There are a lot of product manager online hangouts on the interwebz. Slack groups, forums, facebook groups, blogs,
They are a great opportunity to learn new skills, see what other people are working on, and receive personalized advice on specific scenarios you may be struggling with.
Members of these forums are often experienced PMs who love to hang out with other PMs and help new PMs out whenever possible.
Because of the expertise present, many contributors seeking to switch to product management roles come asking questions to these folks about how to get into the PM role (which is awesome I might add).
One of the most frequent questions I see from aspiring PMs is quite obviously – “How do I become a PM?”.
The next common question is “What certifications should I take to become a PM?”.
In an attempt to answer this question in a definitive way, I’ve scoured the various hangouts for recommendations for people looking for certifications and tallied up the most common, controversial, and enthusiastic recommendations. The findings are below and presented as:
- Most recommended
- Frequently recommended
- Recommended with some caveats
- Recommended for certain situations
Don’t bother with a certification
Yup! The most common response to “what certification should I get?” is “You don’t need one!”.
To people who are looking for a credential to add to their resume, this is likely an unsatisfactory answer.
Still, it’s a legitimate recommendation. Why? Most hiring managers aren’t looking for a specific certification. What they’re looking for is success managing products.
What do you do if you don’t need a certification? How do you show you can be
Learn on the job or teach yourself
People get into product management in different ways. Some people just fall into it. Others start their own thing and then decide to become an employee/product manager. Meanwhile, others wiggle their way into a product role through their existing role.
The consensus among product managers is that you typically can’t get a product job without experience. That admittedly sucks for people trying to break into the field.
If you’re having a hard time breaking into the field, one option is to create your own product. If you don’t have the motivation, time, or can’t take the risk to start your own product or there is absolutely no way for you to wiggle your way into a product role in your current company, then certification can be an option.
Still, I feel like I have to add this in as a caveat. Certification does not equal experience. There’s a big difference between learning something and really applying it. Alright…now that that’s out of the way….
If you’re still set on getting a certification or have a training budget to spend, here are some certifications other Product Managers recommend.
Pragmatic is probably the best-recognized certification in the PM field and even existing PMs mentioned just how much they learned from this certification.
They have 7 different certification levels, so one of them should strike your fancy. If you have a training budget, this is a great option for you to look into.
General Assembly Product Management Bootcamp
If you’re working for a startup, the GA Product Management Bootcamp has rave reviews all around.
Just an FYI, this isn’t a “certification” in the true sense. It’s more of course, but still, it can go on the
Like the General Assembly (GA) Product Management Bootcamp, this certification also got rave reviews. Unlike the GA one, this one is a little more corporate/bigger business focused.
CSPO – Certified Scrum Product Owner
The CSPO is great for product managers who may be looking into moving into a Senior PM, Product Director, or CPO type role. The CSPO will help you understand how to define the product vision and lead your team
Recommended (with some caveats)
Product School Product Management Course
Caveat: This course is frequently recommended for those who are new to product management. If you’re already a product manager, you may find the curriculum too simple. Otherwise, this course typically gets glowing reviews.
CMU Masters in Product Management
This is a whole Master’s degree so this will obviously require quite a bit of commitment — both in terms of time and resources. Not to mention the opportunity cost of the money you could be making while you’re in the program. All that being said, if you’re working in Big Co who loves to see MBAs and master’s degrees in their high-level employees, it could be a good choice for you.
University of Alberta Software Product Management Specialization
Similar to the Product School recommendation, course takers found this course to be aimed more towards beginners. If you’re a total beginner, then go for it! If you’re already in a product role, you may find your time better spent elsewhere.
Certified Scrum Master
If you know you’re going to be working on a software product that uses agile or other similar frameworks, then this is a great certification to take to get familiar with the process. You’ll be better able to speak the lingo and run standups, backlog reviews, and do team estimating.
If you’re not working within an agile organization, then you could spend the few days it will take for the course and study time on something more relevant.
PMI-ACP (Project Management Institute – Agile Certified Practitioner) certification
I hadn’t really heard of this one before going through all the listings, but it kept on popping up. It was mostly recommended only because some job postings require it. So only really check out this certification if the role you’re going for requires it.
University of Washington Certificate in Software Product Management
If you live in Seattle, this is a great solution. However, there is no online option so it’s not really feasible for most people.
Recommended for Certain Situations
This option is on the “certain situations” list because it’s not cheap.
That being said, personalized executive coaching is probably the best thing you can do for your career if you can swing it. You’ll have someone who can give you an unbiased perspective of your professional strengths and weaknesses, help you improve your soft skills (where we all know the real $$ is), and coach you on how to be a better leader.
Similar to the Masters in Product Management degree from CMU above, an MBA is a big commitment in terms of time, money, and opportunity cost.
In some companies an MBA may be needed to stand out for that move to an executive position. If big company exec is in your career goals, pursuing an MBA could be a great decision. Otherwise, make sure you really are 100% sure it’s a good decision before pursuing it. Student loan debt is nothing to go lightly into.
Many new PMs believe that there is a lot of overlap between the PMP and what a product manager does. We can totally see that viewpoint, but in reality, a PMP in some cases may actually hurt your chances of snagging that product management job.
Why? Because hiring managers may be concerned that you’re more focused on scope, schedule, critical paths, and other more rigid concepts usually found among PMPs. So if you do have a PMP, show your flexibility and product focus in your resume whenever possible.
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