If you’re looking to become a certified project manager, you have no shortage of options. PMP. CompTIA. Certified Scrum Master. CAPM. But a project manager’s responsibilities can be wildly different from business to business and industry to industry. Is getting a project management certification really worth it? We asked six project managers — three certified and three uncertified — to share their insight on certifications, from what they’re useful for to whether or not they’re necessary.
This is our second blog post in a five-part series on the role of a project manager. In the previous post, we covered essential project management responsibilities. In the next post, we ask project managers about essential project management skills. This series has also covered getting a job as a project manager and project management software. Thank you to our project managers for participating in this series!
A project management certification streamlines the job search
This is the first benefit that came up with most of the PMs we interviewed. Like other fields, certification is shorthand for telling a potential employer what you’re capable of. “To me, when I originally became PMP certified [Project Manager Professional, a certification from the Project Management Institute], very early on, it was a distinguishing factor. I was laid off in early 2003 when the economy really tanked. And hundreds, if not thousands of project managers were unemployed at that time. I was able to say on my resume ‘I am PMP certified.’ Therefore I had the leg up over anybody who didn’t have that,” Cornelius Fichtner, president of OSP International, and host of The Project Management Podcast explains. But he makes a clear distinction between the job market back then and now: “Back in the early 2000s to about 2010-11, something like that, it was mostly PMP-preferred. Starting after 2010-11, it’s been PMP required.” A project management certification saves time and energy for potential employers. Because it’s standardized, a simple acronym can say a lot about what you know and how much experience you have. This is especially true of the PMP certification, for which you need three years of project management experience before you can even apply.
This is something that Alexander Nowak, a marketing and business strategy consultant who managed marketing projects for five years, pointed out as well: “One of the biggest benefits is in the job search phase; it gets you through filters but also conveys to employers, during the interview phase, your skillset and lets them ‘take for granted’ your capabilities here. If you’re seeking strict PMing jobs, I’d argue it’s a must.” It’s a well-known fact that many companies use resume filtering to sift through the mountains of job applications they get on a daily basis. With that in mind, a project management certification is not just an edge over other participants; it can be what gets you in the door.
You get access to resources and knowledge
Beyond letting employers know you’ve got the qualifications and the skillset to make it in the field, being a certified project manager gives you access to resources and knowledge you might not otherwise have. Olivier Hebert, a Team Lead and Release Train Engineer at Desjardins, mentions this: “I believe it’s good to know standards, best practices and techniques. PMP, in particular, has managed to build a large and rich community around it. Personally, I use it as a knowledge reference as well as learning, sharing, and networking.” That’s not to say you wouldn’t be able to network with other project managers without a certification, but going after a certification introduces you to that community.
We all try to keep up to date in our respective fields, but if we don’t make it a priority it’s easy to let that education fall by the wayside. But the PMP certification makes learning a priority. “It’s not a for-life certification,” Fichtner says, “you have to renew every three years, so you’re always learning. It required me to keep abreast of changes in project management approaches and methodologies.” One could argue this makes for better project managers.
What a project management certification won’t get you
While a PM certification can get you through resume filters and gives you access to a community of like-minded professionals, it won’t necessarily give you everything you need to get into the project management field.
For Laurent DuBerger, an agile coach at Element AI and former project manager at GSoft, many of these skills need to be developed outside of a certification: “It’s a certification. What does that mean, really? It means you passed an exam. It means you’re able to study something, remember it, and understand certain concepts. But the real indicator of success, talent, and quality for a PM is something you’ll see in the field. You’ll see it in their ability to adapt to change, in their interactions with others, all things you can’t measure just because they have a certification.” A project management certification can teach you the standards and best practices of the field. But it’s not a substitute for experience.
Following the career track
For many of our PMs, the project management certification was a way to stand out while staying up to date on the standards of the field. For others, the certification was a nice-to-have, while not necessarily being representative of a PM’s ability to do the work.
But here’s another thought. What if you’re already in the company that you plan to work with for the rest of your career? Do you need a certification then? “If you’re already working for a company you’re happy with, I’d say a certification is close to useless,” says Martin Thienpont, project manager at Valtech. “Same with my clients: I was never asked to be removed from an account because of a lack of certification. Results are what matters most, including the process to achieve these results which must be as painless as possible.” In our first post, we went over how a project manager’s first responsibility is making sure a project crosses the finish line. That means making sure the team’s aligned, the deliverables get delivered, and deadlines are hit. In the end, that’s what really matters.
So don’t think the project management certification is the end-all-be-all of the role. If you’re looking to break into the field and stand out, getting a certification is an asset. But if you’re already reached that role and you just want to focus on doing the best work you can, you don’t need to run out and get the certification.
To be, or not to be (certified)
Depending on the career track you’re aiming for, a project management certification can be a nice-to-have or a requirement.
In our third post in this series, we’ll be talking about project management skills. Make sure to check the blog on April 27th — or subscribe to our blog newsletter — to read it.
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