In any industry or professional setting, certifications and credentials are a great way to demonstrate to potential employers that you have a basic knowledge of your profession and industry. The Project Management Professional ( PMP ) from the Project Management Institute, Certified ScrumMaster ( CSM ) from the Scrum Alliance, and the PMC from Pragmatic Marketing are three of the certifications that many hiring managers are looking for right now. There are others of course — the Lean Six Sigma belts from IASSC is one that comes to mind. But increasingly, if you do not have at least one certification in Project Management, it is nearly impossible to get past recruiting managers and other gatekeepers. I think in the next couple of years, this trend is going to get worse and soon at least one certification will be required.
Back in 2010 CIO Magazine wrote an article called “Why Project Management Certifications Matter” that even then discussed the priority that IT Managers and Directors were placing on the PMP certification. Getting your PMP cannot demonstrate your effectiveness as a project manager, but it does show potential employers that you are experienced and serious about your profession. To get your PMP, if you have a 4 year degree you need 4,500 hours of experience engaged in project management. If you do not have a degree, then that threshold increases to 7,500 hours. You also are required to take a 32 hour certification class from an approved vendor AND pass a really rigorous exam that was written by PMI at a testing center. Trust me, the exam isn’t easy. After the certification class I studied for at least 60 hours over a two week period. I wouldn’t have wanted to go into the exam any less prepared. The requirements for a PMP really weed out a lot of people. As a result, it is one of the more prestigious certifications that project managers can hold. Of course, PMI offers several other certifications depending on your specialty. Personally I am working towards my PfMP certification which is related to portfolio management.
The CSM requirements are much less rigorous, which has its advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is there are no work requirements, which means anyone who will spend a little time fulfilling the other requirements can get a CSM. Unlike the PMP, the CSM does not demonstrate that you have experience in applying or utilizing the Scrum methodology. To get your CSM you need to successfully complete a 16 hour class and then pass an online assessment. I still think that if you are looking to work in any type of tech or development environment, having your CSM is very important. It does show potential employers that you have been trained in the methodology. PMI does offer an Agile certification called the PMI-ACP, but it does require experience and provable work hours related to Agile implementations.
Finally, the PMC certification is for program managers more so than project managers. In my experience, the line between program managers and project managers is blurred except in large organizations. As a program manager, you focus more on product development and taking those products to market. While a PMC has its own methodology you need to learn related to the product development lifecycle, I have found the lines blurred between product and project management. Many product managers still use project management strategies and methodologies when developing a new product for their employer. To get your PMC it is a pretty simple process — you successfully complete the PMC class offered by Pragmatic Marketing and pass their exam. They have structured the certification in an ingenious way — there are five classes that correspond to five levels of certification. You have to pay for all five classes to get the highest certification, which I think is brilliant. More money for Pragmatic Marketing that way.
So what is my real-world advice to college students and those who are trying to break into project management but don’t have the experience to qualify for the PMP? In talking with people I respect in the project management community and hiring managers, I think you have options. I would get a CSM from the Scrum Alliance and CAPM from PMI and the order I would get them in would depend on the industry I was targeting. If I wanted a job as a project manager with a company in the tech industry, I would get a CSM first. That would include companies in software and web development, hardware, SaaS, and cloud development. Even consumer goods oriented businesses are looking for CSM’s to help with software migration and telecommunications projects. If I was looking to go into healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, or other consumer goods companies, I would get a CAPM from PMI. The CAPM is the entry level project management certification from PMI and requires either a 4 year degree or a HS diploma and 1,500 hours of project management experience. It is a great way to get your foot in the door.
Just like going to college and getting a degree does not prove you are smart, holding one of these credentials does not demonstrate that the holder can lead and project beginning to end. The assumption that a PMP is some type of project Jedi is flawed. I don’t think that a CSM is a Scrum ninja either. But they both do indicate that the holder does know the terminology and can at the most basic level talk the talk with other project managers. They can calculate your CPI and SVI and know how to figure the potential impact of certain positive and negative risks. If you are still on the fence about the value of a certification in general, read this article in the Huffington Post related to the topic. Hiring managers look for these certifications because they know these individuals are serious about their profession and don’t call working the register at McDonald’s project management experience.