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How to Become a Certified Project Manager

Faculty Insights Industry Advice Management

Northeastern’s Joe Griffin, Associate Vice President of Business Development and associate teaching professor in the Master of Science in Project Management program, explains the importance of becoming certified as a project manager.

Becoming a certified project manager is an excellent idea for the person who wants to seriously pursue a career as a project management professional.

A certification provides a clear signal to your organization, or the organization you hope to work for, that you’re no longer the “accidental” project manager, but a serious professional who wants to excel. It also helps you begin to establish and master a framework for how you approach project work.

As you will see later, there are a number of different certifications relevant to project managers—each with a particular framework behind it. Your certification signifies that you have a solid grasp on that framework. What’s more, a majority of today’s job postings either require or strongly prefer that project management professionals have a certification, meaning you are more likely to be considered for a role if you’re certified.

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What Types of Project Management Certifications Are There?

So, how do you become certified? First, you need to decide which certification is right for you, and there’s likely more project management-related certifications than you realize. Here is a sampling:

The Project Management Professional (PMP®) is the most commonly referenced certification by far. As of March 2017, there were 761,905 PMP® certification holders worldwide, and some estimate that there are more than 120,000 certified scrum professionals globally. Scrum-related certifications are growing much more rapidly than the PMP® certification, but the PMP® certification is more broadly referenced and relied upon across different industries and project types.

The good news is that you don’t have to choose one type or another; you can earn more than one certification. So how does one do this?

How Do I Choose the Right Certification?

Begin by researching the certification that is right for you. Does the company or industry you’re focusing on prefer one type of certification to another? You can search job boards by certifications or keywords to learn more about this.

Second, research the certification you think is right for you. Is it recognized globally or only regionally? What are the educational, job experience, testing fee, and ongoing continuous education requirements? All these factors need to be evaluated.

Third, chart a path for success. Like any good project manager, create a list of requirements, set a schedule, and execute your project. Prepare for the exam by taking a class or studying with colleagues.

Finally, develop a plan for how you will leverage your new certification. Make sure your current employer knows, and then update your resumé and LinkedIn profile. Connect with a community of practice or local project management chapter to continue to strengthen your skills.

A final piece of leveraging your certification may come as a surprise: Did you know that if you hold one of the Project Management Institute’s certifications, such as the PMP® or PgMP® or PfMP®, you could gain advanced standing into a graduate certificate or master’s degree program?

Of course, you may ask why you should even consider an advanced degree in project management if you are certified; excellent question.

One of the certifications mentioned above shows your commitment to being an excellent practitioner, but a graduate certificate or master’s degree in project management raises your potential to a different level.

By completing a graduate program, you will focus not just on learning the definitional knowledge that’s so important for a certification exam, but on developing deep project management competencies through an applied and experientially focused curriculum that allows you to build and validate your technical, strategic, and team-oriented skills. You will strengthen your ability to effectively engage others, think critically, solve key problems, and lead organizational change and strategy initiatives.

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