I hope people that are new to the IT industry, and those that are hoping to gain certification, find this guide useful. I have written it with the intention you also read Zimbo's Guide to Self Studying to help you on your first steps into IT certification.
Starter for ten...
Firstly, can I say that not all Training Companies are subsidiaries of Devil Inc, and they're not all out to harvest your soul.
There is, however, such a thing as not doing any research. Spending £X,XXX on a company you haven't heard of, or a certification you haven't researched, is foolhardy at the very least.
When you contact a training provider to enquire about their courses, they will invariably send a salesperson around to your house.
Dealing with Salespeople
Remember - if you haven't actually asked for a salesperson to visit, you do not have to let them in your house. And if you feel pressured at any point, you are well within your rights to ask them to leave.
They may call themselves any number of things, including a 'course' or a 'career' advisor. Please remember, that they are, in fact, salespeople. Having worked in sales for a few years myself, I kind of sympathise with them. But only marginally. They will have a pre-written, pre-empted plan to gain your sale, and they are experienced at their job - otherwise they wouldn't be doing it. This pre-thought process is one sales technique they will use. Other common sales techniques include:
using personal stories to sell you the product (you don't know them, so they needn't be telling the truth!).
Establishing credibility with the customer. This may be through telling you how successful the company is, or showing you success stories from the provider's alumni.
Overcoming objections. You won't be the first person they have sold to, and you almost certainly won't be the last. They will already have an idea of the questions and concerns you are going to voice, and will have clear answers to them. If you have any concerns that you feel are being 'glossed over', then tell them you need time to think about it.
Intelligence sales. They may get you to do a small test before talking about the courses they have to offer. The course will invariably be quite easy, with maybe one or two difficult questions. The sales talk resulting from this will be along the lines of "you have the best results on that I've seen today. I notice that you got one or two questions wrong, but you wouldn't need the course now if you knew it already!" They will then move on to sell you the course they feel they will be able to sell you the best - possibly regardless of what your original stated interests were (just because of "how you did" on the "test"). Don't be duped by this, and don't allow them to mislead you as a result.
Independence - selling the product by implying people who think and act for themselves are the kind of people that will use the product. If you are able to think and act for yourself so independently, you are most certainly the type of person who should consider self studying.
If the salesperson tells you that you have to sign today, or that they have a special price for you, and you only, then they are trying to pressure you. It's the kindest way of forcing a sale, but they are not doing you a favour; they are thinking of their sales figures. If you do not want to sign, then do not sign. Ask them to leave you documentation, and ask for time to consider what they are offering you for your money.
Be prepared for the sales talk - be a smart consumer
The only reason you are allowing a salesperson into your home is (probably) because you are considering studying certifications to embark on a career in IT.
Deciding on your career is not something to be rushed. Do not let a smart person in a suit convince you otherwise.
Think about all the questions you want to ask before the salesperson visits. People who post on the board tend to say they have been conned. I always disagree with this, as it always seems to be for the same reasons. They didn't ask questions, and/or didn't read their contract. If you allow a salesperson to dupe you into signing up for a credit agreement for £X,XXX without checking details of the contract such as a cooling off period, then the only person you can blame is yourself - and the law will see it the same way.
Here are some questions you should seriously consider asking AND researching, before you sign the contract.
- is the credit agreement with the training provider, or with a third party?
- what is the cooling off period to cancel the loan AND the training contract?
- does the cooling off period begin from when the training materials arrive, or from the day you 'sign on the dotted line'?
- how up to date are the course materials? (if you know which exams you will be studying, find out when the latest revision was, and if any updates to the exams are planned soon. If the exams are going to be updated within the next few months, ask what material the training providers will be giving out, and when you can expect it. If the salesperson is flustered at these questions, or you feel fobbed off by their answers, then you shoudn't sign.)
- what are the time limits on the course? "studying in your own time" generally doesn't mean as such, and courses will have an 'expiry' before you may be expected to pay extra to continue the course.
- are the exam fees refunded? If so, check how. e.g. - are they refunded when the exam is booked? Are they refunded when the exam is passed? Or do they stipulate that you have to complete the whole course before you can sit any exams and claim any money back?
Dispelling the myth - Promises versus Reality
I thought I'd dedicate a section to this, as a lot of people do tend to pass through, believing that they are due a phenomenal wage of £35K, as soon as they start their fantastic brand spangling new career in IT.
I'm sorry, but I'm going to burst that fantastically big bubble, and I'm only going to use a drawing pin.
Starting off a career in IT is like starting off any career. If you are starting at the bottom, then there is no way you can expect that kind of money. And I am afraid there is no way of starting in the middle either. IT is an incredibly competitive industry, with some incredibly intelligent people moving their careers onwards at the same time as you. Do not be fooled by a salesperson telling you 'average wages' and 'you will earn £XX,XXX' a year and it will be fantastic. Yes, working in IT is fantastic. Absolutely, positively wonderful (and I work on a helpdesk!). But you will have to put in the graft, the same as anyone in any other career should expect to do. Read the CF article on finding your first job in IT for more ideas.
I've already signed up with a training provider, but don't think it's a good idea. What can I do?
If you are within your cooling off period, then call the administration department of your training provider to start cancellation proceedings immediately.
If you are asked to post something, always send it as 'Recorded Signed For' delivery. That way, they cannot claim that correspondence was never received. Where relevant, you can also ask to fax them or to email them. To be completely covered, I would post, fax and scan/email documentation.
If your cooling off period has expired, then examine why you are cancelling.
If you are cancelling because you feel the course is 'no longer for you' (or any half-hearted variation thereof) then you will have a tough time.
If you feel you have been mis-sold any detail of the course - if the materials are severely out of date, or parts of the course are missing - then in the first instance, I would again contact the administration department of the company. If your funding is through a third-party credit organisation, also check your terms and conditions with them, to see if you are able to suspend payments.
If neither are helpful, then contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau. They will be best placed to give you advice on how to proceed.
What is meant by research? Where can I look?
This forum, for a start. Certforums is a wealth of information, from people who have both successfully and unsuccessfully studied with training providers, with colleges, and from self studying.
The next place you should look, is the homepage of the company you are certifying for.
www.compTIA.org (A+, Network+, Server+, Linux+ and so forth...)
www.cisco.com (CCNA, CCDA, etc)
www.microsoft.com or training.microsoft.com (MCSA, MCDST)
If a training provider claims to be a 'partner' to any of these, you will be able to check it on the site. You should also check the exam objectives for the area you will be studying, to make sure you are entirely comfortable before parting with your money.
Check the homepage of the training provider you are looking to train with. If possible, try to find a rounded opinion of the provider. Whilst you shouldn't believe all the positive alumni comments and sales talk you will receive, you also shouldn't take 'as red' the negative threads and rants you will invariably see on the internet.
The choice is yours to make, but remember there are other ways to study to gain certification in IT. You can find courses through your local college, through the Open University, or you can simply buy the books online and study yourself (the strongly-advocated CF method!)
Studying with training providers should be recommended for people that find it difficult to stay motivated and need regular benchmarks, and for people who need regular assessments on their progress - people whose esteem may not be strong enough for them to carry themselves through certification - who would benefit from classroom-led training, but cannot make it to local colleges.
But it is an expensive way to train. I would strongly recommend you to research fully, and investigate all alternatives, before you sign on with any training provider.