Certification is a great way to get a foot in the door; however, remember that employers prefer hands-on experience to certification if they must choose one over the other. Even if you can't claim "on the job" experience, once you're certified, you should go into any job interview prepared to sell your learning and hands-on experience (Even if you only have a two-node network at home that you've practiced on).
I would strongly recommend pursuing a small sequence of CompTIA certifications to start with. Begin with the A+, then go for the Network+, then get the i-Net+ (all of these are documented at www.comptia.org). After that, you?ll not only have a ?pretty good general computing and networking background, you'll probaly have a much better idea of what kind of certification you wish to pursue going forward from there. One more thing, you can read a general online book I've written about certification programs at my parent company's Web site at www.leapit.com (You must sign up as a member to gain access to this book. It is called "Certification Essentials" and appears within the LearnIt area on the site). Depending on what kind of work you want to do, I'd recommend pursuing an MCSE for network administration work, or the Cisco CCNA/CCNP if you'd be happier working on network infrastructure. If this sounds like so much gibberish to you right now, it won't after you complete the initial series of CompTIA exams (which is, of course, why I recommended them as your starting point).
This was first published in April 2001