I was recently at an event where several senior meeting planners were being honored. As each planner was called up to the stage, their name and certifications were flashed on the screen. I was struck by several things. First, the divide between the planners who had certifications and those who did not, and second, the sheer volume of certifications some planners had. I kept track and the planner with the most had seven! That's quite the investment in time and effort!
Clearly, certifications are important for some planners and less so for others. Which begs the question: are certifications worth it? And for whom? When in their careers? Here are my thoughts.
CMP — Certified Meeting Planner — is the big certification in the meeting planning world, and it's the certification I have. It’s offered by the Events Council and you need to have more than two years of experience and to pass a test.
To prepare for the test, you’re provided a several hundred-page manual. Don’t be intimidated—if you've planned meetings for any length of time, most of the questions will cover things that are common sense and pretty straight-forward. A lot of times meeting planners join study groups that meet once a week to review material for the test, debate different methodologies, and generally expand your event planning horizons. If that's how you learn, then the journey to the certification will likely prove valuable.
Beyond CMP, there is the CMM Certificate in Meeting Management, offered by MPI. This certification requires more than 7 years and is relatively rare in our industry.
Because we know the value of technology, another certification I think is potentially helpful is the certification offered by PCMA's Digital Experience Institute, the Digital Event Strategist Certification. This certification is orientated around digital events and live streaming. As virtual events become more powerful and important, this is a certification that may increasingly carry some weight.
In my opinion, certifications are most helpful to newer meeting planners when they're trying to break into the industry and want to prove they know their stuff. If you want to prove your bonafides, having a certification can set you apart. If I'm hiring a lower level planner, and I'm comparing a candidate with a certification and one without, all else being equal I'm probably going to hire the one with the certification. That said, as I consider candidates for more mid-level and senior roles, work experience plays a much larger role and the influence of a certification is minimal in my decision making.
A certification is by no means a guarantee of success, however. I've hired certified planners who have been total flame-outs when they got on a conference floor. I've also hired people with no certifications and no background in events and they've been amazing.
One group of people who I think are absolutely well-served by getting certifications are suppliers. When I see a supplier with a certification, I know they understand meetings and can speak my language. For a supplier, a certification can provide a career boost no matter what your experience level.
So, to certify or not to certify? It ultimately comes down to where you are in your career and what you want to do with your career. For some, a certification can provide a major boost. For others, it may be an expensive and time-consuming process that won't have a noticeable impact. Before going through the effort to get one, be clear about your goals and what you hope to accomplish by getting the certification.
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