Getting certifications is a great way to help you build credibility in your new field during a career transition. It is important to understand that when you are a neophyte to a field, by nature you are a risk due to lack of experience. Getting certified in your new career not only demonstrates that you have to knowledge of the field you’ll need, it also shows that you are motivated and willing to do what it takes to achieve a goal, which can go a long way in showing an employer that you are not as big of a risk as they may think.
But some certifications are easier to get then others. For example, it is relatively easy to get certified as a Microsoft IT professional. All you need to do is pay for the test voucher, study the materials covered and take the test to pass. But for other certs, the barrier to entry is much higher, and if you are in transition it can be nearly impossible to attain the certification because it puts you in a bind.
Take for example Project Management, a skill that is very hot in industries of all kinds right now. The major certification in this area is the Project Management Professional (PMP), awarded by the Project Management Institute. The problem for those in transition is the high barrier for entry for that particular certification: It requires either a secondary degree, 7,500 hours leading/directing projects and 35 hours of project management education or a four year degree, 4,500 hours leading/directing projects and 35 hours of project management education as a prerequisite! Of course this verifies the strength of the certification once you achieve it, but for those who are transitioning it puts you in a catch-22: You need experience leading/directing projects, but you often need the certification to get the jobs that afford you that experience.
So what can you do if you aren’t in a position where you can get experience leading/directing projects? Is the PMP attainable? Not right away, but if you are creative there are several steps you can take to get you eligible.
- Look for alternative certifications – Just because the PMP might be out of your grasp, that doesn’t mean you should just give up! There are many alternative certifications which can not only help you reach the goal and help you get hours needed for something like PMP. The PMI offers the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) which is much lower on prerequsites, and there are also Comptia Project+ and Associate in Project Management from the Global Association for Quality Management. Both are good places to start.
- Read the Books – There are TONS of books out there that can give you a good start on whatever you are trying to do. Just for Project Management, you have the perennial starting point Project Management for Dummies, as well as numerous other works like Project Management for Non-Project Managers and Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams which can help you get up on the lingo and principles you’ll need later.
- Ask for Projects to Work With – Even if your current job doesn’t involve leading projects, it’s likely that there are projects at your workplace that you can get involved with. Sometimes just asking if there are any available or asking to be put in touch with project leaders can open up a lot of doors for you. If that isn’t an option at your workplace or in your current job, try getting involved with projects in your town or with a nonprofit in your area.
It’s not easy when you are in this Catch-22, but with a little creativity you can put yourself on a path to get to your goal!