The following is an excerpt from the soon-to-be-published e-book, The Insider's Guide to IT Certification, which contains hundreds of pages of information that will help you save time and money while preparing for your certification exams. The book will be available for purchase on the CertTutor.net Web site soon. Stay tuned to CertTutor.net UPDATE for an announcement about how to get your copy.

There might be no surer way to success than the simple process of writing down your goals. Goal setting is the most important step you can take before you set out down the certification path. Most people have heard of the benefits of goal setting, yet many fail to take the time to set goals for themselves. Why is this?

Many people set the wrong goals for the wrong reasons. For example, you might set a goal to earn the MCSE within 12 months. This might sound like a good goal, but perhaps you can do better. Are you really after the MCSE, or do you seek something that the MCSE will bring you? Maybe you want to land your first systems administrator job after several years on the help desk and feel that the MCSE will get you there. Or perhaps you're trying to ensure that you'll earn a promotion quickly and think that the MCSE will help. Whatever your reason, the paper certificate isn't what you're after.

So you decide to modify your goal. You want to become a systems administrator within a year. To achieve this goal, you set a sub-goal of achieving the MCSE. This combination is certainly better than shooting for the certification alone. But you can do better still. Have you considered why you want to become a systems administrator?

Let's consider a hypothetical scenario. Dan works 50-hour weeks and is already feeling guilty about the lack of time he spends at home with his wife and kids. At the end of the year, Dan sits down with his boss to arrive at with a list of goals for the coming year. The main goal that Dan chooses is to become a senior consultant by the end of the year. Dan's boss says that he would probably need to achieve the MCSE to reach his main goal. Dan adds the MCSE to his list. What Dan fails to consider is that becoming a senior consultant might sound good to his boss, but that goal means more time at the office and at client sites--which might serve to make an already troublesome situation at home much worse. Nevertheless, Dan pushes forward, figuring that he must strive to reach his goals now that he has set them. However, as the year progresses, Dan finds that he has made little progress toward earning the MCSE. Why is this?

Whether Dan realizes it or not, his goal of earning the MCSE is in direct opposition to his desire to spend more time at home with his family. A step closer to the MCSE and a senior consulting position is a step away from something else that's important to him. When this kind of fundamental conflict exists, people almost never reach the goals that they've set for themselves.

You must align your career and certification goals with the higher purpose of your life. The most important question to ask yourself when setting goals is, "What do I want out of life?" Start there. Maybe you want more financial security or independence. Perhaps you seek greater responsibility at work. You might even want more time to spend with your family and friends. This important question has no wrong answers.

After you begin to understand what you want out of life, you'll be ready to set career goals for yourself. Whether your goal is to find an IT job within 12 months or to become promoted from the help desk by the end of the year, make sure that the goal is directly in line with your answer to the question about what you want out of life. If these elements aren't in line, take some time to reassess your goals.

After you've set your career goals, you can then work down to your certification goals. If finding a job in IT is your goal, consider pursuing and earning certifications such as the A+ and Network+ within the year. Landing a systems administrator job might require a loftier certification goal, such as the Windows 2000 MCSE. Make sure that your goal makes sense given the career goal that you've developed for yourself.