ITIL certification guide: Costs, requirements, levels and paths

ITIL 4 is IT’s go-to framework for delivering IT services. From ITIL Foundation to ITIL Master, here’s everything you need to know about the latest ITIL certifications.

ITIL certification guide: Costs, requirements, levels and paths
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The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) offers best practices for delivering IT services using a systematic approach to IT service management (ITSM). ITIL certification is near the top of almost every list of must-have IT certifications, and for good reason. As an IT management framework, ITIL can help businesses manage risk, strengthen customer relations, establish cost-effective practices, and build a stable IT environment that allows for growth, scale and change.

The ITIL 4 was updated by Axelos in February 2019 to include a stronger emphasis on maintaining agility, flexibility and innovation in ITSM, while still supporting legacy networks and systems. As of 2021, ITIL 4 has been fully rolled out and Axelos announced plans to discontinue ITIL 3 completely by the start of 2022. Those with an Expert level ITIL 3 certification qualify for the transition module and exam that will let get you up to speed and certified in ITIL 4. For those without an Expert level certification, credits from ITIL 3 modules and examinations will transfer to the ITIL 4 certification scheme.

ITIL 4 certification paths

The ITIL 4 certification scheme is similar to the past ITIL 3 certification scheme, but it’s been streamlined to offer two main designation paths with seven modules total between both certifications. You will progress from the Foundation level to either the Managing Professional (MP) or Strategic Leader (SL) paths. You can stop at either path, or if you choose to complete both paths, you’ll be eligible to earn the ITIL Master designation.

ITIL Foundation

No matter which certification path you commit to, you'll first need to pass the ITIL Foundation module. This introductory exam covers the core concepts and principles of ITIL 4. As an entry-level certification, it’s designed to teach newcomers the basics of ITIL 4 and to certify that even seasoned pros have the foundational knowledge to move onto more advance certifications.

The ITIL Foundation course takes place in a classroom over two and a half days. At the end of the course, you’ll take an exam consisting of 40 multiple-choice questions. The exam lasts 60 minutes and you will need 26 correct answers to pass. Courses are offered through accredited training organizations — you can search for one near you on the Axelos website. Alternatively, you can also choose to self-study using practice exams and other study material from Axelos or third-party providers.

ITIL Managing Professional (ITIL MP)

The ITIL MP certification is for IT practitioners who work with technology and digital teams across the organization. It covers the knowledge necessary for running IT projects, teams and workflows using practical and technical skills. To complete the ITIL MP certification, you’ll need to pass a series of exam modules:

  • ITIL Specialist Create Deliver & Support: This module covers core service management techniques, service performance and service quality and improvement methods, and is aimed at ITSM practitioners responsible for the end-to-end delivery of IT services and products.
  • ITIL Specialist Drive Stakeholder Value: This module covers engagement and interactions between customers, users, suppliers and partners with the service provider. You’ll cover SLA design, multi-supplier management, communication, relationship management, CX and UX design and customer journey mapping.
  • ITIL Specialist High Velocity IT: In this module you will learn how to integrate methodologies such as agile and Lean with other technical skills, including cloud, automation and automatic testing, to deliver rapid delivery of products and services.
  • ITIL Strategist Direct Plan & Improve: The fourth module covers the practical skills you will need to “create a learning and improving IT organization with a strong and effective strategic direction.” You’ll focus on how to leverage agile and Lean to plan and deliver continual improvements quickly.

ITIL Strategic Leader (SL)

The ITIL SL certification is for all digitally enabled services in the organization, not just IT operations. This certification focuses on how IT influences and informs business strategy. To earn your ITIL SL certification, you’ll need to pass two exam modules:

  • ITIL Strategist Direct Plan & Improve: This is the same module as offered in the MP certification, covering the necessary skills to create a “learning and improving” IT organization.
  • ITIL Leader Digital & IT Strategy: In the second module, you’ll learn how to align the business and IT strategy and how to handle disruptive technologies.

ITIL Master

If you complete all modules required for both the MP and SL certification paths, you’ll qualify for the ITIL Master designation. To become an ITIL master you will need at least five years’ experience working in IT service management in a leadership, management or higher management advisory level.

The ITIL master designation requires a strong background in ITSM and extensive hands-on experience working with ITIL, but there is no training course or fixed syllabus for this designation. You’ll be tested on a situation of your choosing, so the material will be personal to your experience. The certification requires hands-on experience and you will need to “explain and justify how you have personally selected and applied a range of knowledge, principles, methods and techniques from the ITIL framework and supporting management techniques to achieve desired business outcomes,” according to Axelos.

ITIL 3 certification compatibility

ITIL 4 is backwards compatible with ITIL 3 — the courses included in the ITIL 3 certification scheme have been assigned a credit value based on its level of ITIL content, so they will remain valuable to your ITIL professional education. Those with 17 or more credits, or candidates who earned the ITIL Expert certification under ITIL 3, will be eligible for the ITIL 4 Managing Professional Transition module and exam. This module is designed to get candidates quickly up to speed on the changes to the new release and sets you on the path to earn the updated ITIL Managing Professional (MP) designation.

If you want to find out more about how your ITIL 3 certifications will transfer to the ITIL 4 certification scheme, Axelos offers recommended routes for candidates in this position.

ITIL certification training

You can prepare for your ITIL 4 certification a few ways depending on how well you know the material. If you are familiar with ITIL 4 and feel comfortable self-studying for the exam, you can download study materials and practice exams through Axelos’ website. Organizations can also opt to have ITIL trainers come train people at the organization and get certified in-house.

If you’re new to ITIL or want a refresher before taking the exam, you can opt for an accredited training provider, which you can find through the Axelos website. Several companies offer training and courses both online and in-person. Companies that offer self-paced learning, online course, hybrid classes and flexible learning paths include:

  • Global Knowledge
  • SimpliLearn
  • Beyond20
  • Good E-Learning
  • ITSM Academy
  • Pink Elephant
  • LearningTree

ITIL certification salary

The ITIL 4 certification can help boost your salary, increasing the amount you can earn in several positions. On average, IT workers — or those in relevant positions using ITIL 4 — earn an average annual salary of $96,000 per year, according to data from PayScale.

PayScale also offers data on how an ITIL 4 certification can boost salary across several specific IT positions:

Position Average salary
CIO $182,000
IT director $60,678
Business analyst II $134,000
IT manager $101,000
Service delivery manager $101,000
IT project manager $94,000
IT business analyst $72,000

ITIL certification cost

Registration fees for both the ITIL 3 and ITIL 4 certification exams vary by location, ranging from around $150 to $500. While you can self-study for ITIL exams, coursework is strongly recommended, and fees for classes, whether completed online or in a classroom setting, vary by location and institute. Training can run up from $500 for an online course to well over $1,000 for classroom-based intensive instruction, and training may or may not include exam registration fees.

ITIL resources

Along with ITIL 4, Axelos has launched My ITIL — an online networking resource that connects candidates with publications, tools, templates and insights from industry leaders. One year’s subscription to My ITIL is included with your ITIL foundation exam and will give you access to resources and content relevant to your ITIL training, such as:

  • ITIL publications and templates
  • White papers
  • CPD tools for professional development planning
  • Digital badge for your ITIL Foundation certificate

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