PMP certification: Is it really worth anything?

A COUPLE DAYS ago I received an e-mail from an under-30 project manager who has a degree in construction management and five years of experience as a project manager for a larger HVAC contractor in south Florida. He asked if I thought that his earning the Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute was worth anything. Would it be worth the considerable time,

A COUPLE DAYS ago I received an e-mail from an under-30 project manager who has a degree in construction management and five years of experience as a project manager for a larger HVAC contractor in south Florida. He asked if I thought that his earning the Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute was worth anything. Would it be worth the considerable time, trouble and expense that earning it would entail and, most importantly, would it help accelerate his career track? My four-word answer to him was, “yes, no, maybe, possibly.”

I wasn’t trying to be flippant or humorous in my response; I was just trying to give an honest answer as best I could. On the face of it, common sense would tell you that earning any license or certification or anything with any credibility would help differentiate you from the rest of the pack of fellow rat-racers. At the minimum it would increase your chances for better positions at better salary and perks along your career path.

On the other hand, unless you’re a project manager under 50 and have given your heart and soul to project management as a career path and done tons of investigative homework, chances are you’ve never heard of the Project Management Institute or its nationally recognized certification program. It follows that most of the upper management types in our industry have zero to little knowledge of PMI and, therefore, while they might notice your PMP certification on your resume, chances are they could not care less what it is or what it means.

Your knowledge, provable employment track record and personal references in mechanical contracting are still 90% of what gets your foot in the door to a potential position as a project manager most of the time. You can have all the professional certifications and degrees that you can earn, but if you don’t have a successful track record, forget it. PMP or any other certification or degree simply becomes so much pretty wallpaper for the office you won’t have.

You’ve got to give the Project Management Institute credit for at least trying. PMI has 30+ years of experience at trying to bring some sort of semblance of sanity and order to an otherwise chaotic and scatter-shot world of project management. With such an ever-growing track record of its own, PMI does mean something to some people within the trade and having the PMP designation might make a difference sometime to someone somewhere.

So the young PM needs to assess his return on the time and money spent earning it.

Considering the PMP certification is based on the “Project Management Book Of Knowledge”/PMBOK as published by PMI and is not specific to any one industry or trade, I guarantee you’ll find a whole bunch of statements of principles and facts within it with which you’ll disagree. You may even disagree vehemently on some but, guess what, PMI doesn’t care! You’ll have to adjust your thinking to suit what’s in PMBOK or you won’t be able to pass the exam.

As a prerequisite, you must have a provable track record for a couple years and have been on the hot seat for at least a couple of jobs that PMI requires just to earn enough “points” to become qualified to sit for the exam. Then it becomes a matter of time spent in local PMI chapter study groups and money spent for the actual exam. Would it be worth it to you?

At this point in your career, if you plan to stay with your current employer for the near-term future, I’d simply ask my boss if I were you. Ask him if he thinks certification gives you any extra credibility, i.e., would it increase your chances for promotions and raises. If it wouldn’t, then it becomes a more focused assessment of how you think it might help you in the future, possibly with another employer.

If you don’t have a four-year or better degree and/or a slew of unlimited-class contracting licenses, earning a PMP certification would at least give you some sort of “neighborhood qualification” to put on your resume, so it is something to consider.

For more information, contact the Project Management Institute, 4 Campus Blvd., Newton Square, PA 19073-3299; phone: 610/356-4600; fax: 610/356-4647; e-mail: pmihq@-pmi.org; Web site: www.pmi.org.

H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited master’s licenses in boilers, plumbing, heating and air conditioning. You may contact him by telephone at 919/462-0773 or via e-mail at [email protected]