PMP – A Quick Fix?

PMP, PMI, PMBOK According to the Ottawa Citizen the 20th most popular book on Amazon Canada last week was “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge”.

As a career consultant who works extensively with project managers and government job seekers, I have no trouble interpreting this development. It’s the beginning of the new year. Numerous senior and middle managers from high tech are still looking for work, and more people than ever are looking for work with the Canadian federal government. If they apply for a contract position as a project manager with the federal government in Canada, chances are about one in three that the position will require a PMP certification.

What’s a PMP and why do they ask for it? Could a PMP make a difference between employment and unemployment?

What Does a PMP Involve?
“PMP” (Project Management Professional) is a designation awarded by the Project Management Institute, an international body headquarter in Pennsylvania, and requires a combination of education, experience, and study hours, with an application, before you sit an expensive exam.

The study hours can cost you well over $1000 from a professional training institute, or you may find training at a substantial discount through a community college or government-subsidized career centre. You also require continuing education credits to maintain your certification. The PMP is not quick, and it is not cheap.

Why Do They Ask for a PMP?
A certification is a third-party affadavit that you have the experience you claim and that you are conversant enough with the terminology and concepts of project management as defined by PMBOK (project management body of knowledge) to pass an exam. It should allow you to sit down with another PMP or person familar with PMP terminology, and discuss work you have done, or are going to do, using a common language.

That is a major reason why the certification is valued by the Government of Canada – which is in business not as a software shop, nor as a manufacturing or aerospace company – but to deliver services to the people of Canada. When you work for the federal government as a project manager, you will be working with people from a variety of disciplines, who may have little or no exposure to your technical background, or even to formal project management. Thus, the PMP carries an implicit reassurance that (1) They got what they paid for (2) You can talk to each other and mean the same thing.

Is Getting a PMP Right for Me?
If you are considering a PMP, here are three questions to ask yourself:

1. What is Meant by “Project Manager?
Spend some time understanding what the federal government means by a project manager, and how PMBOK describes project management. Note that a hands-on development or design manager in high tech is *not* a project manager, although they perform project management tasks (e.g.,time management, people management, risk management). In high tech, the equivalent of project manager is often called a “product manager”. While usually technically knowledgeable, they function more on the business and marketing side of the business. Government has a huge need for managers that have both technical and business savvy.

2. How Far Along Am I in My Career?
If you have under 10 years experience and are able to commit the time and money, a PMP may be a helpful differentiator in landing the work you want.

I’ve talked to experienced project managers who’ve indicated that if you have 10+ years of experience, mastering PMBOK is largely a matter of assimilating terminology to write the exam.

3. Is Not Having My PMP the Real Stumbling Block?
Including PMP certification as part of the mandatory criteria allows screeners to disqualify you without further consideration. But you need to look critically at a number advertised opportunities to see what other criteria* might disqualify you. This can include prior years of experience with federal government projects, prior experience with the client department, and domain knowledge (e.g, health, security, the environment).  Is not having a PMP consistently the sole disqualifier for you?

If you’re wondering why you’re not qualifying for the jobs you’ve applied for, and would like some professional help, Aurelia Consulting Services works with federal job applicants to identify any weak points and position your winning points, so that you waste less time chasing after work that doesn’t fit, and make the eligibility list more often for the work that’s right for you. Aurelia also offers regular workshops on positioning yourself to win work with the federal government.

This post has focused on how PMP certification might – or might not be – helpful when applying to work for the Government of Canada. What has your experience been with government or the private sector? Please leave a comment!

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