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There are numerous project management certifications available. But does the level of choice dilute the relevance of having one?

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There are lots of project management certifications available to people who want to prove they have the skills and experience required to lead a project. But given the changes we are seeing in the world, and the fundamental shifts towards a project economy (as PMI calls it), with more and more work being done in the setting of a project environment, is certification something we should be still be striving for?

1. The argument for experience

Experience counts: as a hiring manager, I would look at experience (amongst other things) before shortlisting candidates. I would argue that it’s not enough to have a certificate: you need to show that you have demonstrable experience in leading projects too if you want a new job. That experience could be as a volunteer or in a different field, or in a role where you didn’t have the job title of project manager. 

But unless you are going for an entry level role, you should expect to have to evidence that you can do the job in practice as well as on paper.

2. So many to choose from 

There are also a dizzying number of certificates. Even certification bodies like PMI now have multiple credentials that cover both broad-brush project management and specialist areas. I could well imagine that an employer unfamiliar with the family of project management certifications may find it difficult to distinguish between what each one means. And it’s even less likely that they know the pre-requisites for each certificate and what the candidate had to do to earn it. 

The more certifications there are – and at the moment the new Disciplined Agile certifications from PMI and the project management certificate from Google are the latest ones I’m thinking about – the more your resume might look like a tick box exercise: you got one, so let’s get another after a decent amount of time has passed to show that you still care about professional development and making it in this career. 

However, you shouldn’t need to do that if you have a certification with a professional body because they will no doubt have a continuous development scheme that members need to adhere to. You’ll be proving your commitment to the job each year, through capturing your ongoing learning and tracking your professional development hours.

Where I’m going is this: the more certifications there are, the harder it is to mark one out as the gold standard. The harder it is for employers to differentiate between candidates (because choosing the person who has passed the most exams is definitely not the way to hire). 

3. The benefits of a multi-certificate environment

We should, however, also look at the benefits of having multiple project management certifications, because I think that it’s a trend that is only likely to grow. As project management becomes a more and more integral part of how businesses run, it’s to be expected that there are more options in more specific areas and industries, to allow employees to have their skills recognized formally. 

It could be argued that certifications in niche areas, like scheduling or risk management, are even more relevant today as a differentiating factor. If you can explain why they are relevant to your job, your employer may be willing to fund further study for you. And I am certainly in support of further study: I’m a lifelong student and constantly on the lookout for how I can build my knowledge and incorporate new ideas into work. If nothing else, it makes the world of work more interesting when you can stay up to date with trends and bring different disciplines into your projects. 

The broad number of project management certifications available should mean there is something that suits everyone: every approach, every flavor of project management is catered for, whether you want to prove yourself in the broadest sense or as an expert in a niche area or methodology. 

4. Staying relevant

I think certification schemes are still relevant to project managers: but the world is changing. Instead of a handful of certificates that were easy to explain to employers, there is now a vast landscape of options. As candidates and employees, we need to be prepared to explain what they mean and why we have them to help our managers and project teams understand the value of project management education and how that adds a layer of expertise to the organization and our work. 

As we move forward, we are going to have to navigate multiple certifications and potentially increased expectations from employers. We’ll have to be the bridge between what it means to earn a certification and how it can be used at work. That means explaining why a certification is relevant and why another one might not be. 

In other words, if we want our project management certifications to still be relevant to employers, we have to prove that they are. That means showing why we’re better at doing our jobs through having them. 

Finally, consider how you can influence the kinds of certificates that are recognized and valued in your workplace. Is there are case for lobbying for greater diversity of certification to bring more ideas and knowledge into the team? Generally, I recommend that job seekers look at job adverts in their desired industry and area and take note of what certifications employers are asking for – then work towards achieving those as they are obviously valued in the domain. 

However, once you are in the door, there could be value in talking to hiring managers about expanding their criteria and considering bringing others into the team with different credentials, because that will broaden the knowledge base overall. It’s always useful to share insights between colleagues and learn from each other: diverse certifications will certainly provide a platform from which to do that.

What do you think? How do you feel about the future of project management certification and whether the exams you took, or plan to take, will help you reach your career goals as well as deliver for your employer? Let us know in the comments below!