Project Management

The Catch-22 of Project Management Certification and Experience

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The Catch-22 of Project Management Certification and Experience

Categories: Career, Certification

I get a lot of questions from people who are getting started in project management.

Many have a common theme around the problem of gaining experience when many of the positions that you find posted require a PMP certification.

Here's the deal.

What Catch-22?

It may seem like a Catch-22, but it's really not.

You know those jobs requiring PMP certification? Those are not entry level jobs you're applying for.

Any employer who is requiring PMP certification for an entry-level project management position does not understand what the PMP is. What you need instead is a more entry-level role if you don't have experience yet.

This can come in many forms. For many of us, we got our start by doing project management on the side. In addition to our day jobs we started managing projects. I realized that managing projects and creating something new was what I most enjoyed about managing people.

Another avenue is to secure a role such as Business Analyst or Technical Lead. More established companies will have different levels of project manager roles. One of the things that I teach is when assessing organizations you might want work for, take a look at what their organizational structure looks like. What sorts of titles do the different roles have in their company?

Corporate Project Culture

When you start to see a pattern of progressing levels of responsibility for project management rolls, this might be a good organization to grow your project management career with.

Examples include "Project Manager  1, 2, and 3" or progressive levels such as "Junior Project Manager", "Project Manager", "Senior Project Manager".

What about those of you who would rather work in smaller companies with maybe more of a startup feel to them? In many cases if you secure some type of lead technical role or people management role within my start up or small-company you will have the opportunity to manage projects. (You won't be able to avoid them!)

Startup Project Culture

In startup companies people wear many hats. That's how I got my start in project management. I did manage a few projects at a larger fortune 500 company, but I really got to manage a lot of projects when I was just the Operations Manager for a small startup company.

One of the downsides of doing this in a startup company is there is less of an established process or training in project management as a discipline.

But on the flipside you can learn SO much in a startup environment about business, product development, and leading teams that is hard to come by in a large and well-established company.  These people that thrive in a startup environment instead of the large corporate culture can show you a lot about getting things done.

I think that really helped me to start thinking critically about how projects are delivered, and one of the reasons why I'm a big advocate of Lean and Agile delivery methods today. If you spend your entire career within a large organization you don't really get exposed to this type of thinking much.

You really have to think about what type of environment excites and motivates you.

What Is Your Path?

Would you rather go into an established organization that probably has training manuals on project management and they have their software development lifecycle all mapped out on pretty little diagrams?

This can be a good environment for someone brand-new to project management to learn one way of managing projects.

Or do you get motivated by having to figure it out?

I am of the latter persuasion. I love to go into a situation that is fairly unstructured and inconsistent, and shape that culture into a highly performing delivery mechanism of products.

I did this even when I was starting out, and so can you.

Even when I really didn't have any experience yet managing projects in any kind of formal way, the challenge of trying to figure it out was an awesome incentive for learning as much as I could.

And you can do the same.

You Can't Wait To Be An "Expert"

You don't have to know everything there is to know about project management or even have any experience at it when you start out in either of these situations. For those of you like me who identify as lifelong learners and read several non-fiction books a month and attend training or webinars whenever you can, you can succeed in any of these environments.

If you're not naturally drawn to learn more every time every day about managing projects and delivering products, and you instead must force yourself to learn more about this process, then you may want to reconsider project management as a career path.


 If this doesn't excite you then why are you pursuing it as a career? You'll probably be doing this for the rest of your life - don't you want to enjoy it?

Posted on: October 16, 2012 07:41 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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"Any employer who is requiring PMP certification for an entry-level project management position does not understand what the PMP is."

And here is your real catch-22: the amount of employers who offer project manager jobs without knowing the first thing about project management is astounding.
Just recently I was idly glancing at some job offers, and like the hip kids say these days, I "facepalm'd": a job advertised as a project manager role which in fact turned out to be for a sales position, a full-fledged PM position that paid less than my first job right after college, a junior PM that for some reason required at least 2 years of prior experience... I'm not saying you're a SME after just 2 years, but come on, unless you've been sleepwalking the whole time you shouldn't be considered a junior anymore.

So anyway, yeah, maybe the people who are getting started in the profession are aiming too high too fast, but I am convinced that the improper use of the terms "Project Manager", thrown around like a buzzword by clueless recruiters, definitely doesn't help anyone in finding the right position for their skills.

"Any employer who is requiring PMP certification for an entry-level project management position does not understand what the PMP is."
Ha ha... Perhaps the employer does understand. It is, like you said, a Catch-22 situation. A tricky one that if you are a junior PM and admitted that you are not PMP certified, then you are not qualitifed for the job. On the other hand, if you claimed that you are PMP certified, then you are lying (maybe you cheated in your profile submission) and therefore you will be rejected due to integrity issue. Either way, you will not get the job and the employer will not find any suitable candidate.

BTW, I have once seen a job ads that has a JD of a typical PM but the title is "Problem Manager". Interesting...

Great point Julien, it's about how these positions are marketed by companies as well, definitely.

LOL Wai - "Problem Manager"

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