I’m a PMP® and a PMI-RMP®. I was an Earned Value Professional. I’ve gotten some other government certifications to work for certain clients. I passed the Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATCS) exam with flying colors. I’m looking seriously at getting my Certified Scrum Master credential. 


What each one of those abbreviations represents is an admission ticket and a little more. If you know me, you know that I’m not landing planes. That’s because my eyes are too bad. I took the ATCS exam to find out if I could do it. I got scheduled to go to the Academy for training and then failed the physical. I had the ticket. I just couldn’t get on the ride.

As you go to choose which credential makes sense for you, there are some fundamental questions to ask before you begin taking classes and studying your brains out. 

The Questions

  1. Is there a market? 

Look at the jobs you’d like to have (internally and externally) and then check to see if they require all of the players in those jobs to have a certification. In many cases, it’s a want, rather than a need. Next check the people in the organization who have jobs you’d like to have. Do they have the certification? If not, the market for the certification may be more limited than you’ve been led to believe. If they do have the credential, start studying.

  1. Is the credential achievable? 

Many people begin looking into the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and find out they don’t have the experience required to sit for the exam. They can create a Gantt or a burndown chart with aplomb, but they don’t have the three years of management experience required, assuming they have a B.A. or higher, or five years’ experience without one.

  1. Are there alternatives? 

While there are over a million PMP®s on the planet, not all companies are wed to the notion that project managers need to be familiar with waterfall, hybrid, and Agile models. If the company is largely an Agile management shop, earning the PMP® may be swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. While the PMP® can take months of preparation and require extensive experience, the CSM can be achieved in a week. In many organizations, they are considered equals.

  1. Is there a specialty where you care to focus? 

Earned value specialists are hard to come by, but the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering International (AACEI.org) can make you stand out as an Earned Value Professional. The Project Management Institute has 19 different certifications for everything from portfolio management to business analysis. There are credentials for product management (brand management), leadership, and cybersecurity. Pick a passion!

Other Considerations

Be a thought leader, or join a BIG crowd. With a million certified PMPs, there are plenty of people out there who know the rigor of the process and the challenge of getting there. There are almost half a million certified scrum masters. PMI boasts less than 3,000 business analysts with their credentials. Only about 800 have become certified in portfolio management. Those elite 800 have bragging rights if the credential ever takes off. They were part of the early crowd. (I’m having lunch Friday with PMP #14…which is an early adopter for a credential with a million certificants). The early folks right now are those working on the cybersecurity maturity model certification, which is just getting off the ground but has already found a home in the Federal sector. 

Will You Win as a Result?

There are other roads to recognition. Writing blogs and recording podcasts can open many of the same doors. But it may be in your best interest to tackle those in social media as you pursue your next certification. Catalog the journey. Record your best insights. Win or lose, pass or fail, others will recognize you for a degree of thought leadership. (Better, of course, that you pass). 

The power of certifications is that they provide a clear, directed path acknowledging your accomplishment in a field of endeavor. You don’t have to invent your approach. It’s there, waiting for you to highlight your abilities in that particular arena. If you search for prominent and recognized certifications, you’ll find some of the obvious candidates, such as PMP® and Human Resource Management, bubbling near the top. But don’t overlook the bizarre and one-off. Someone is likely out there looking for someone with your skills but would qualify for the Certified Happiness Coach or Clairvoyance certifications. 

The whole idea of getting certifications is to get to a point where you are seen as an expert. Your first step into that foray should be: In what discipline am I truly certifiable?


About the Author

Carl Pritchard is an Apex contributor and trainer with over 30 years of experience. He’s certified as a PMP® (#1049) and was the second PMI-RMP® certified on the planet. He appreciates those of you who make it all the way down to the bottom of these blogs because it means he adds a little value to your day-to-day. He welcomes your comments at [email protected].