Found this response to a question on Slashdot.org regarding moving up from the bottom-feeder level of the IT world, 1st Tier Tech Support or Call Center. It is sage advice that really applies to many fields of work.
Certifications prove you know something.
Degree’s prove you can stick with something and are willing to invest time in something.
References prove you’ve worked with people.
Experience proves you’ve been trusted to do the job by someone.