurance that many of you showed while checking in.


It all got me to wondering about how you arrive at that feeling of confidence heading into a certification test, especially your first one.


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     Catching some cool, calm, and collected last-minute studying before the test


At Cisco, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Cisco certified individuals with impressive success stories. Tobias Caldwell and Martin Brown are two individuals who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and dared to push their way to multiple certifications. (You can read more about them here and here.) What gives those of you the confidence to make the commitment and keep building upon it even as the going gets tough?


For those embarking on the Cisco certification journey, I’d like to offer my list of ways to build confidence for the challenge:


1. Know why you want to get certified—and keep those reasons in heart and mind. Of course, there are the external motivators, like an eventual promotion at work or a possible salary boost, but it would also pay to look at your intrinsic motivators, such as being able to contribute more confidently to issues in your job, or filling in knowledge gaps so that you can gain a better overall grasp of your field. You can often experience a powerful sense of accomplishment with these personal drivers early on in your campaign to succeed, and they can keep you fired up when everything is new and somewhat overwhelming. When Martin Brown hit “rock bottom” in his job and made the decision to dig himself out with Cisco certification, it was a personal desire to answer day-to-day networking questions more confidently that really drove him to seek a change.

2. While you need a clear vision to anchor you and stay confident, don’t think too big all at once. If you are at an entry level in your IT role, think about the ICND1 exam and CCENT certification before trying to wrap your head around the ICND2 exam and CCNA Routing and Switching. If you are more advanced and are thinking about branching out to another track or a higher level, concentrate on the value of that first course or first exam that you are shooting for and what it is doing to make you better—don’t let concerns about whether you can bite off the whole certification sink you. Dream those dreams, of course, but manage to stay in the present. For Tobias Caldwell and Martin Brown, it has always been a matter of taking incremental steps on the way upward. The confidence gained from one step has built more confidence to keep going.

3. Get actively involved in the certification community and use that energy to build inspiration and a sense of purpose. As a certification aspirant and member of the Cisco Learning Network, you can converse with folks at various levels of experience in the discussion threads of the CCENT/CCNA R&S Study Group or attend a member-led study session. Or you can reach out to others in the Cisco certification social networking environments of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Somewhere there’s a support network for you. Even if you don’t actively participate much in these forums, just following the conversations can bring confidence in knowing that there are others out there who are succeeding, and in gaining insight as to how they are succeeding.


4. A big one, obviously, is practice, practice, practice. Other posts on this blog have spoken to the importance of this and for good reason. Nothing is going to make you feel more confident on test day than knowing that you have taken your deep dive into the subject matter and left no stone unturned in your quest for knowledge. Register for a Cisco training course (delivered in a physical or virtual classroom), especially if your employer will pay for it. Pursue any number of learning modalities available through the Cisco Learning Network Store such as classroom training, e-learning, training on demand, Cisco Learning Labs, or self-study with Cisco Press e-books. The Cisco Learning Network Store also offers practice exams. Martin Brown even set up a CCIE rack in the hallway of his home to practice on.


5. Embrace your inner geek. A couple Cisco certifications have made Tobias Caldwell a go-to person at his company for vital networking questions and allowed him to travel on business to places like Paris and Milan. Says Tobias of these confidence boosters, “Geek is cool now.”


6. Think like a winner. Thinking like a winner means not only making the time to prepare well and help guarantee your certification success; it means taking the initiative to push yourself in this pursuit and do what it takes to shine. Think beyond passing a test to showing people in the real world, and yourself, that you truly know your stuff. That will keep you working hard and ready to emerge victorious.


This list is only a start—those of you reading this post probably have your own points to add on this topic. I’d enjoy hearing from you. What are you doing, or have you done, to build confidence in your certification pursuit and help ensure that you meet with success?