by Sarah K. White

ITIL certification guide: Costs, requirements, levels, and paths

Oct 05, 2021
Careers Certifications CIO

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.

instructor with student in computer lab
Credit: Desola Lanre-Ologun / Unsplash

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 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 has 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 path you choose, you’ll first need to pass the ITIL Foundation module, an entry-level certification that covers the basics of ITIL 4. Candidates for the ITIL 4 Foundation exam should have a basic understanding of creating valuable products and services for customers and stakeholders, the basic principles of ITIL 4, the four dimensions of service management, best practices of ITIL 4, and key concepts of Lean, agile, and DevOps.

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

ITIL Managing Professional (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. It is aimed at ITSM practitioners responsible for end-to-end delivery of IT services and products.
  • ITIL Specialist Drive Stakeholder Value: This module covers engagement and interactions among 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 necessary to “create a learning and improving IT organization with a strong and effective strategic direction.” You’ll focus on leveraging 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. It is considered a universal module for both paths because it’s designed for “managers of all levels involved in shaping direction and strategy or developing a continually improving team.”
  • ITIL Leader Digital & IT Strategy: In the second module, you’ll learn how to align business and IT strategy and how to handle disruptive technologies. It covers topics such as how to remain competitive in a fast-changing market, maintaining flexible and adaptable environments, and how to effectively build and implement successful IT and digital strategies.

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 need at least five years’ experience working in ITSM in a leadership, management, or 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. 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 need to “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 — courses included in the ITIL 3 scheme have been assigned a credit value based on its level of ITIL content, so they remain valuable to your 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 five-day course will get you up to speed on ITIL 4 and set you on the path to earn the updated ITIL Managing Professional (MP) designation.

The transition exam, titled Upgrade to ITIL 4 Foundation, will be available until June 2022. If you do not complete the exam by that date, you will need to start the ITIL 4 certification process from the beginning.

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

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, accredited training providers can be found 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:

  • Beyond20
  • Global Knowledge
  • Good E-Learning
  • ITSM Academy
  • LearningTree
  • Pink Elephant
  • SimpliLearn
  • Stanford University IT
  • Udemy

ITIL certification salary

The ITIL 4 certification can increase your earning power in several positions. Those in relevant positions using ITIL 4 earn an average annual salary of $99,000 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:

PositionAverage Salary
VP of IT$164,211
IT director$136,004
IT manager$102,535
Service delivery manager$100,039
IT project manager$96,377
IT business analyst$72,852

ITIL certification cost

Registration fees for ITIL 3 and ITIL 4 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 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 gives 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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