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Is Project Management Certification Worth It?

~ By Michelle Symonds

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Do internationally-recognised professional credentials increase your worth in the jobs market? And will the effort of studying to pass the exam really improve your career prospects?

What usually makes someone a "good" project manager is their experience, the fact that they have made mistakes and learnt from them in a real project environment and that they have achieved success in a real project environment. Experience on a range of projects and, most particularly, on complex projects can never be underestimated. But neither can the right sort of academic qualifications and relevant training. A project manager with the right credentials, such as one with a PMP Certification, is not necessarily better at leading and directing projects, but the qualification itself is an indication of how serious that person is to be recognised as a professional. That in itself is an indication of drive and determination to succeed which are qualities that are far more likely to contribute to a successful project as well as to a successful career.

Of course, it is true that some organisations actively encourage their employees to become certified, and some even insist on it. They provide the opportunity, the funding and the time away from the office to achieve this. Some companies even offer salary rises for people who gain the PMP Certification. But there are also many smaller, successful organisations which do not place so much emphasis on these industry-recognised credentials which may be for cultural reasons or simply a lack of training budget. That may, however, be changing as project management moves more towards being recognised as a profession in the way that accountancy and law are with their emphasis on qualifications and continuous professional development.

There are many experienced project managers who would argue that they have proved their worth with academic qualifications and other relevant qualifications over the years of their careers, not to mention their extensive experience so why would they be interested in yet more credentials. Well one reason is that of continuous professional development and another, perhaps more important, reason is the advantage when it comes to enhanced career prospects.

So why is it worth obtaining a PMP certification?

The PMP certification is an indication to a new employer that you have the proper amount of relevant experience and training and have a good enough understanding of the PMI Body of Knowledge and more general project management principles to pass the exam. The stringent pre-requisites to the exam mean that this is not just a paper credential - you can only take the exam if you can demonstrate that you have between three and five years of practical experience running projects.

So the fact that many employers place such a significant amount of weight on this credential is understandable. Many organisations do not even interview people without this designation, which may be unfortunate for the many highly successful people who previously did not have the need for this type of credential. For example is a project manager with a bachelor's degree and a master's degree and ten years practical experience a less suitable candidate than one with only a bachelor's degree and three years experience but also a PMP Certification? Some employers might think so but it would be encouraging to believe that, in a professional world, employers can see beyond certain credentials. Nevertheless, as times change in the project management world so too must project managers.

So, quite simply, project management courses that lead to internationally-recognised credentials such as PMP Certification are worth the effort. They draw attention to your CV and get you in the door for the all-important interview where you can impress a prospective employer with your knowledge and previous experience.

Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management training can transform a good project manager into a great one and is essential for a successful outcome to any project. There are project management courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses in internationally recognised standards such as PMP Certification, APMP and PRINCE2.

Comments (5)

Topic: Is Project Management Certification Worth It?
4/5 (5)
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21st December 2015 12:59pm
Muthu (Chennai) says...
Thanks for the update. But what makes PMP a huge success rather than other PM certs like PRINCE2?

In my view, as Duncan has updated, it is one of the other aims to get into a role and prove yourself, and take it to the next level.

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21st December 2015 7:08pm
Duncan (London) says...
PMP has more credibility as a certification because of the PM experience and rigour needed to obtain it that's why it’s successful. Although certifications achieved in weeks, such as PRINCE2 are worthwhile in introducing people to project management, they cannot compete with the depth of knowledge and experience needed to earn the PMP. Also, many do not require practical hands-on experience as a project manager.

Personally, I think we place too much emphasis on obtaining certifications and not enough on honing relevant skills and gaining hands-on experience in the workplace. We need to strike the right balance between theory and practice.
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17th December 2015 12:24pm
justanannoyedperson (Oldham) says...
I am annoyed that it has nearly been a year, and I haven't got a job. Forget a job I can't even find opportunities to do volunteering. Yes, I passed my exam, but what's the point when there is nothing available out there. I have learnt that before taking these courses and paying so much money, you should first have experience in jobs related to that sector and have contacts because if you don't, it will be a waste of money taking this course or any other course with learning people or other websites. I have tried hard just to get volunteering and have been contacting firms individually; nothing's worked. The sad thing is that learning people called and made me excited about doing this course and said it is a great way to earn a lot of money. They said I will get a lot of support and you will always have this qualification, but no, it lasts for only a couple of years. A waste of money because in the future they will ask you to do more courses and you pay hundreds of pounds for that as well.
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20th December 2015 10:56am
Duncan (London) says...
A certification is just one weapon in your armoury; it will take you a few steps up the ladder to your goal of becoming a project manager, but not all the way to a job. A certification shows your commitment to working in the profession and that you, at least, understand the basic tools and techniques needed to run successful projects. It doesn’t guarantee you a job or that you’ll earn a lot of money. You don’t need a certification to become a project manager, but it’s helpful as part of the overall package you present to a prospective employer.

When you talk about your project experience at an interview, make sure you talk about the benefits your projects delivered. For example, reducing costs or increasing sales. Many people don’t and just talk about the mechanics of the project. In the end, it’s the benefits to the business that count not how you got there. One suggestion I give people is to prepare an elevator speech to convince any hiring manager that you know how to manage projects.

Regarding renewal every few years, isn’t that how you keep your knowledge current and prove your ongoing worth as a project manager?

Have you looked for volunteering opportunities at a Food Bank? They are often looking for help in my area. It’s always a positive mark for me when I interview candidates if they have some volunteering experience.

Good luck!
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24th December 2015 2:12am
John Hamilton (Jacksonville) says...
I agree that without any experience, a certification almost becomes moot. I'd suggest you put out your resume on as many social job boards as you can, like Careerbuilder. Specify a project coordinator or junior project manager position. They don't pay as well as a full PM, but it will get you the experience and will give you great exposure to the real world.

Work with staffing agencies like TEK Systems in your target area. Getting contract positions will give you exposure to different industries and different types of projects. Then, after three years, you can focus on the industry and the types of projects you do well at, like software/application development.

Enhance your knowledge by understanding Agile, Six Sigma Green Belt, ITIL. Maybe take some basic courses. Once you have the knowledge, become active in these activities and work your way to getting those certificates.

Believe me, it will take time, but after the 5-year mark, you will have plenty of experience and opportunity to make a six-figure income. From 7-10 years, you can become a senior PM and make more than your peers who don't have the PMP certification or whatever other certificates you have.

You should have started looking for experience during your training, but no sense in stressing about what might have been.

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