In recent months, our team has been well entrenched in learning more about the Certified Meeting Professionals within our network and gaining perspective into their roadmap with having earned the designation.  It is our hope that by sharing some personal experiences, you can gain better insight into whether pursing this achievement is right for you, right now.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Emily.

I earned my CMP in 2004. Since 2012 I’ve worked for myself under the name Event Management Professionals as a meetings freelancer. I’m currently employed on a contract basis for a former employer, an amazing woman who had a lot of faith in me. I learned a lot of valuable lessons while working for her and am currently helping her get ready for their conference being held next month, October 2019.  It’s been so much fun to be back at that office! I’ll be sad when it’s over, but they will continue to outsource project work, so maybe I’ll be back!

What can you tell us about your participation in a Study Group when preparing to take the exam?  How did you find a local study group?

It was super easy. The local chapter of MPI in Texas Hill Country, of which I was a member, held a study group every year for those members seeking a CMP designation. I’ve always been a very hard-working (note I didn’t say always successful) student and that work ethic was a great advantage when tackling the rigorous amount of information required that I study.  It’s funny, because often when I encourage folks to get their CMPs, they look at me in horror and say, “I haven’t studied since college, I don’t think I can do it!” I tell them it’s like riding a bike or driving a standard transmission: It will come back to you if you had any modicum of work ethic.

Please share your experience participating in a CMP study group.

We met at in Austin’s incredibly generous hotels, who served as our hosts. They provided us with unused conference room space in the evenings and almost always graciously provided us with snacks and beverages. I’m not sure if that is true of all MPI Chapters, but it was a great experience. The Texas Hill Country Chapter was and is so generous, supportive and rewarding to be a part of. It is my understanding that non-members can join the study group as well, only the fees are higher.

I recall that our study group was made up of ten and we met once a week in the evening. I can offer a solid piece of advice when considering how far in advance of taking the exam one participates in a study group; as far in advance as possible! If you are at a point where you have very little time until you take the exam, wait until you are prepared! Give yourself plenty of preparation time. You’ll be glad you did.

Each study group enlisted the expertise of a volunteer instructor; a CMP, of course! This individual would handle a specific topic or area of planning, say for example, food and beverage or audio-visual.

 I’m sure things have changed with the evolution of technology for study purposes, but when I was preparing for the exam, I used two pretty hefty books, one from Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) called Professional Meeting Management and one from what was then the Convention Industry Council (CIC). Additionally, you had to purchase a CMP application handbook. The application process alone takes some work to get through! Consider reviewing The CMP International Standards Handbook as well. At present, it is recommended that you purchase the Event Industry Council Manual 9th Edition (CIC became EIC over time), The EIC Glossary, and Professional Meeting Management 6th Edition. Recertifying every five years sort of “forces” you to learn everything again including whatever is new on the horizon since the last exam sitting.

What were the associated costs for the prep materials?

The recommended books alone cost around $250. There’s also a $250 fee to submit with your application, and there’s an exam fee of $450 which you will pay whether you pass or fail.  It is not a cheap endeavor. The good news is that once you’ve got your CMP, recertifying every five years runs between $200-$250 depending on the time of year you apply.

Do you have any additional advice you think would be helpful to share?

You must accept that some of the materials might not feel like “reality” to you. You will find yourself saying, “But that’s not how it’s really done!” That may be true, but do you want to pass the test or not? Yes? Then study their stuff. You might learn a better way! I will never, ever forget the little song I made up in my head to remember how many chairs can fit comfortably at sixty-inch, sixty-six inch, and 72-inch rounds! I didn’t know that information before-hand.

How has having earned a CMP set you apart from meeting professionals who have not earned that designation? Do clients ask if you have a CMP?

They can see it on my resume and I certainly bring it up, subtly. Many “regular” jobs either desire it or flat-out require it. So yes, I think seeing the CMP on my resume helped me stand out and was advantageous.

In our industry do you believe someone who holds a CMP gains contract work over someone who doesn’t?

Maybe. Here’s the thing: It’s about education regarding this industry. Clients and employers have to know it exists, and more importantly they must know what it took to get it. You can’t even prepare to sit for the exam without passing the application process, and part of the application process pertains to the experience you have. We’re not there yet, but the designation needs to be viewed just like an accountant’s CPA. It needs to be that important. But there will always be doubters. They may say, “Well, this person just memorized everything and is a good test taker.” Okay, I admit that was me! But the critical thing is, I would not have been allowed to even do any memorizing had I not had the job experience that the application requires.

What does your CMP designation mean to you?

It means I’m a true professional in meetings. An MD has been through medical school. I’ve been through CMP! I know, faulty comparison. But we both get the letters on the ends of our names. It means I really know my stuff, because I had to have a certain amount of experience just to be able to sit for the exam in the first place. I’m not a dabbler in this, just dipping her toes in the water. My eyes don’t always light up like the eyes of a person I’m speaking with about the profession. They’re thinking of a luxurious hotel room. I’m thinking, “You’ll never have time to enjoy it!” That doesn’t mean there aren’t great times to be had. It just means I know the reality, too.

In what ways has having earned a CMP advanced your career?

I think those employers and clients who really know what the CMP is might have preferred or at least appreciated that I had it. Some employers require it. When you’re dealing with an educated employer or client, there’s a good chance it will advance your career, if all the stars align. Also, the CMP gives you so much confidence. How can that not be good for your career?

Having earned your CMP 15 years ago, what are your thoughts about today’s processes and requirements changes?

It’s quite simple; there’s just more material to know now.  More standards and regulations have evolved and will continue to evolve. The exam will always have to account for these advances. And now, there’s the benefit of technology. Those considering taking the exam and those preparing for the exam have the internet and groups and networks on social media sites, all of which are very helpful.

You mentioned in one of our recent surveys that the training and knowledge you received having earned a CMP was important for your current position and helped advance your career.  How exactly has it been impacted?

My current position is as a self-employed freelancer, so the CMP shows the (educated) client that I am not just someone hanging out a shingle and declaring themselves a meeting planner. I’m not sure I could have done this and developed such a nice client list without it, actually! I also have my fellow local CMPs to thank. Good friends who referred me to clients they were too busy to work for!

Any last piece of advice or words of wisdom for someone on the fence about taking the leap to earn a CMP?

Hop off that fence because I promise, you’ll have no regrets. You can get back into studying. You can find the time. You’ve worked this hard in gaining the on the ground planning experience. Now take it and turn it into a CMP designation.

Cara O’Neill is a Project Manager at GCG Event Partners where she has happily set up shop for over a decade. Her professional background may be in the meeting & event industry; however, she enjoys the multi-tasking involved in her day-to-day operations contributing to marketing GCG and the many services it provides. You can connect with Cara on LinkedIn here.

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