Job SecurityOctober 17, 2022

The Right Certifications Pay Off For Professional Growth By
October 17, 2022

Job Security

The Right Certifications Pay Off For Professional Growth

As chair of the department of Hospitality, Tourism & Culinary Arts at the College of Coastal Georgia, Tyra Warner, Ph.D., Esq., CMP, notes the devastating impact of the global pandemic: “In the short run, COVID-19 found many people out of work.”

While hotels and resorts leveraged the economic downturn to reimagine their properties through new expansions and/or renovations, savvy meeting planners and event organizers know firsthand what Warner is quick to add next: “This has [also] been an ideal time for meeting professionals to retool and reeducate themselves. Whether some chose to — or were forced to leave the industry — others took this opportunity to get certifications they had never had the time to get before, putting them in a better hiring position during COVID recovery.”

The Payoffs of Professional Certifications

Not all planners cite the importance of professional certifications as the only key to gaining employment in the meetings’ industry. “In my experience, no,” says Maureen Sloan, CTA, manager of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe. “[However,] a CMP [Certified Meeting Professional] is nice to have,” she says. “But length of years in the industry and familiarization with the properties and destinations sought, along with solid relationships with the hotel’s sales staff and CVBs matters more, because it equates to better negotiation opportunities, a bargaining chip for a job seeker when negotiating their compensation package.” Still, Sloan acknowledges: “It could help boost the chances of employment at a large hotel that books groups, and a DMO or CVB that handles large conferences, conventions and that works with many seasoned meeting planning professionals.”

Indeed, event organizers at various stages of their careers — beginning, midpoint or advanced —frequently tout the payoffs of investing in professional credentials and certifications for job growth. “While there is an abundance of line-level hospitality jobs still unfilled,” says Warner, “the types of jobs experienced meeting professionals are looking for are still competitive, and certifications may give a competitive edge to some candidates.”

In fact, she offers, “I see more and more job postings that say ‘CMP preferred,’ and hotel sales and convention services departments that brag that all of their staff members have their CMP as a way of reassuring their meeting planner clients that they understand their needs and can provide the service they need,” Warner says. “So, yes, I believe that professional certifications help with getting jobs. They are clearly perceived as desirable, and can make one candidate stand out from another if they have similar experience.” She continues, “It is not that there are not good meeting planners or exhibition organizers without certifications — there certainly are. It is that having a certification demonstrates to a would-be employer that a person (A), has achieved a base level of knowledge and experience; (B), is committed to his or her career enough to seek credentialing and growth; and (C), continues to grow through professional development each year. This last point illustrates the important difference between certifications and certificates.”

For Pawntra Shadab CTA, CIS, CITP, V.P. & event strategist at Elite Productions International, there’s no question that certifications have given the company a competitive edge. “We have many clients that see the importance in education and value the organizations that offer certifications,” she says. “Having certifications has leveled us up as a company. As a result, we have won bids on projects over other companies that didn’t have certifications.”

For example, Shadab cites a case where a client needed a planner for a high-profile incentive program. “They were transparent from the beginning on how they were pursuing different companies,” she says. “In the end, when we won the program, one of the major deciding factors was the fact that I have my CIS [Certified Incentive Specialist] and CITP [Certified Incentive Travel Professional] certifications to my name.”

For Shadab, having both certifications and experience is the winning combination for clients. “When you have the certification paired with your experience, it leverages your ability to provide a higher level of expertise and service to clients.” And the ability to provide a higher level of expertise and service to clients often translates to the ability to command higher fees.

Angel Hanson, CMP, CMM, PCA, in her role as CEO/event director for her company, Angel Events, finds great value in planners adding professional credentials and certifications to their resumes. “I cannot stress enough, I can’t drill into people’s heads enough, how important and how life-changing it is to get your CMM and CMP. Many clients have chosen to hire me based on my CMM. [Recently, I was] in a bid process with a client who [was] seeking a certified Pandemic Compliance Advisor (PCA), who specifically reached out to me because of that certification.”

Beyond the matter of giving planners a leg up on the competition when applying for job positions or bidding on client proposals, professional designations also position those who hold such certifications to negotiate higher salaries and project fees. “For many years, surveys have consistently indicated that meeting planners with CMPs make more than those without,” Warner says. “For example, [a past] PCMA survey indicates that ‘respondents with a CMP earned on average more than $10,500 a year than their colleagues without the designation.”

Sloan also notes that if a job was offered at a set salary, a seasoned and up-to-date CMP could ask for commissions, or booking bonuses, or a slightly higher starting salary, she says. “This is especially true if they have multiple accreditations in addition to a CMP, such as a CMM (Certified Meeting Management), CIS (Certified Incentive Specialist) or CTA (Certified Tourism Ambassador).”

Not only have certifications given Hanson leverage in bidding on client proposals, she credits the CMP with increases in salary. “For my CMP, my salary went up 25%. With the CMM credential, I doubled my salary because clients have confidence that I know what I’m talking about. They are aware what the credentials and certifications mean,” Hanson says. “For one of my clients, my bill rate is higher than planners without a CMP or CMM certification by $25 per hour.”

Tyra Warner, Ph.D., Esq., CMP, says meeting planner certificates may give planners the upper hand over planners who don’t have them. Courtesy of Tyra Warner

Tyra Warner, Ph.D., Esq., CMP, says meeting planner certificates may give planners the upper hand over planners who don’t have them. Courtesy of Tyra Warner

Find the One for You

Hanson says that at least two times a week, something comes across her desk about some new certifications. With so many certifications available and more surfacing weekly, how can planners and event organizers choose among the many alternatives that best meets their needs?

“I suggest planners do research and find the ones that align to their business, clients and role,” Hanson says. “Ultimately, it’s about having an attitude of ‘Let’s help our clients out and help people keep comfortable traveling.’ CMP and CMM have been the most valuable over the years, and I highly recommend anyone in the industry to pursue those. Not everyone goes on to get their CMM because it requires more experience.”

CMP or CMM credentials allow professionals who have achieved the designations to add those letters to their names, much in the same way that an MBA or Ph.D. does. While arguably the most recognizable credentials to those in meetings, conferences and conventions, CMP and CMM each serve different functions requiring different qualifications. “The ‘CMM’ is a one-time credential and the highest designation you can achieve,” Hanson says, adding that the CMM is the credential that is of most value to strategists and team leaders. “For 10+-year veterans, the CMP is a year-long process and must be renewed every few years.”

Beyond those credentials, certificates provide another means of continuing education, Shadab says. “For example, with the CMP, you take a test, and upon passing, you receive the credentials CMP that you can use alongside your name. But I have also taken a course/exam and received a certificate as an Inclusive Event Strategist, but there are no credentials associated with that.” She continues, “There are so many great certifications out there. Both the CMP and DES [Digital Event Strategist] are great for meeting planners and event organizers, because they capture the essential tools and resources planners need for live and digital events. I’m interested in pursuing these certifications in the next year to level-up my education and leverage my career.”

With so many possible certificates to pursue, Hanson encourages planners to get certified in areas that matter to them. Looking ahead, she says, “We’re going to see more specialization.” Consider certification in subspecialties such as health care, sustainability and catering, for example, if those are your areas of interest. For exhibitors, Warner recommends the CEM (Certified in Exhibition Management) designation to demonstrate “the highest professional standard throughout the exhibitions and events management arena,” according to the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE).

“Now that COVID has come along, we need to step up our game and start adding in hybrid certifications as well as pandemic protocols,” Hanson says. “Hybrid and pandemic protocols are a must moving forward. Key focus areas moving forward will be ‘digital,’ ‘hybrid’ and ‘pandemic.’ Hybrid meetings are not going away.”

In fact, Hanson says her PCA has helped her get her foot in the door for six-figure proposals. “It gives you an edge,” she says. “Planners need to put themselves ahead of the curve.” She cites the importance of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) certifications as another example of “getting ahead of it.”

Maureen Sloan, CTA, manager of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe, center, thinks experience and relationships carry more weight than certificates. Courtesy of Maureen Sloan

Maureen Sloan, CTA, manager of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe, center, thinks experience and relationships carry more weight than certificates. Courtesy of Maureen Sloan

Professional Associations

While earning the right certifications can boost a meeting planner’s job opportunities and salary negotiations, joining a network of like-minded professionals can also play a significant role in career development. “I highly recommend planners to join an association,” Shadab says. “I previously/currently serve on boards for Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE), and they are both wonderful associations to be a part of. It’s been a great opportunity to meet and connect with peers, build relationships with partners and grow not only professionally, but personally as well. Plus, many of these associations hold study groups and boot camps for the different certifications to help accelerate your learning in a group environment.”

Hanson also recommends joining meeting planner associations. “I highly encourage planners to join MPI and get your CMP. Some people come into the industry with project management experience. While helpful, it’s a different focus from event strategy,” she says.

Hanson has been a member of MPI for 20 years, and in her role as director of Industry Alliance, she connected industry folks through education, CMP certifications and the Events Council. “MPI has played a huge factor, and has been a game-changer in my career growth.” She also suggests joining the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) as they also have their own courses in continuing education.

It’s never too early for meeting and event professionals to invest in continuing education programs, webinars and certificate courses, Hanson says. “People call me a futurist,” she says,“because I became a specialist by saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that,’ and then learning how to fill a client need. So I learned how to edit videos, for example. I did a pivot towards doing things that needed to be done.” C&IT

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