Answers to your questions about industry certifications...
Is an industry certification always helpful or could it ever be harmful?
It depends on your goals, but I think an industry certification is more likely to be helpful (or neutral) than harmful for most professionals.
I can’t imagine that earning an industry certification would do any damage to your career prospects (aside from potentially making you appear “overqualified” for certain roles)… Plus, there wasn’t an option to study trade shows when I was in college (and it’s still not a degree program many schools offer), so an industry certification can help to fill important knowledge gaps, form/strengthen connections with your peers, demonstrate your expertise, etc. All generally good things!
That said, if you are investing too much of your time and budget (some of these require a significant commitment!) in irrelevant and unnecessary education, rather than doing what you need to do to achieve your other more pressing goals, that would be a mistake – in other words: although the certification itself likely wouldn’t be hurting you, in this case, the focus required to earn it definitely could.
Pro Tip: Many programs allow you plenty of extra time to complete your certification (for example, you’re allowed to take up to three years after passing your first exam to finish your CEM – I finished mine in about two months). If you aren’t sure about a particular certification, you could take a few classes (whichever are most relevant/interesting to you) and officially decide on making it “official” later.
Why did you choose your degree and certifications?
I started my degree in Aerospace Engineering because of the timing restrictions on the curriculum (at my school, all engineering students must complete a common first year program before progressing into their specific disciplines – if I had explored another degree program first and later decided it wasn’t for me/that I would rather study engineering, it could have delayed my graduation by a full year… so it just made sense to try to rule this one out first). I completed my degree in Aerospace Engineering because it was a good fit for my personality, strengths, and interests.
My certification in Talent Development (training) is the “pinnacle” educational achievement for many professionals who focus on educating adults. For me, it was a way to confirm I was applying the “best practices” (despite being self-taught vs. formally studying talent development) and demonstrate my expertise in this area. Training is the primary service my company offers, so it’s important that others can reasonably trust that I know what I’m talking about and that I’m keeping up with the current trends and latest technologies.
I decided to earn my CEM (Certification in Exhibition Management) in order to gain a greater understanding of exhibition organizers – I already know exhibitors pretty well, having worked in exhibitor booths, facilitating EACs, etc. but didn’t know the ins and outs of what organizers do as thoroughly before now. This process has also given me an opportunity to connect with relevant professionals and opened a few other doors within the industry (more on those, fingers crossed, in the coming months).
What other certifications are available to professionals in the trade show/events industry?
There are actually a handful of certifications to choose between (like the CMP – Certified Meeting Professional, CTSM – Certified Trade Show Marketer, and CMM – Certified Meetings Manager), plus there are some more specialized certificates (like the EIC’s Sustainability Certificate and MPI’s Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate) that you could pursue. And, now, there’s even a Master’s Degree in Meeting and Event Management, if you’re looking for a more comprehensive/advanced program related to this industry.
That said, many industries offer certification and certificate programs, so even beyond events, you may consider other formal education to enhance your most commonly used skills in areas like association management, project management, business, copywriting, cleaning (e.g. to prevent disease), risk management, return on investment, and others.
The most important factor in choosing an appropriate certification (or other advanced education opportunity), in my opinion, is how you’ll use it (or how you’ll use the process to get it). If you aren’t sure what practical application a certification (or other opportunity) has for you, it may not be the right fit, or at least not the right time, to pursue it… that said, the value for you could just be to collect another “gold star” and, as long as you know that, that’s okay too :)
If I might want to pursue an industry certification or other program, where do I start?
After assessing your needs/interests and reviewing the available opportunities, choose the program that’s best for you (completing these one at a time is generally recommended, as it’s more manageable, given the heavy travel and other intense time commitments for those in our industry – I wouldn’t recommend starting a whole bunch of these at once).
Then, dig into the information online including format/process, fees, required/recommended timeline, process for recertifying (never to early to think about that), and feedback from previous participants. Many programs offer testimonials/case studies and data on how the credential can help you – those may be a great resource for your decision making process.
Finally, talk to someone on staff (either officially, with the organization managing the program, or less officially, like an individual instructor or study group facilitator). They’ll likely have additional (more practical and, frankly, helpful) insights and tips to share with you too!
Any specific advice for others considering pursuing their CEM?
Sure! Here are a few quick thoughts:
1. Understand that your instructors are often practitioners vs. professional facilitators (that means they have a lot of great “real world” knowledge to share with you, but they may not be experts in training… for example, I did have a handful of instructors who simply read their slides to us and added in stories, etc. from time to time instead of designing a session to transfer the knowledge needed in a dynamic and engaging way).
2. Aside from a few specific circumstances, there’s no need to “rush” through the program. If I were to do this again, without the constraints I mentioned, I’d stretch it out and only take in person classes (as networking was/is one of the big benefits for me – there is no networking in the self-study classes and some, but not as much, networking in the virtual classes).
3. In my experience, everyone wants you to succeed. You do have to try (read the workbook, be present in class, etc.), but it isn’t supposed to be tricky or stressful… if you ever feel like it is, circle back on the above advice and/or reach out to me or someone else affiliated with the program. You don’t have to figure it out on your own.