. Certification Programs to Upskill Your Meeting Planner Career | Northstar Meetings Group

Certification Programs to Upskill Your Meeting Planner Career

It’s an ideal time to dive into continuing education and start the process of earning an industry certification. Here are some quick facts about programs available to meeting professionals.

In the best of times, continuing education is a smart career move. Right now, it's also an ideal way to spend downtime while waiting for travel and meetings restrictions to be lifted.

For newcomers and seasoned planners alike, taking the initiative to enhance your skills can serve as stepping stones to career advancement, a new job or a higher salary. In fact, planners who hold one of the leading industry certifications earn, on average, $12,000 more than their uncertified counterparts, reveals M&C's 2020 Salary Survey, which begins on page 12 of this issue.

"We know the business will come around. We've been through how many recessions? We've been through SARS, we've been through Zika, we've been through 9/11," says Edward Perotti, CMP, CMM, principal of EP Events and Experiences in San Francisco. "We will come back again. I have zero doubt about that."

Until then, experts recommend using this time to "upskill" — learning new aspects of meeting planning or pursuing that certification you've been considering. When the industry rebounds, those who have sharpened their skills will be best positioned to compete in a crowded job-seekers market. 

"There is often little time for professionals in our industry to take a deep dive into future-proofing their careers," says Nancy Snowden, manager of curriculum and instructional design at Meeting Professionals International, which administers the Certificate in Meeting Management. "As we move to a lifestyle of staying, working and living from home, educational offerings like the CMM provide the chance to tap into your professional development goals, connect with like-minded professionals and engage with world-class educators." 

Coming out on the other side of today's restricted environment with a certification is a smart way to demonstrate your value to employers or clients, adds Snowden.

Choosing a Meetings Industry Certification Program

Requirements, costs and other factors differ among the most respected programs for meeting professionals. Some quick facts:

Certified Meeting Professional

Costs: Application, $250; Exam, $475

More than 11,000 people in 55 countries have earned their CMP. To qualify for the exam, which is administered by the Events Industry Council, applicants must have worked full time in the industry for 36 months and completed 25 hours of continuing education, all within the past five years. Those with a degree in event management or hospitality need only 24 months of full-time employment.

Once accepted, applicants have one year to take and pass the exam. Two practice exams are available, and there are four testing dates each year, in January, May, August and November. The May 2020 exam has been cancelled due to COVID-19, but the August exam is expected to go on. The exam is typically held at an in-person testing center, but the EIC is evaluating online options.

"The networking that comes out of these is almost as valuable as the certification itself. All of a sudden you have a peer group that you didn’t know before. There are people all over this world who are in the same boat and looking for the same thing as you.”
— Edward Perotti, CMP, CMM, principal of EP Events and Experiences

"The networking that comes out of these is almost as valuable as the certification itself,” says Perotti. “All of a sudden you have a peer group that you didn’t know before. There are people all over this world who are in the same boat and looking for the same thing as you.”

The CMP certification is valid for five years. To renew, CMP holders must verify their current work experience and complete 25 hours of continuing education.

Certificate in Meeting Management

Costs: $4,400; includes a one-year MPI membership

Many consider the CMM, which is offered by Meeting Professionals International, an industry master's degree. Taught by Indiana University faculty, the program is held twice a year and features 15 weeks of course instruction followed by a capstone project. Typically, the first week of CMM instruction is held at the university's Bloomington campus, with the following 14 weeks conducted online. But due to COVID-19, the spring 2020 course, which began in late March, is all online. 

"My experience has been 10,000 times more than what I thought it was going to be,” says Cindy Villa, CMM, vice president and director of meetings and events for Transamerica, who was promoted two levels after receiving her certification last fall. “This certification really does give you that next layer of respect and professional growth, and helps with how you're perceived. I was able to show my new boss what I bring to the table and that I’m not just a meeting planner, I’m a part of his executive team."

"My experience has been 10,000 times more than what I thought it was going to be. This certification really does give you that next layer of respect and professional growth, and helps with how you're perceived. I was able to show my new boss what I bring to the table and that I’m not just a meeting planner, I’m a part of his executive team."
— Cindy Villa, CMM, vice president and director of meetings and events for Transamerica

Scholarships are available to help offset the cost. To qualify for the CMM program, applicants must have seven years of event experience, at least three of which must be in management and at least two years with profit-and-loss responsibility. The CMM certification does not require renewal.

Certified Meeting Professional–Healthcare 

Costs: Application, $155; Exam, $280 

This designation is for planners who have mastered the specific regulations, laws and best practices of medical meetings. Candidates pursuing the CMP-HC must already hold a valid CMP certification, have three years' experience in health-care meetings management and have completed five hours of professional development in the industry within the past five years. Like the CMP, the CMP-HC is offered four times a year, in January, May, August and November. The CMP-HC must be recertified every five years and requires 15 clock hours of continuing education.

Certified Association Executive 

Costs: Application, $500 for ASAE members, $750 for nonmembers

Administered by the American Society of Association Executives, the CAE is a badge of excellence for association planners. Eligibility requirements include five years of experience on an organization's staff, or one year at the C-suite level. Employment must be at a qualifying organization, such as an association management company, a trade association or a professional society. Those not employed at a qualifying organization who can demonstrate 10 years of paid service and professional involvement with one also might meet the requirements. 

All candidates must complete 100 hours of association management–related professional development, which can be earned via workshops and online courses. 

The CAE exam is administered twice a year, in the spring and winter, at several sites around the country. The spring 2020 exam has been moved from May to June due to the coronavirus. The CAE must be renewed every three years, which requires 40 CAE credits of professional development.

Certified Professional in Catering and Events 

Costs: Application and Exam, $525

Managed by the National Association of Catering & Events, the CPCE requires a minimum of 36 months of full-time experience in the catering and events industry, or 24 months of full-time experience in addition to a hospitality degree. Instructors of catering and events can also qualify if they have at least 36 months of full-time experience in academia and one year of professional experience in the industry.

The exam is held online; applicants can retake it if needed for an additional $200. To recertify, which is required every five years, CPCE holders must complete 30 classroom hours.

Getting Credit 

Continuing education hours, which are required by most certification programs for the application and renewal processes, can be attained through webcasts, and in-person or online courses. 

Northstar Meetings Group, M&C's parent company, has a broad lineup of free webcasts that each provide one CMP credit hour. On the upcoming schedule are sessions on how event F&B will change after COVID-19, how to tweak standard group contracts and creative sponsorship ideas. On-demand webcasts include legal mistakes planners make and how to avoid them, how to welcome the virtual attendee, and the small meetings guide to working with convention and visitors bureaus. 

Many industry organizations also have their own courses and webcasts with CMP credit hours. MPI, for example, offers online certificates in event crisis communications ($299 for MPI members), contracts and negotiations ($499), emergency preparedness ($499), and virtual meeting management ($556), which can be found here

In addition, the MPI Academy is home to a plethora of on-demand content — all of which are free for MPI members. Sessions that qualify for CMP hours include how to accommodate people with disabilities at events, creative cost-saving techniques, and how to ensure attendee safety and security. 

ASAE also has robust online-education offerings, such as a seminar series packed with hour-long sessions that qualify for continuing education credit. Among the options are webcasts on cybersecurity and privacy, selecting and coaching speakers for success, and how to leverage diversity and inclusion for greater impact. The sessions are priced at $34 each for members and $45 for nonmembers.