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To Certify or Not To Certify, That Is the Question.
By Andrea Brockmeier

I certainly have my own perspectives on the topic, but I thought I’d take the question on the road to see what others have to say about their certification pursuits and how it has or hasn’t helped them.

I interviewed two PMPs, Paul and Jon, both of whom earned their PMP certification within the last four years. Paul recently entered into the world of consulting after having spent over 15 years working as a project manager in large organizations. Jon has worked as a project manager both as an internal employee and a consultant for large organizations for over 10 years.

My brief Q and A sessions with these two professionals yielded some interesting responses for those pondering whether or not to make the investment to get certified. Below are some of the comments they shared with me about their professional journey and how certification has played a part in it.

Andrea: Why did you pursue PMP certification?

Paul: I recently decided to try consulting to get some scheduling flexibility I was seeking and I thought it would provide better job prospects vis-à-vis people in the industry.

Andrea: Did it?

Paul: Yep, absolutely. The thing of it is that you make the next cut [when applying for jobs]. Our economy is projectized. Not everybody values it [certification], but more and more companies are looking at ways to cull through the blizzard of resumes they get for PM jobs. Having my PMP to use as a key word is huge. I never saw MBA as required, but I saw a lot of PMP required. There’s no question that I got my current assignment because of my certification, or at least it got me the interview.

Andrea: What inspired you to get certified?

Jon: I was wondering about what I did and how it aligned with my role. In the organization I was in at the time, we had different titles and they weren’t industry standard titles. My manager said, “You’re really a PM, but you’re not called that.”

Andrea: And PMP certification was helpful to you?

Jon: Yeah, I thought it would be good to have some understanding of what that meant. Certification was a test for me to verify how I was practicing PM and how that matched with the overall philosophies of standard project management practice.

Andrea: Did it accomplish that for you?

Jon: Yes, it helped clarify things I was working on. And it showed me areas I wasn’t aware of or not as skilled in. It shed light on what I needed to work on to be a better PM.

Andrea: Do you feel it had an impact on your skills or ability as a PM?

Paul: It didn’t make any difference for me at the time. I was in an organization that didn’t utilize those [industry standard, best] practices, so it really didn’t matter that I was certified. The place I’m in now does use the practices and verbiage, however. Having that language and actually knowing the best practices make me want to learn more. It makes me want to go back and refresh my knowledge and then apply this stuff.

Andrea: Has it had any practical implications for your practice as a PM?

Paul: Sure. It’s energizing knowing the best practices and then seeing how it actually gets used, because the culture I’m in now values it. It’s great to be able to start actually using the language. It’s like I’m not a foreigner anymore.

Andrea: Would you do it again?

Jon: Yes. I have a better understanding now of what PM is about and what aligns with my role and what doesn’t. For example, in my current role, I’m a single point of contact for vendors, but I’m not managing the whole process. It’s interesting to be able to look at everything I’m doing and see what parts of that are project management and what isn’t to keep it “clean.” It makes it easier to know how best to do that part of my job and not wonder what I should be doing or how I should be doing it.

Paul: Yes, that’s why I’m getting my PBA. Plus, it was always my dream job to work at the UN and if you look at their website, there’s a lot of jobs at the UN for project managers.

Andrea: So you’re still holding out hope for the dream job?

Paul: Absolutely!

Andrea Brockmeier is the Client Solutions Director of Project Management at at Watermark Learning, Inc. She began her project management career in the non-profit sector in Dallas where she developed and directed a community program for refugees. After returning to Minnesota, she spent over 10 years managing technical, operational, and financial projects. She also has many years of experience developing and leading technical project teams. Most recently, she has focused on curriculum development and training delivery of project management and influencing skills classes. Andrea holds a number of technical certifications and is certified as a Project Management Professional® by the Project Management Institute. You can read more from Andrea on her blog.

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