Should I Get Certified as a Project Manager?

Lots of project managers ask: should I get certified? Let's look at the power of certification... and its limitations.
Jan 18 / John Connolly, MLIS, PMP
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"I want to be a project manager... should I get certified?"

It's a common question I get asked.

Many early-career or pivoting project managers are eager to land a new role and certification looks like a major item on the career development to-do list.

Moreover, many employers are starting to list the PMP® certification as a requirement for consideration for their open roles. This has added pressure for less experienced candidates looking to compete.

Make no mistake, I believe in the power of certification, but I also recognize there are limits to it. Let's look at what certification can (and might not) do for you.

It Opens Doors...

The PMP® definitely opens doors. It will get you a second look from employers who are eager to find candidates who know what they're doing on projects. It can get you to the table for an interview. This can be powerful for candidates looking to stand out and get over the hump.

Certification can also assist with establishing a project manager's reputation and voice in their organization, their teams, and in their network of colleagues. The PMP® in particular is considered prestigious in many fields. I have spoken with project managers who found that key stakeholders were a little more inclined to listen to their ideas and advice after getting certified. Of course, that's not a guarantee. But having an extra tool in the toolbox when it comes to stakeholder engagement can help.

It's also worth noting that certification can help meet client requirements. I work in the Washington, DC region and many organizations are working on projects for the United States federal government. These projects have exacting requirements, often mandating that employees working must be certified. In some circumstances, being certified is the difference between deep consideration and being outside the parameters of a role's firm requirements.

...But it isn't Magic

I have interacted with some project managers who are frustrated post-certification because they had unrealistic expectations about what certification would do for them. While having their certification helped them compete, they still found themselves in competition for the open roles in which they were interested. Employers are still looking toward many other factors when actually hiring: related experience, technical expertise, and familiarity with the tools and approaches already in use in the organization can be just a few of these factors.

Another truth to consider is the scope of PMP® certification. There is a lot that's covered in 180 questions, and the exam is certainly challenging. However, certification isn't a complete education in project management. Project managers need to remember that they will need to continue their journey with relevant technical expertise, familiarity with new and established tools in their industry, and always attempt to grow experience in delivering valuable results.

Keep it Balanced

Certification is an excellent way to grow your credibility and get some extra consideration for roles, but you should plan your career growth journey carefully. Remember, PMP® certification requires you to have a minimum of 36 months of experience before applying to sit for the exam, and getting certified doesn't mean you have nothing more to learn!

Plan for your growth. Prepare yourself for certification and understand that nothing will happen automatically. You will still need to demonstrate your skills and experience, show employers your value, and interview well to put yourself in the best possible position to succeed.
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