The need to receive a hospitality and meeting planning certification is often debated. Should classroom training precede real-world experience? Or is a formal education more beneficial as a supplement to what you’ve already learned on the job? Do employers hire based on a flurry of certification acronyms after your name, or will your experience give you the edge? And if you’ve decided to obtain a certification, which will be the best for your specific job? The Value Debate
Alphabet of CertificationClick to enlarge
Patti Kennedy, CMP, CMM, was a meeting planner for 20 years before she received her first certification. Although she believes some companies place more emphasis on credentials than others, achieving certification was optional for job advancement.
“I have found that I receive a higher level of respect within the industry by having my CMP and CMM,” says Kennedy, a planner at Infor, a software company. “However, it would be nice to have had some of the scenarios I faced in the real-world experience brought up in a classroom.”
While Kennedy agrees that on-the-job training can’t be replicated in the classroom, she believes it could be “previewed” there, thus better preparing a meeting planner for the workforce.
Alexandra Wagner, a graduate of the University of South Carolina’s School of Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Administration agrees that classroom training should include real-life applications. “A good program incorporates these scenarios,” says Wagner, director of event marketing for SunTrust Banks Inc. “Students should have to create menus, manage and execute events.”
Many planners with several years of experience gain certifications later in their careers to keep their skills fresh and update them on industry trends and regulations. However, Gail Meyer, meetings and incentives manager for Mighty Distributing Systems of America, believes that learning “trial by fire” gives planners the ability to think on their feet, which cannot be duplicated in the classroom. Although she has received formal training during the span of her career, the foundation of her experience started at a young age with hands-on learning.
“My parents owned a motel, and I worked the front desk and cleaned rooms,” Meyer says. “Then, in the early ’70s, after graduating from a business college, I was a travel agent and learned how to coordinate client vacations from start to finish.”
Whether you have real-world experience, classroom training, or both, most agree that initiative and a passion for the business are the inherent keys to a successful career.
“You will quickly find out if you’re cut out for the stresses of the business once you start planning meetings,” Meyer says. “If you’re a hard worker, know how to multi-task, and have the desire for this field, you can learn on the job; you will advance.”
Choosing a certification
Many planners and suppliers look for a certification that best matches their employment industries and strengthens their weakest job skills. Those who have logistical responsibilities and are looking to enhance their knowledge of the tactical side of planning would find getting their Certified Meeting Professional a great advantage. CMP applicants must have three years of work experience in the industry or two years of experience if they have a degree in meeting, event, exhibition, or hospitality/tourism management. Full-time instructors who have taught for three years in a meeting/hospitality university program also may apply for the CMP.
In addition to work experience, CMP applicants must show evidence of 25 hours of continuing education or have completed an internship. Certification is achieved by passing a written examination of 165 situational multiple-choice questions. The test must be completed in three and a half hours in the U.S. and within four hours if English is not the candidate’s first language.
Senior planners and those with a CMP looking to advance to the next level of education often apply for the Certification in Meeting Management designation. This certification focuses on strengthening strategic decision-making to drive the organization’s success. Its goal is to teach industry professionals how to use meetings as a strategic tool within the company. Many professionals seeking management-level positions and those looking to start a business in the industry, such as independent planners, would find this helpful certification.
To apply for the CMM, individuals must have ten years of experience in all areas of meeting management and show evidence of continuing education. Certification is achieved by:
- Attending a five-day program with group coursework.
- Passing an online essay examination one week after the on-site program.
- Submitting a newly-created business plan within eight weeks.
Those who have a role in the trade show industry might consider the Certified Trade Show Marketer designation. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree, two or more years of experience in the trade show and events field, or three years of experience without a degree. Certification is achieved by completing a curriculum of 28 seminars, which equates to 42 hours of classroom study and passing a written exam of multiple choice and true/false questions based on the seminar coursework.
Those looking to develop their roles in association management might consider the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation. Applicants must have been employed by a nonprofit organization or an association management company within the last five years and have three years of experience and a bachelor’s degree as a chief staff executive at an association or five years of experience and a bachelor’s degree as an association staff member. Applicants must also have completed 100 hours of professional development. Certification is achieved by successfully passing a multiple-choice exam.