You’ve earned the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification. What’s next? There are three broad choices to continue learning: two traditional options and one innovative strategy you might not know about yet. Before diving into those options, let’s examine why professional development and certifications are worthwhile.
3 Reasons Why Professional Certification Is Worth Your Effort
Putting additional time and energy into certifications as a working professional is a daunting task. You already have a full schedule of activities. The thought of taking on additional studies may feel overwhelming.
But there are a few general reasons why ongoing professional development activities are worthwhile.
- Career advancement: Some career paths require specific types of knowledge. These requirements range from legally mandated in accounting, medicine and law to strongly encouraged in specific technical fields. In this case, you pursue additional learning because there is a payoff in the form of higher income, status and responsibility. For example, some project manager job postings ask for applicants that hold a PMP certification.
- The pursuit of mastery: Earning an additional certification can speed you along in your journey to attaining mastery. Earning a challenging certification like the PMP gives you some proof of mastery. However, achieving world-class mastery takes years of deliberate practice. Earning additional certifications related to your career goals can help.
- Staying engaged through the joy of learning: Learning new skills is one way to stay engaged with your career. Rather than doing the same tasks over and over again at work, learning new skills with a certification opens up new horizons. Even better, learning new skills keeps you competitive with your peers.
How To Choose Your Next Certification
As a busy professional, you might only have the time and energy to earn one or two certifications per year. Given that constraint, it is wise to carefully consider your options before paying fees and starting your studies. Start by choosing from two broad options: technical certifications and leadership skills.
Option 1: Developing technical skills with certifications
Certifications are an excellent way to develop new technical skills, especially with specific technologies. Several industry surveys like PC Mag’s 10 highest-paying IT certifications find that technology professionals with specific certifications tend to earn higher salaries. As a project manager, earning a technical certification can boost your credibility with your project team and improve your ability to plan.
There is one trade-off to emphasizing technical skills at the expense of other areas. It may lead you to be seen as a technical expert rather than a potential leader. To be clear, technical experts are fantastic and often earn good incomes. However, if your goal is to move into leadership roles (e.g., project director, program manager, etc.), then earning multiple technical certifications may not help that much. If your project focuses heavily on a specific technology like cloud computing or Salesforce, earning an entry-level certification in that field is worthwhile.
Tip: When possible, look for technical certifications with a project or experience requirement. These requirements push you to create something tangible with your technical skills.
Option 2: Enhancing your leadership skills
Leadership skills are learnable. There’s a problem, however: There is no single path to leadership skills.
Instead, you could spend years learning from many different leadership programs. For example, you might sign up for an MBA program online or through a night school. There are also leadership coaches who can help you develop specific skills. Some organizations also offer specific leadership development programs.
Before signing up for an expensive MBA program or the equivalent, ask yourself about alternatives:
- Does your organization have a leadership development program? These programs are ubiquitous in larger corporations like General Electric and Vanguard. Ask your manager or human resources department to see if these programs are available to you. In many cases, these internal programs are free to employees.
- Identify specific leadership skills. If there is no company program available, dig deeper into the specific skills you need to develop. For example, you might find that public speaking skills are weak. In that case, investing three to six months of effort into giving speeches through Toastmasters will give you a great return on investment.
If you’re not sure what leadership skills to develop, start with self-reflection. Review the leadership skills highlighted in the PMI Talent Triangle® (e.g., listening, conflict management, negotiation, and team building).
Based on this self-reflection, you might identify two to three specific skills of interest. Before you invest in earning a certification, meet with your manager or a mentor to seek their feedback. Ask them a question like this: “I’m looking to advance my leadership skills. I’m not sure whether to focus on negotiation or problem solving right now. Which route would you recommend?”
Option 3: Create your own learning adventure
This concept is inspired by the excellent book Ultralearning by Scott H Young. It is an excellent choice for a person with goals that do not align well with a formal certification. In this path, you develop a personal learning plan that uses various resources like books, online courses and consultants.
Like any development strategy, there are advantages and disadvantages to a do-it-yourself approach. The advantage is flexibility. You can also set your budget and areas of interest. The disadvantages include less recognition (i.e., there is no test result you can point to) and potentially less rigor (i.e., reading a single book about a skill might not be enough to learn a complex skill).
Two Final Tips To Set Yourself Apart
The harsh reality is that many other professionals put time and effort into learning new skills through certifications. Given that reality, there are two ways to distinguish yourself from other professionals:
- First, create a project using your new skills (e.g., automate a work task using Python programming).
- Second, promote your new expertise periodically in your current role. If nobody knows you have a new skill, you are less likely to have the opportunity to practice.
You have three options—technical certifications, leadership development and choosing your adventure—to learn new skills. Your next step is simple: Choose a learning activity that aligns with your career goals and get started now.