I’ll be attending my second formal training this year, getting my Certified Scrum Master certification to match the Certified Product Manager certification that I picked up earlier this year. After 15 years in the business, you might wonder why I’m just now getting around to being “certified”, and I hate to say it but the real reason is simple — the company I work for is paying for it. Otherwise, I’d happily chug away for another 15 years without any form of certification, because I firmly believe that the experience that I have in transforming companies into agile engines is far more valuable in the abstract than any specific certification that I might collect along the way. But, there are a few times when and where a certification might be worth pursuing…let’s talk about those today.
Certifications Are Proof That You Can Get a Certificate
First, though, let’s be totally honest with each other about Product Management certifications — all they are is proof that you can sit through a 2-day course and (maybe) take a test at the end to demonstrate that you paid attention to the instructor. They’re not evidence that you understand the application of the materials, and it’s not evidence that you’re competent to take the materials that you’ve learned and apply them in the real world. Most people who run product teams know this — common Product Management certifications aren’t like AWS certifications, nor are they the same as a CISSP or an MSCE certification. Those programs have very strict curriculums, and the outcomes are intended to be immediately actionable within their given spheres of influence. I’ve yet to see anyone who would qualify as a competent Product Management based solely on any of the common certifications available for the profession. So, when you’re considering whether to get a certificate, understand that it’s not going to provide you with immediate opportunities all on its lonesome.
Certifications Are Better Than Nothing
I teach Product Management at General Assembly every now and then, and in every class there’s some number of students who want to know if that class alone with lock down a job in the industry. I’m always bluntly honest with them — all by itself, your completion of my class will not get you a job. But, what it will do is demonstrate to hiring managers and human resources teams that you’re dedicated to the profession, that you’re curious enough to do more than craft a fancy cover letter. You’ve invested in yourself and in furthering your experience and education — and that does, in fact mean something. It’s a conversation starter, an experience to relate during a phone screen or in-person interview. It’s ammunition in your quiver of experience that you can pull out when you need it and use it to position yourself apart from the hundreds of other candidates for the position. The same applies to any certification — it may not lock the job in on you, but it certainly can improve your chances of having a meaningful conversation about the profession and your future part in it.
Certifications Supplement Experience
Even if you’re an experienced Product Manager, certifications can be helpful in many ways. They can help refresh our understanding of the sources for some of the practices and theories that we implement and manage every single day of our professional lives. They can remind us of the things that we should be doing, but aren’t for whatever reasons and forces surround us every day. They can also open up some opportunities that might not have been available previously — certifications and their related acronyms are common search terms that automated systems and human reviewers look for. Especially if you can get the training reimbursed by your company, there’s little reason not to obtain a certification if you’ve also got the experience to stack it upon. While I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to seek them out, when the opportunity presented itself this year, I took it — so that the next time I wind up in need of a new position, those acronyms will be clear and present on my resume and I’ll have the practical experience to describe why Scrum is just a starting point.