Career Tips for the New Cisco Network Pro (CCNP R&S)

We recently asked resident Cisco expert Jeremy Cioara a few questions about what the CCNP R&S certification means for your career — both for the newly certified Cisco network professional and for anyone who might consider sitting for the exam.

First, Jeremy speaks from years of experience as a hiring manager about the opportunities the CCNP R&S opens for you, and how to get them. Next, we asked a few questions about whether or not the CCNP might be the right move for you. (Answer: It probably is, but that depends on you.)

Finally, this isn’t the end of the list. You can ask Jeremy questions tomorrow, May 18, during his webinar Building a Technology Lab: The Mindset!

See ya later, CCNA. I’m a CCNP, now!

Congratulations! If you recently (or even not-so-recently) became a routing and switching Cisco Certified Network Professional, you’re well on your way in the Cisco Universe! You might be looking ahead to the CCIE certification, your Cisco PhD, and/or you might be shopping around for the job that fits your new skills.

If that’s you, then Jeremy has a few answers.

What types of roles or positions will the CCNP R&S help you get?

Roles and positions (titles) can be deceiving. Some of the most impressive titles involve calmly drinking coffee while checking email and moving some fields around in a spreadsheet. I’ll detail some of the jobs (tasks) that I’ve recently seen someone with a CCNP accomplishing:

  • Designing a redundant, fiber-optic network to stream live video between Australia, England, and the USA
  • Building and installing a data center network for a company’s private cloud
  • Creating a centralized, private hosted VoIP system that delivers service to thousands of employees at many locations
  • Re-segmenting a network to increase its capacity over 15,000 devices with varying levels of “treatment” (content filtering, Quality of Service) based on which network they join
  • Rolling out redundant, Wireless ISP (WISP) internet connections at 20 locations

I could go on, but if reading that list gets you really excited, you’re likely a CCNP candidate.

What types of questions should I expect at an interview for a CCNP R&S job?

It depends on if you get a marshmallow-style interview (ex: “Tell me about your previous positions? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Yada, yada…”) or a “blended interview” (personal and technical…my favorite). If I were interviewing you, here’s what I would ask. I’ll also add WHY I’m asking the question:

  1. What was the creepiest situation you’ve ever been in technically? What did you do? (Looking for: humor, creativity, and real-world experience.)
  2. What is the biggest outage you’ve ever caused? How did you handle it? (Looking for: Real-world experience, personality, humility, willingness to take responsibility.)
  3. If you were configuring BGP, what attributes would you have available to you? What are some others? (Looking for: Technical depth, but more importantly, what do you do when you don’t know?)
  4. What do you do for your network documentation? (Looking for: A “gritty” person. No one does Visio on the spot (and very few engineers even like Visio). I want to hear someone get excited about drawing it out on paper/whiteboard. I want someone to pull a network diagram of their house out of their back pocket.)
  5. Describe your home network. (Looking for: Someone who loves this so much that they deploy VLANs in their bedroom.)

NOTE: Jeremy’s interviews are not atypical.

TIP: Keep in mind that you will build plenty of labs to earn your CCNP certification. Real-world experience and crazy stories can be gained nearly as well in a lab as an actual business.

What other skills should I highlight when applying for a position that requires a CCNP R&S?

Personality. You should glow. Key attributes that I look for when interviewing someone:

Humility. Someone who knows they’re that good, but also knows there’s plenty that they don’t know — and they’re willing to admit it.

Tenacity. CCNP-level positions are rarely 8 a.m to 5 p.m. I want to know that when the network is down, you’re driven to get it back online, even if it means missing the pre-screening of the latest Star Wars film.

Humor. Not someone who tells jokes or is full of sarcasm or cynicism (these actually highlight someone who will affect the company culture negatively); rather, someone who can laugh at himself/herself. Someone who smiles when reflecting on situations (albeit painful) that they’ve gone through previously.

I don’t know. Should I stick with the CCNA or progress to the CCNP?

You might not quite be convinced that CCNP R&S will serve you well. Whether you already have your CCNA R&S or thinking about going down that path, Jeremy has those answers for you, too!

Should I even get my CCNP R&S?

I’m not going to answer what everyone thinks I will here. I’ll start with a solid “Maybe;” as I’m sure you’ve heard 1,000 times, there is no replacement for experience. I’ve seen folks with 10, five, and even one year of solid experience in positions that are immensely satisfying in both pay and job function. So, rather than answer this question in a template way, I would flip the question and ask you, my dear reader, “What are you after?”

The individual immersed in technology is a lifelong learner. This is not a “comfortable” career, as some desire. If you were to park your knowledge for a few years, you might find yourself being replaced by someone younger, faster, and more adept.

The CCNP R&S provides a guided track to increase your knowledge to yet another level. It’s impressive. It differentiates you. It opens doors that would not be open to a CCNA candidate. But it can also place you into a role that’s more visible and more critical. Yes, it will likely offer higher pay, but will involve more demands and pressures with more complex puzzles to solve. Sound exciting? Get your CCNP. Freak you out? Find a different direction.

Why do I need the certification? Can’t I just get my CCNA, and gain experience at a more senior level?

This is a really good question — I’ve seen it happen. The CCNA candidate lands in the right position with the right organization, gains experience and moves up the ladder quickly, camping out in their dream job. It happens. But I’ve also seen (more often), CCNA-certified individuals stuck in a position they don’t particularly enjoy, and unable to land an interview with the place they really want to work.

Think of it this way: Can you get a great job with just a high school diploma? Sure, it happens. However, your options are limited as there are some companies that won’t even let you in the door without a college diploma. The CCNP (and CCIE, the Ph.D. of certifications) act as your “higher education” in the certification world, opening very similar options as a bachelor, masters, or doctorate college diploma.

Whether you plan to sit for the CCNA, CCNP, or even the CCIE exams, Jeremy has all the Cisco training you need to learn the skills that will advance your career.

You might also want to read our recent post on Building your Own CCNP R&S Home Lab!

Start your Cisco training today!

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