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02 Nov, 2016

Mary Noonan's CPSM Journey

Mary Noonan

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“You failed.”

Wait, what’s that now? What do you mean, “I failed"?

These were my thoughts in 2014 after I received that doomed letter from SMPS National. In one quick second, all my hopes and excitement for earning my CPSM were crushed. I had been looking forward to getting those results for weeks. Here they were, but they certainly were not the results I wanted.

The CPSM was something I knew I wanted to earn. The body of knowledge I’d gain would elevate my marketing skills, not to mention my career. With the CPSM, I would have access to an elite network of marketing professionals, any of whom I could call on for feedback or advice. And in a world of PEs and AIAs, I really wanted some initials in my signature. Why should engineers and architects be the only ones with some alphabet soup after their names? I wanted to prove that, “Hey, yes, I have professional achievements too!”

So with all that motivation and enthusiasm on my side, how did I manage to fail?!?

In hindsight, it was actually quite easy. I didn’t give the CPSM exam enough credit. I underestimated her. I figured, I have the book and know the glossary of terms…I’ve got this! Nope, that wasn’t enough.

You see, the CPSM exam is a 150-question beast, and she does not bow down to your average Joe or Jane. She must be tackled like the complex exam she is. And she does not take kindly to overconfident marketing professionals who don’t take her seriously. It wasn’t enough for me to study the glossary and know the terms; I had to understand their application in the AEC world. Remembering the steps of a process was useless unless I truly understood why each step was important and what the end result would be.

So what did I do after I failed? I took some time off, got married, and helped score a few massive projects for my firm. You know, a few easy things just to clear my mind.

After all of that, I decided to go for it again. My desire to earn it never wavered, but my enthusiasm to try again certainly did. It took a few pep talks from my fellow SMPSers to convince me to give it another go.

The second time around was about as different from my first attempt as it could be. When studying, I dug deeper to truly understand the overall purpose of each topic. What was the back story? How did I get to this step in the process? With this approach, I not only grasped the exam materials more clearly, but I also learned so much more about effective marketing in the AEC world. Imagine that!

Right before my test, I had a moment of fear. What if I didn’t pass again? I wasn’t sure I could mentally get over failing twice, but ultimately decided that even if I didn’t pass the second attempt, what I had learned was worth the effort.

You can probably assume what happened next: I earned my CPSM. And I can say without exaggeration that it was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my post-college adult life. But was it all worth it? The studying, schlepping to review class, and missing date nights and weekend dog walks? In a word, absolutely.

Mary Noonan, CPSM
Regional Marketing Director, RES
SMPS DC chapter, Co-Director of Special Events