If you’re thinking about ITIL certifications for 2023, you’ll find a lot of helpful information and guidance here. ITIL certifications are globally recognized as the standard in IT Service Management (ITSM). These certifications provide individuals and organizations with a clear indication of competency and knowledge in relation to ITIL best practices.
You have many ways to go about it.
For starters, there are different levels of ITIL certifications, each reflecting an increasing depth of knowledge and understanding of the ITIL framework. The entry-level ITIL certification is the "ITIL Foundation Certificate." This can be followed by the ITIL 4 Specialist, Strategist or Leader certifications.
Also, "ITIL 4 Foundation" can be achieved as an organization, while "ITIL 4 Specialist – Create, Deliver and Support" can only be achieved by individual members of the staff.
Keep reading to understand which ITIL certification is best for you, so you can add it to your ITIL maintenance plan.
What is an ITIL certification (and how does it work)?
Well, let's start with the basics. To understand what an ITIL certification is and why its needed, we need to go back a bit and begin with the ITIL framework.
We have a thorough guide on the matter, so, to keep things short, the ITIL framework is a body of service management best practice guidance. It was first published in 1989 — when it was called the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) — and only focused on ITSM best practices.
ITIL 4 is the latest version of ITIL and is described by AXELOS (its owner) as:
“…the most widely recognized framework for IT and digitally enabled services in the world. It provides comprehensive, practical and proven guidance for establishing an effective service management system.”
As you can see, ITIL 4 doesn’t follow the previous ITIL framework naming convention used for ITIL v3 and drops the “v” — so it’s not called ITIL v4.
Since ITIL 4 isn’t a standard, organizations can’t become ITIL certified. On the contrary, ISO/IEC 20000 can be used for this purpose.
Individuals can become ITIL certified, recognizing that they have a proven understanding of how to apply ITIL 4 best practices to improve IT operations and business outcomes.
ITIL 4 best practice has three key elements:
- ITIL 4 publications and online content.
- ITIL 4 training (for people seeking ITIL 4 certification).
- The ITIL 4 certifications – Foundation, Managing Professional, Strategic Leader, and ITIL Master.
ITIL 4 candidates need the entry-level ITIL Foundation certification before achieving the higher-level or “ITIL Intermediate” modules and certifications shown above. These certifications are described in detail later.
Typically, the core ITIL 4 “content” modules are:
- ITIL Foundation.
- ITIL Specialist: Create, Deliver & Support.
- ITIL Specialist: Drive Stakeholder Value.
- ITIL Specialist: High-velocity IT.
- ITIL Strategist: Direct, Plan & Improve.
- ITIL Leader: Digital & IT Strategy.
Depending on the service provider's editorial preferences, these core modules might also be called “ITIL 4 Foundation,” etc.
There are also two ITIL extension modules and certifications:
- ITIL Specialist: Sustainability in Digital & IT.
- ITIL Specialist: Acquiring & Managing Cloud Services.
Why is it important to have an ITIL 4 certification?
The benefits of an ITIL 4 certification can be considered from two perspectives:
- That of the organization.
- Personal investment.
For organizations that send their employees on ITIL 4 certification training or employ new personnel with ITIL 4 certification, various benefits will be viewed differently by personnel in different roles. The most apparent difference in viewpoint is that of service management practitioners who want better ways of working versus senior management who want to see better ITSM operations and business outcomes.
The benefits of service management can also be viewed as drivers for its adoption, i.e., the improvements needed to better deliver against the business needs for technology enablement. For example, if a business or senior IT leader perspective is taken, there are better business outcome drivers such as:
- Meeting customer and employee demands.
- Increasing business margins and profits.
- More significant and better technology exploitation.
Then, there are drivers related to IT operations such as:
- Improving employee experiences and productivity.
- Increasing operational speed, efficiency, and agility.
- Adopting proven best practices and approaches.
- Enhancing governance and risk mitigation.
- Facilitating operational and service improvement and innovation.
On a personal level, not only does ITIL 4 certification allow a qualified individual to help their organization to deliver against the above benefits, but they are also investing in their career. This can be viewed on several levels, including improving their knowledge and skillset (and business value as a result) and gaining a globally-recognized and portable ITSM qualification that might help them climb in their current organization or seek career advancement with other employers.
ITIL certification levels
As we mentioned above, there are many ITIL certifications available, each with its own set of benefits. Let's take a closer look at each ITIL 4 certification level.
The ITIL 4 Foundation certification
This certification is an introduction to ITIL 4. The ITIL Foundation training and guidance will help you to view service management and ITSM as a way to create, deliver, and continually improve products and services and the value these have.
Key ITIL 4 Foundation certification areas include:
- Taking a holistic approach to the co-creation of value through services.
- ITIL 4’s seven guiding principles.
- The four dimensions of service management.
- How the various ITIL 4 management practices help improve operations and outcomes.
The ITIL 4 Managing Professional certification
This certification provides the knowledge candidates need to run digitally-enabled business functions, including how to create stakeholder value. The ITIL 4 Managing Professional certification requires candidates to complete the ITIL 4 Foundation module plus four higher-level modules:
- ITIL 4 Specialist: Create, Deliver & Support.
- ITIL 4 Specialist: Drive Stakeholder Value.
- ITIL 4 Specialist: High-velocity IT.
- ITIL 4 Strategist: Direct, Plan & Improve.
The ITIL 4 Strategic Leader certification
To earn the ITIL Strategic Leader (ITIL SL) credential, candidates must complete the ITIL 4 Foundation module as well as two additional higher-level modules:
- ITIL 4 Strategist: Direct Plan & Improve.
- ITIL 4 Leader: Digital & IT Strategy.
The ITIL Master certification
Once candidates have completed all the Managing Professional and Strategic Leader certification modules, they qualify for the “ITIL Master” designation. This was the ITIL Expert designation in ITIL v3. However, candidates must also demonstrate at least five years’ experience working in suitable roles across:
- Service management leadership.
- Management advisory roles.
ITIL training: how to get an ITIL certification?
The only way to obtain an ITIL 4 certification is via taking the certification exam. The routes to the exam, though, can be different for candidates. For example, there are in-person ITIL training courses, online ITIL training courses (which can be pre-recorded, live, or a mix of both), or candidates can “self-train” using the ITIL 4 publications based on buying an exam-and-eBook package from PeopleCert.
Candidates can also access the formal routes either as an individual or as part of a corporate training event, where they are only with their colleagues rather than a random selection of ITIL 4 certification seekers. This training is sometimes referred to as “on-site” training at the candidates’ place of work.
AXELOS does not provide ITIL 4 training, instead relying on a partner ecosystem of trainers that may or may not have their own method for teaching candidates about ITIL 4 (before their certification). The ecosystem also implies that study materials are different (across the training providers), but candidates will be able to access to AXELOS’ official ITIL 4 publications and online resources. It also implies that exam preparation strategies differ.
There’s also a wealth of exam preparation guidance available on the internet.
ITIL certification exam
ITIL 4 certification exams can only be taken online.
Regarding what the ITIL 4 certification exams entail, the ITIL 4 Foundation certification (if the formal ITIL training route is taken) is a two-day course followed by a 40 multiple-choice exam with 26 correct answers (65%) required to pass. For the higher-level exams, each required module is a three-day course followed by a 40 multiple-choice question exam where 28 correct answers (70%) are required to pass.
So, the Managing Professional certification would be twelve days of training and four exams, plus the two days of training and exam needed for the ITIL 4 Foundation certification as a mandated entry requirement.
A candidate can undertake the ITIL 4 training at their own pace using the online learning approach. So, the time taken to achieve the certification can be as long as the candidate needs it. However, there might be limitations set by the chosen ITIL training provider regarding how long a candidate has access to the online training content.
Another time-based aspect to consider with ITIL certifications is whether your current and future roles require the latest version of ITIL certification. If the ITIL v3 Foundation certification is already held, is there a need to update the qualification to the ITIL 4 Foundation certification? This will vary by employer and opinion of individual ITIL certification holders. At the end of 2022, only the ITIL 4 certifications will be available to qualification seekers.
Nonetheless, you might want to take a look at these tips for passing your ITIL Foundation exam to get you started.
ITIL certification costs
The cost of ITIL 4 certification will also vary based on several factors. First, geographical differences affect the training costs in particular. Second, self-paced online learning costs less than attending a physical ITIL 4 training course. Third, different training suppliers offer different rates for each ITIL 4 certification.
As an example, these are the ITIL Foundation certification costs (with the exam) in the UK:
- Online instructor-led or online self-paced = £995 (US$1150)
- Classroom-based (2 days) = £3995 (US$4620)
In the US, for instance, ITIL Foundation certification costs are:
- Online instructor-led or classroom-based (3 days) = US$1950
- Online self-paced learning = US$549
But if we seek ITIL training in India, ITIL Foundation certification is usually via an online instructor-led course and costs INR24995 (US$313).
Please note that these aren’t fixed or average ITIL certification costs, with training courses available both above and below these levels.
Is ITIL certification worth it?
From an organizational perspective, ITIL-certified employees will likely help with IT service delivery and support operations and outcomes (based on the above benefits). Importantly, ITIL is only guidance rather than prescriptive, so organizations can “adopt and adapt” only what they need and in the context of their particular needs.
From an employee professional transition perspective, ITIL poses several benefits to individuals, though the value of an ITIL certification is very much dependent on various factors. For example, the employee’s desire to self-improve through education and qualifications. Or the local job market and the need to either differentiate or meet minimum entry requirements for particular roles where ITIL certification is mandated.
Employers and employees should look at ITIL certification alongside practical experiences. Such prospective recruits can demonstrate how they have used ITIL best practices to improve operations and outcomes (rather than simply showing that they can pass an exam).
To quote ITSM industry authority Paul Wilkinson, “while there is value in the certificate, there is more value in applying the knowledge in practice.” This 10 Tips to Take Your ITIL Qualification and to Put It into Practice blog post can help you to do this. It’s also why the ITIL Practitioner Guidance was created in 2016.
ITIL certification is globally recognized as the standard in IT Service Management. This certification provides individuals and organizations with a clear indication of competency and knowledge in relation to ITIL best practices.
There are three levels of ITIL certification: Foundation, Intermediate, and Expert. The Foundation level is the entry-level certification, and is perfect for those new to IT Service Management or ITIL. The Intermediate level is relevant for those who want to demonstrate their knowledge of specific ITIL processes and practices. And the Expert level fits those who want to show their in-depth understanding of ITIL and how it can be used to improve an organization's IT services.
So, which ITIL certification is right for you? If you're new to IT Service Management or ITIL, then the Foundation level is a great place to start. And then you can build up from there. If you're not new to ITIL, all you need to ask yourself is what you want to achieve with such a certification, and then see which one fits best to your needs.
No matter which ITIL certification you choose, you'll find that it's a valuable addition to your IT resume and will help you advance your career in IT Service Management. So what are you waiting for? Get started on your ITIL journey today!
Frequently Asked Questions
How hard is the ITIL certification?
The ITIL 4 Foundation certification is relatively easy for candidates that have spent sufficient time studying the study texts to acquire it. This is made more accessible if they are already working in service management roles to contextualize the ITIL 4 Foundation content in their day-to-day work.
The higher-level ITIL 4 certifications are harder to pass based on the more detailed knowledge needed and the higher pass requirement.
How many ITIL certifications are there?
There are four core ITIL 4 certifications:
- ITIL 4 Foundation certification.
- ITIL 4 Managing Professional certification.
- ITIL 4 Strategic Leader certification.
- ITIL Master certification.
Plus, there are two ITIL extension modules and certifications:
- ITIL Specialist: Sustainability in Digital & IT.
- ITIL Specialist: Acquiring & Managing Cloud Services.
What jobs can I get with an ITIL certification?
The breadth of jobs where ITIL certification is valued (and sometimes mandated) has increased significantly since ITIL 4. Before this (i.e., with ITIL v3 and the earlier versions of ITIL) the ITSM best practice guidance helped employees in or wanting to be in ITSM roles. For example, IT Service Desk Manager, Service Delivery Manager, or high-level positions such as IT Director.
The change in focus of ITIL that came with ITIL 4 means that ITIL certifications can now be applied to any part of the organization. This could be based on corporate enterprise service management strategies, shared service centers, or individual business functions — such as Human Resources (HR), Facilities, Finance, and Legal — wanting to improve their operations and outcomes using ITIL best practices.
Importantly, the ITIL 4 Foundation certification is enough for many roles, rather than employees needing to achieve ITIL Master or ITIL Expert standing.