As many of you know, I transitioned from libraries to records management about five years ago. I often advise people wanting to make the switch to pursue certification as an ICRM Certified Records Manager (CRM), but there isn’t a lot online about the process from a first-person perspective. Here is the information I wish I’d had when I applied to become a “CRM Candidate.” I hope this post will help people considering beginning their journey to become a CRM!
I became a “Certified Records Manager” on January 1, 2019 after beginning the process nearly three years earlier. If you have applied for other certifications, this will all seem pretty familiar to you. To earn this certification, you first submit an application documenting work experience in records management. The amount of experience required is reduced commensurately with higher education. The process is less tedious than applying for the PMP exam, because you do not need to document contact hours on specific projects, but there are work verification requirements on the front end, rather than by random audit. At the time of application, you have to provide a resume and letters from your employer confirming your work experience. Following your acceptance as a “candidate,” you can register to take examinations.
The “Certified Records Manager” designation is awarded following the successful completion of five multiple choice exams and a sixth, written exam that you qualify for upon completion of the other five. When I took my first examination in February 2016, the multiple choice exams were only administered a few times a year, so unless you wanted to take multiple exams in the same week, it was necessarily a 12-18 month process to finish the examinations. I think it’s easier to schedule the exams now, and that parts 1-5 are generally available by appointments at testing administration centers. You do not have to take these examis in order.
I believe that Part 6 is still only offered a few times a year, but it’s probably easier now to get through the other five tests faster if you are in a hurry to get the certification. I think ICRM gives you three years to complete the exams.
What I most appreciated about this process was the introduction of an intermediate “Certified Records Analyst” (“CRA”) credential that allowed me to extend the completion time to five years with maintenance of the CRA. This turned out to be immensely valuable to me for several reasons.
First, it let me “signal” my progress towards the CRM with an intermediate certification. I think the certification helped my resume pop with recruiters who were looking for CRMs. There aren’t that many! And many experienced ones are not necessarily looking for work. I definitely got more contact from recruiters when I added that certification to my LinkedIn.
Second, my personal life changed a lot in a three-year period. Seven months after I took my first exam, I bought a house, moved my boyfriend into the house, then to Chicago, and spent over 10 months conducting a long-distance job search. (The downside of these records management positions is that they don’t turn over often, because they’re great jobs.)
I was only able to become a CRM because my CRA status conferred an extension of my eligibility period to complete the CRM examinations. My candidacy was extended for two years. Life changes are always stressful, but my CRA status meant that I didn’t ever worry about whether my window to become a CRM was closing. I just didn’t have the energy or focus to sit for Part 6 (the written exam), and if I’d had to pay again to sit parts 1-5, I’m not sure I would ever have come back to this project, especially after getting my current job (thanks in part to the CRA). ICRM’s thoughfulness in designing the CRA so that candidates can continue their journey to the CRM without feeling the pressure of time is one of the reasons I’m excited to start giving back to the profession now that I have reached this milestone.
My investment in this certification has absolutely paid off. My focus on records management allowed me to make two big career moves. After completing my MLIS in 2015, I moved from libraries into (federal) records management. My next step was from the public to the private sector after completing three years of federal service in 2018.
Becoming a CRM was a long journey for me, and my personal financial investment in the certification exams meant that I was extremely motivated to stay current with the field, maintain involvement in my local ARMA chapter, etc. Although I didn’t study for the exam, per se, having the external structure of the exam series helped me to develop and maintain a base of knowledge that I was able to draw on in interviews for records management positions. My progress towards this credential helped me feel comfortable presenting myself as a knowledgeable professional and subsequently considering jobs at a higher level than I ever dreamed of achieving with my work experience.
I plan to maintain this credential even if I take a role that does not involve records management. Another unexpected benefit is the community of people with this credential. Everyone I have met through this process has been a valuable contact, and many of them are great people as well. I suggest requesting a “mentor” for the process, because you might get paired with someone awesome. ARMA has been my favorite professional association by far, and I’ve been involved with two chapters, so I don’t think it’s a fluke. This is a profession that attracts high performers and that rewards competence. Earning your CRM puts you in very good company.
For my librarian readers: even if you do not think you want to be a records manager long-term, this is a good jumping off point to get out of libraries. If you want to explore a big company or a different industry, coming in as a “subject area expert” is a great way to get a foot in the door and position yourself for bigger changes by growing your network and taking advantage of internal training. The CRM opened a door for me into a great employer, and that opened doors that I didn’t even know existed and helped me imagine many new possibilities for myself. It’s not an exaggeration to say that getting this certification completely changed my life. (More big news to come next year…)
A degree in library science is great preparation for this certification. I did not study for any of these tests. I felt well-prepared from my graduate coursework but I thought that many of the multiple choice questions could be answered with some office experience and common sense. I struggled the most with questions about legacy record formats (ICRM is phasing some of these out).
I failed one part (I think it was Part 4) by one point (!) and had to retake one section. This was discouraging and made me rather anxious about Part 6. I finally got up the courage to try after taking a half day Part 6 workshop with my local ARMA chapter. My assigned “mentor” through ICRM also provided me with some legacy material from ICRM’s website (sample questions and a sample answer) that helped me a lot.
If you’re going to take Part 6, you should absolutely request a mentor, but I’m also happy to speak with you. When we have in-person tests again, I’ll be a grader, so I’ll hopefully have more insight to share. You can always email me, about professional certifications or anything else: anita @ anita life dot com. Good luck!