Getting Certification at Any Point in Your Career

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Anxious. Nauseous. Nervous. Fearful. These were my feelings when I considered making good on a 10-year promise to myself to take the APMP Foundation certification exam. Perhaps it was an extreme reaction for a senior capture manager with more than 20 years of experience (besides, professionals with one year of industry experience are eligible to take the exam), but I feared this test more than anything. It had been 25 years since the last time I took an exam, and that was written in a blue book, was not open book and was not timed. What I worried about most was failing because I was too experienced. I was nervous that I had seen and done it all in the proposal world and that would work against me.

So why did I decide to do it? To be honest, a colleague asked me to go through the process with her. I thought to myself, “There is no reason you shouldn’t do this — only reasons you should.” So, I bit the bullet and signed up. Four weeks later, I received my certification.

Having completed the process, I realized that it doesn’t matter where you are in your career—there are benefits to getting your APMP certification. In the hopes of encouraging anyone who is sitting on the fence about getting certified in 2021, particularly those who may be a bit more seasoned, I’ve put together a few tips to set yourself up for success.

Understand the benefits.

  • Career development/advancement. Sometimes, early on in our careers, we have all the best intentions to climb the corporate ladder, but life gets in the way. Perhaps you find yourself at a place in your career where your kids are older, you’ve earned your master’s degree, or you’ve reached a level where becoming certified is the next logical step. All these things may mean you have more time in your life to devote to studying and taking the exam.
  • Credibility. Earning your credentials at any point in your career validates your professional knowledge, positions you as a subject-matter expert to your industry peers and the operations staff you work with daily, and solidifies your commitment to the proposal profession.
  • Confidence. Many of us don’t need certification to know we do our jobs well, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Earning your certification just may give you that boost of confidence to take your career to the next level.

Set yourself up for success by selecting a prep course that best fits your learning style. Once you have made the decision to take your certification test, it is important to give yourself the support you need. Be honest with yourself and think about your learning style. Do you prefer to just “get it done” and attend a full-day cram session, then take the exam? Do you prefer a slower approach where you can review the material on your own schedule with the option to come back and review it again? Are you a visual learner? An auditory learner? Do you need a live instructor? Do you want to ask questions in real-time, or do you need to read the material, make a list of your questions then email/call an instructor to go over them? Or perhaps you prefer to “wing it” or, alternately, you need hundreds of practice questions. All of these learning styles can be accommodated depending on the prep course you choose, and most courses are currently being offered virtually. Hint: Be sure to register for a class provided by an APMP Approved Training Organization (ATO).

Approach studying using the proposal management techniques you know best. We all know the quickest way to ensuring a proposal goes off track is to go into it with no plan. Approach studying for this test in the same way.

  • Read through the “RFP” with a fine-tooth comb. Just like you go through an RFP and get an understanding for what the client is asking, review your course material and get an understanding of what you need to know for the exam. Understand the five core modules you will be tested on. Understand any additional materials you have been given such as PowerPoints, PDFs, glossaries, flash cards, access to LinkedIn or Facebook study groups, etc.
  • Create a schedule. In our profession, we live and die by due dates. It’s the language we understand. It’s the secret sauce to proposal success. This is no different. Embrace this skillset and develop a schedule to review the material and take the test. My co-worker and I agreed to get through a minimum of two chapters a day. Another co-worker reviewed all the material in one day and took the test the next day. Pick a date and then work backwards. How long do you want to give yourself to do this? How many chapters can you realistically get through in a day with your upcoming workload? What schedule will give you a work-life balance? Do you have a long weekend coming up and want to knock out the course prep and test all at once?
  • Assemble your team of subject-matter experts. It’s likely you would not develop a pursuit response without identifying individuals to help you. These could be subject-matter experts, graphic professionals, writers or color team reviewers. Studying for this test is no different. Consider enlisting a co-worker to go through the process with — a study buddy, if you will. Talk to others who have taken the test and ask what worked for them. Do you know someone who can quiz you? Should you join a Facebook group of those who are also prepping for the exam so you can support each other?
  • Don’t forget your color team reviews. Just like holding color team reviews ensures the proposal team receives feedback at various intervals to make sure the content is on track, you’re going to need feedback as you study to see if you are learning, retaining and understanding the material. Most APMP ATO courses offer a variety of ways to practice test yourself. Take advantage of them. You did pay for them, after all. Take every mock quiz, every mock practice exam, use every Quizlet flashcard available to you. Review the questions you get wrong and really understand why.

So how does this actually work? Once you have chosen your prep course, complete it and take the mock quizzes. When you’re ready to take the test, register and pay for your exam. Take the exam, and you’ll receive notification of pass or fail instantly.

The benefits of receiving my certification are just beginning to appear, from the simple addition of the digital badge to my email signature to promoting it on LinkedIn, to having technical staff reach out to congratulate me and inquire about the certification. All of these benefits are important, but the most rewarding is knowing that I set a goal for myself and accomplished it — and nothing beats that feeling!

Heather Kircher, CF APMP, is a senior capture manager with an architectural and engineering firm. She has more than 25 years of experience in pursuit development, proposal management, strategy development and proposal training. Her focus has been in the federal market, where she has supported hundreds of proposal efforts and specializes in leading large, multimillion-dollar IDIQ proposals. Connect with Heather on LinkedIn.

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