December 31, 2018 will mark the end of a significant part of my life. I will no longer be able to put the letters PMP behind my name. I also won’t be able to put PgMP, and PMI-ACP behind my name as well. (If you don’t know what those letters mean, look to the footer of this post).

I worked hard to get them, studying all the standards and formulas to pass the skill testing exams. Actually, the PMI-ACP was a little too easy in my mind, but the other two took hard studying work on my part. Over the years I maintained them with hundreds of hours of education, conferences, webinars and more.

Yet, here I am on the eve of letting them expire and have no intention of ever renewing or looking in that direction again.

What have I learned about certifications

Certifications have long been the bane of the corporate world, and that situation isn’t improving. If anything, I think it might be getting worse in ways. Perhaps it’s just my view of the world that is making it seem worse.

When I look around the internet and I find far too many workshops being advertised by holding the certification out first. While I’m sure many of these courses have great content, for me it’s a sign people are trying to find the easy answers. It feels too much like trying to sell snake oil.

Taking a certification program is the easy part, even if the testing is rigorous. The real work starts when you get back to work next day.

For example, I’ve been hearing stories of companies sending leaders to a 3-day workshop which results in a certification. I hear how the workshop is great, and how the content make total sense. I’ve even heard how they’re leaving this workshop feeling inspired by what they’re learning.

The problem is they don’t know what to do with it once they get back to their corporate world. So, they go back to their normal mode of operation and doing what they’ve always done.

I describe the situation as “like trying to quit smoking while living in a house full of smokers.” — Jessica Soroky.

One of the study guides I used when studying for the PMP, strongly encouraged me to learn the PMI concepts and ways of thinking to pass the test. Once passed, the author wrote, I would be able to go back to the real world and forget this stuff. (And it turned out to be sound advice … unfortunately). If only I knew then what I know now.

After passing each certification, I received lots of congratulations which felt great on my ego. After that, it seemed holding those letters behind my name held little importance in what I did day-to-day.

As I reflect over the time I held these certifications, I can honestly say I don’t think any of them helped me solve even one problem. Imagine in the midst of a tough problem, being asked to jump in an lead a project based on letters behind your name. Yet, this happens.

My personal view is any credibility I received as a result of the letters behind my name is simply misguided. Please give me credibility based on how I perform, not the letters behind my name.

What’s in a few letters

There are different programs which result in you being able to add letters behind your name.

There are ones in which you take a 2-3 day workshop, write a small test and you will be certified. I don’t think it’s all bad as it proves you have some basic knowledge to work with. However, you lack the experience to know how to use this new knowledge.

There are certifications programs which take a big investment of time and experience. For example, I hold the coaching certification CPCC. This certification takes at least a year to attain, and is only possible by proving you know the theory and have the experience of coaching with their framework.

There are, of course, college and university designations as well. They’re in a different category of what it takes to earn and what you now. However, for me, none of these really prove your ability to do a job any more than a certification does.

Now while I might sound all down on letters behind your name, I think they play an important role in today’s corporate world. They are a filtering criteria when looking for new people. The letters are a sign the person takes their career serious enough that they’ve at the very least studied the theory (depending on certification type, of course).

I also want to be fair to the people doing the job of recruiting. Yes, you have a tough job of finding good people so letters provide a great filter criteria. However, I challenge you to get out of that box and do something innovative to find the best talent out there regardless of the letters they hold.

So, if you need the letters to have the job you want, then by all means go out and get them. Get the job you want. However, don’t lose sight of the fact it’s only the start.

Not leading with the letters

I keep hearing if I want to be an executive coach how I need to be a certified coach. I hear how companies are always asking about coaching certifications.

I have spent the last two years working as an executive coach with big corporate clients. I have yet to be asked about my certifications. Now to be fair, to date, I have not been going through any recruiting or HR type function to get in the door. That might make a difference, as the people I’m connecting with care about the value I’m delivering first.

I prefer to start by building a relationship and through this create an opportunity to prove my value. In other words, it’s a low-cost & low-risk way for us to enter into a working relationship together. This is what I want to be judged on.

If you ask me about my certifications I’m happy to show them to you, but I just don’t lead with them. If you’re curious I hold the CPCC, and once the paperwork goes through the ICF-PCC.

Invest in the yourself (and others)

I want to be clear about something. I am not telling you to avoid certification programs. They don’t play a big part in my world, but depending on where you are they might in yours.

If you lead a team, investing in your people taking these programs will show you are investing in them. They get some more knowledge, you get a better employee, and they have an added extra on their resume. It’s a win-win.

However, let’s stop talking about these like any certification is going to solve your problems. The people will solve your problems, and the letters they have behind their name only play a minor role in this fact.

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If you don’t know those certifications, they all are issued by the Project Management Institute. They are:

PMP – Project Management Professional
PgMP – Program Management Professional
PMI-ACP – Agile Certified Professional
CPCC – Certified Professional Co-Active Coach
ICF-PCC (pending) – International Coach Federation, Professional Coaching Certification