Updated: April 18, 2023 - 5 min read
There’s a bit of a debate in the PM community about the value of Product Management certifications—I interviewed 8 leading PM recruiters (including both internal and external recruiters), and we’re surveying many more as part of our Future of Product Management Report to get an answer. The short answer is, yes, certifications matter.
Let me address something right up front—what matters most is a PM’s ability to do the job. Robust training programs can reliably improve a PM’s ability to do the job, and certifications signify that an individual has completed such training. Following this, if the program is reputable, the certification should matter in so far as it validates a PM’s ability.
The above should be non-controversial unless you believe that formal education programs are ineffective or that there are no credible education providers. If that’s you, you can probably stop reading now.
For everyone else, who believes in education, here’s what I learned from our research about the value (or lack thereof) associated with PM certification:
Data from our upcoming 2023 Future of Product Management Report shows that recruiters responded positively to PM certifications. Initial data shows that 86% of recruiters would be more likely to advance a candidate if they saw that the candidate has earned a Product Management certification from a reputable firm. More data on this will be published with the full report next year so keep an eye out for that—meanwhile, let’s keep going based on my conversations with top PM recruiters.
Most recruiters in the Product Management space are familiar with PM certifications and felt that there were a few well-known and reputable training companies in the market. When they come across certifications in the context of a resume or LinkedIn profile, it’s perceived as a positive factor that signals a commitment to Product Management, continuous education, and a self-starter orientation.
Most recruiters do not search for candidates based on certifications—the one exception is when recruiters are on the hunt for aspiring Product Managers. This was not the dominant case for the recruiters I spoke with. They typically notice certifications during the candidate review and screening process.
“A certification can help a candidate stand out during the screening process as it gives me a hint they have a growth mindset.” John Dio, Founder of Boombust
Certifications are one of many factors that recruiters consider. Their value is often assessed in the context of other factors like years of experience and concrete proof of skills required. For example, given two comparable candidates, a recruiter might prioritize the one with a certification for a hiring manager to review. The value here is contingent on how aware the recruiter is of the certification provider and its reputation.
If a candidate completed training as part of a transition into Product Management a year earlier, this might reinforce the perception that the candidate is a self-starter. In this case, recruiters are apt to screen candidates to further validate this perception.
It’s not all positive, though—recruiters are leery of candidates that “stack” or “collect” many certifications. This can signal that a candidate isn’t seriously committed to Product Management.
Merely listing acronyms is much less valuable than explaining what you learned from them. Lola Sizemore, a Senior Product Manager at Hunt Club, explained that, while the certification alone can give an edge, it’s also important for candidates to talk about what they learned in their certification course. Courses that are hands-on or include project work are better suited to addressing this interest.
One insight that caught my attention was an observation by a recruiter about their experience hiring a PM who had earned a certification. The PM joined the company and achieved a lot of success within their team. As a result, the recruiter started paying more attention to certifications and to graduates from the program. Over time, it has become a reliable source of candidates for his company.
This speaks to a fact that seems pretty obvious when you zoom out. Certifications exist across virtually all major industries for a reason; namely, employers rely on a broad range of signals to help recruit and hire great talent. It seems unlikely that Product Management would be any different.
Geography can also be a factor. Ellie Smith, AKA The Product Recruiter, explains that in the United Kingdom, certifications are virtually a prerequisite for a Product Manager role, whereas in the United States, they can “certainly be a selling point if I was on the fence.”
So yes, evidence from the people on the front lines shows that Product Management certifications do matter. Are they a requirement to land a PM job or advance as a PM? Absolutely not. Will robust training improve your ability to practice your discipline? Yes. Will greater ability lead to more confidence and advancement? Yes again.
I want to close out by acknowledging that there are other facets to the value of certification that I have not covered here. I hope to investigate this more in the future by speaking with hiring managers about the value of certification.
Updated: April 18, 2023