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What You Should Know About Certifications and Degrees


Once when I was at a networking dinner I started up a conversation with the woman next to me. She seemed like a nice enough person. She told me that she was looking for a job in project management. She handed me her business card and began giving me her elevator pitch.

I glanced at her business card. After her name, she listed her MBA degree along with six certifications. As she finished her pitch, which included the fact that she was currently working on her second master’s degree, I felt myself almost flinch. That’s a lot of education and theory.

I reluctantly asked her about her experience. She was rather vague about what she had actually done and I wasn’t surprised. She had been so busy collecting certifications and degrees, I doubt she had much time to actually put any of it into practice.

Related post: How Your Career Advancement is Not a Zero-Sum Game

The benefits of certifications and degrees

I don’t mean to discount the certifications and degrees, but I become suspicious when someone has more than two on their resume, business card, or LinkedIn profile. I tend to wonder what is missing from their experience that makes them have to tout the educational side.

For full disclosure, I am certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) and have it as an extension on my LinkedIn name. I also have an MBA which is listed in the body of my LinkedIn profile.


Depending on your industry, certifications are nice-to-haves. Certainly an accountant with a CPA is important. Many industries, such as insurance give special attention to certifications.

As a project manager, the PMP is usually listed as “a plus” on job descriptions. It is rarely a deal breaker. If I’m interviewing someone with a PMP, it’s only a benefit if they are equal to another candidate in all other respects.


A bachelor’s degree is important if you are in the first 5-10 years of your career. A masters is important if you’re in the first 10-15 years of your career. If you have more than fifteen years of experience, I could not care less whether you have any degree, let alone where you obtained it.

After that many years in the workforce, your experience should speak for your abilities. Your accomplishments on the job should sell you more than academic or certification accomplishments.

For more information, check out Career Management for Mentors

Having sat for the PMP certification exam, I can attest that it did not make me a better project manager. My experience managing projects, working in the consulting industry, and learning from my mentors has done much more to make me a better project manager.

Obtaining an MBA did not make me a better manager either. It taught me some important business skills that I still use today. But the biggest benefit I get from the MBA is that it enhances my resume enough to occasionally get an interview if I want one. But it only gets my foot in the door. No one would hire me just because of it.

Related post: Promotion: Dos and Don’ts of Managing Your Peers


When I see someone with multiple degrees and/or certifications, I (perhaps falsely) assume that they are more interested in learning theory and taking tests than they are at actually being a manager or a leader.

It is an indication to me that they are overcompensating for their lack of quality experience actually doing the job. They have resorted to overkill on the theory side to make up for what they lack on practical experience.

How do you respond to people with excessive certifications and degrees?

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

I welcome your questions and comments.

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