Spoiler alert: none of the product managers we talked to have a product management certification. When asked the question, their answers ranged from a casual no and a shrug to passionate opposition.
But that doesn’t mean a certification is useless. While it’s not something that made an impact in their careers, some of our product managers outlined situations where someone should think about pursuing a product manager certification.
This is our second post in a four-part series on the role of a product manager. In our first post, we covered a product manager’s responsibilities. On October 30th, we’ll be covering product management skills, so stay tuned. Thank you to our product managers for participating in this series!
Keep in mind that the opinions expressed beyond this point are solely those of the product managers and aren’t necessarily representative of the organizations they work for.
When is a product management certification helpful?
Even though the product managers we interviewed didn’t have a certification, they gave us some insight into when getting certified can be helpful.
When you’re starting out
If you’re in a completely unrelated role but have eyes on a product management job, a certification can be an important first step. After all, if you’re like most people, you might not even know what a product manager is even responsible for.
When asked how important a product management certification is, Minh Tran Van Ba, a Product Manager at Mastercard says “it would depend on how advanced you are in your PM career. For someone who is trying to get in the door, a certification would definitely help. Less so if you’re an established PM.”
For Ahmed Majaat, Product Owner at GSoft, it’s not just about getting your foot in the door, but making sure everyone’s on a level playing field: “For a long time, there was no specialized training for product managers. You were an entrepreneur, or you came from an engineering or marketing background. This makes it difficult to compare product managers.” Hiring becomes more difficult; you almost need to see the product manager in action before you have a good grasp of their skill level. With product manager certifications, Majaat argues that it’s easier to know who has the basic skills and who doesn’t.
If you want to join a certain industry
The need for a product management certification varies depending on where an aspiring product manager wants to work. For agile tech companies, a pilot project might tell a hiring manager all they need to know about a candidate. But that isn’t possible in all industries.
Ellen Chisa, Product Manager, Entrepreneur, and Founder of Dark, puts it simply: “The more bureaucratic the organization, the more a certification will help you.” In other words, the more cogs in the machine — and the bigger the departments — the more impact a certification can have on a resume. In these cases, having that certification gives an applicant the ability to check a convenient box.
Albin Poignot, co-founder and product manager at Linky Product, agrees: “It depends on the company you want to join. If you want to be hired by insurance companies and banks, companies with strict processes, having that certification is more important.”
Why isn’t a product management certification absolutely necessary?
While a product management certification can absolutely open doors for aspiring product managers, everyone we interviewed didn’t have one on their resume. So why isn’t a certification necessary for a product manager’s success?
Product management depends on soft skills
While a certification can help someone develop the basic skills they need to chase a product management role, it doesn’t usually encompass all the necessary aspects of the job. While there are plenty of product management skills — like task management and strategic planning — that can be taught, that’s not the case for all of them. As Majaat puts it: “Product management isn’t about mastering technical skills so much as it is being passionate about a product and market, being agile, and having outstanding coordination and communication skills.”
We’ll be diving deep into product management skills in an upcoming post, but it bears mentioning here as well; soft skills are crucial for product managers. While a certification gets you up-to-date on the field’s requirements and basic knowledge, active listening isn’t something you learn from a certification program.
The road to product management isn’t a straight line
Product management is still a young discipline, relatively speaking. In the same way that project managers don’t often follow a strictly defined path before landing in their role, product managers come to the job in different ways.
According to Catia Crespo, Product Manager at Ansys, that’s something that makes certification less important for product managers: “I received my Product Owner certification after being in the field for a few months and I didn’t feel like the theoretical part taught me anything new. Most of it I’d already learned from reading and working with more experienced PMs.” Crespo also specifies other ways that an aspiring product manager can benefit from a good mentor. A mentor will help the aspirant pursue the right knowledge and guide their growth in the field.
Chisa goes a step further: “Much like many of the best programmers don’t have a classic degree, many of the best product managers don’t have a certificate.” For Chisa, that lack of a common background is what helps the best product managers shine.
Certifications can be complementary
Just because a product manager certification isn’t essential to a PM’s career doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be open to it or certification in other fields. That’s a point Ludovic Maire, Group Product Manager at SSENSE hits on: “Continuous learning is key, but if you feel like you’ve acquired strong enough skills as a PM, doing a certification in a complimentary area (eg. data) might be a better investment of your time.”
Since a product manager’s responsibilities include staying on top of what multiple teams are up to, knowing more about their day-to-day can be incredibly useful. So while an aspiring PM might not be best-served by a product manager certification, they can — and should — begin a habit of career-long learning.
Learn on the job
Getting certified is nowhere near a bad thing; it can definitely be an asset on a resume. But if you’re an aspiring product manager, you don’t need to worry about having a certification. You’ll get more out of learning product management principles, working on your skills, and finding opportunities at your current job. All topics we’ll be covering in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.
On October 30th, we’ll be releasing the third post in this series, which will cover essential product management skills. Check back then for more. In the meantime, you can read our entire project manager interview series here, or learn more about product management.