IT professionals have different needs at different points of their lives. Some start out just wanting to be able to pay the bills, while others are looking for a job they enjoy. Then there are some IT professionals who pursue further studies or certain certifications to gain the additional skills needed for bigger, better jobs.

Whatever their reasons, IT certifications can open up all kinds of doors, but the certification that provides the most benefit depends on an individual's professional needs. Here are some top certifications that can help fill a number of common goals.

1. For More Money - Project Management Professional (PMP)

The Project Management Professional certification is known to be the most important certification for project managers in general and is one of the most popular certification tracks for IT professionals. This is because it is very difficult to achieve, due to its very stringent requirements and qualifications. It is said that only highly experienced project managers have a chance to pursue the PMP. But the payoffs are worth it; a PMP credential holder can expect a higher salary than any non-PMP certified professional. According to a 2012 survey by Global Knowledge, PMP-certified professionals are the highest paid in the business, with an average yearly salary that tops $110,000. (Check out more certifications that earn you the big bucks in Top 5 Highest Paying Certifications and How to Get Them.)

How to Get It:
Professionals interested in attaining the PMP need three to five years of project management experience and 35 hours of formal project management education to take the certification. You can check out the full details on how to get this certification here.

2. To Be In Demand - Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP)

According to a March 2012 article by Erik Eckel on, the Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008 is the most practical and most in-demand certification available today.

The MCITP certification lets pros validate their skills in Active Directory, working in enterprise environments, the Windows 7 OS, and network and application infrastructure configurations.

This certification should make landing a job in either a small business or large corporation easier because it certifies the skills necessary for all kinds of IT environments.

How to Get It:
This intermediate to advanced certification is open to IT professionals who have experience in working in complex computing environments. It also involves five different examinations. You can check out the full details on MCITP here.

3. For Small Business - Microsoft Small Business Specialist

If you work with small businesses, then a Microsoft Small Business Specialist certification may be your choice career ticket. This credential helps professionals build appropriate software solutions for small businesses, and provides them with the resources, tools and software they need to make a businesses successful.

How to Get It:
To become a Microsoft Small Business Specialist, professionals must be a member of the Microsoft Partner Network, subscribe to Action Pack software, and pass an exam. Check out the full requirements for becoming a Microsoft Small Business Specialist here.

4. To Stay Ahead of the Curve - CompTIA Cloud Essentials (CEP)

It's important that IT pros follow the trends. Nope, we're not talking about the latest fashion, but what's hot in IT. For the past few years, "the cloud" is getting all the buzz. As more and more businesses and enterprises move their IT infrastructures and services to the cloud, the need for IT professionals who know the basic ins and outs of cloud computing is likely to grow. The CompTIA Cloud Essentials certification is one of the top certifications to capitalize on this growing trend. (Learn more about why cloud computing is such a hot topic in Cloud Computing: Why the Buzz?)

How to Get It:
The best thing about the CompTIA Cloud Essentials is that it is an entry-level certification and does not have prerequisites. CompTIA, however, suggests that applicants should have an overall knowledge of IT operations and at least six months' experience in an IT environment. You can find full details about CompTIA Cloud Essentials certification here.

5. For Personal Satisfaction - Certified Software Quality Analyst (CSQA)

For many people, job satisfaction or happiness in a job are more important than money. So what jobs tend to keep IT pros happy?

In 2012, compiled a list of the happiest jobs based on a survey of more than 100,000 employees. The top-scoring job of all those in the survey (including non-IT jobs) was software quality assurance engineers, probably because of the high salary they earn and the satisfaction that comes with being the gatekeepers for releasing high-quality software products.

CSQA certification attests to a professional's skills and competence in all areas of software quality assurance, from testing to documentations, to code review and release management.

How to Get It:
All CSQA applicants need to have two to six years of experience in an information services job, depending on the degree they have. They should also be working as a software quality analyst for the past 18 months.They must further adhere to the code of ethics set out by the International Software Certification Board. You can check out full details about CSQA certification here.

6. Best Investment - Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

Pursuing certification is often a major investment in terms of time and effort. Fortunately, there are some certifications that are less stringent but still deliver in terms of prestige and salary. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification is one of those. According to Crisp360, CISM is obtainable for IT professionals at all career stages, and avoids the extreme costs of time or money that many elite certifications require. Plus, professionals with this credential earned an average salary of $110,000 per year in 2012.

CISM is targeted toward those who are looking to move up the IT and IT security career ladder. It basically certifies a professional's IT security expertise and security program management skills. Demand for these skills makes CISM a solid and lucrative choice for professionals looking to transition to a higher level in their careers.

How to Get It:
Aside from passing the CISM exam, professionals also need to subscribe to the ISACA's code of professional ethics. Continuing education is also required. You can find the full details about CISM certification here.

For IT professionals, IT certification programs are not only a way to gain credibility in their fields and to verify and prove their skills, but also to achieve personal objectives. An IT certification could open the door to higher pay, more job satisfaction and even more opportunities. Which one you choose should be based on what you hope to achieve.