Just because appears on the internet doesn't mean it's true.
All members of PMI, and those holding (or aspiring to earn) a PMI certification, are supposed to live by a code of ethics. But not all do. While most have training companies have good intentions, some companies are just bad actors.
Below are eight red flags. Note of caution here, this is not to say because a company has a red flag that they are not legitimate or real, rather it should make you perform due diligence before forking over your hard earned money.
1. Do they have local instructors and why does this matter?
While there may be great international or national companies, running a local business encourages greater vigilance maintaining positive reputations which can make or break a company. A bad review or poor reputation is hard to overcome- especially for local businesses. Local businesses (that want to remain in business) strive to keep their reputation intact. This means providing responsive customer support and delivering as promised. One slip up can really ruin the day for a small local company.
Additionally, a local company is easier to hold accountable than a national, and especially an international company. Why? While all companies operating in your state or in the United States can theoretically be held civilly liable, enforcing such actions against a national or international company is costly and can prove be fruitless. Even with a court judgement in hand, collecting from a company that is off-shore or on the other side of the country is time consuming, expensive, and there are no proven enforcement actions arising from a small-claims judgement.
Also, do not be tricked. Many, if not most training companies you see advertised on the web in your local area are not truly local companies. Many are actually off-shore companies with a virtual office (available for as low as $100) in a city near you. One can get a P.O. Box at many UPS Stores or similar with an actual address for a small fee.
Bottom line: Local companies tend to be more responsive to the costumers needs in their local area.
Editors Note: As an honest broker of knowledge, there are a couple of national companies we can recommend. In fact one of the companies frequently hires this author to freelance instruct their courses. Just shoot us an email.
2. Are they teaching out of a hotel? This is huge red flag.
While a hotel conference room is great for conventions and the like, it is a red flag for choosing training providers. Why? Mainly the costs and two, are they legitimate classes? And if they are, will they cancel or arbitrarily move your course date not keeping your busy schedule in mind?
Renting a hotel training room is expensive and thus passed on to you, the student. Two, hiring a trainer or flying one in is also expensive and those costs are also passed onto you. Third, it is tell-tale indicator that they are not local. So if they do not show up to train the students, recourse is often hard to get. You are out a lot of money!
Finally, due to the cost of training in a hotel room, if there are not enough students to make a profit, you run the risk of last-minute class cancellations or arbitrarily being assigned to another class at another time and location. Again, without meaningful recourse.
3. Are they offering only recorded lessons?
I admit that I took a recorded, albeit very well put together online course using training modules. It was inexpensive, yet very well done. But the bad news is that it did not prepare me to take the actual exam. Like me, very few will be able to pass the exam with this type of instructions alone. The reason is while it may be a good supplement to learning, you must have question and answer interaction with others to really retain the knowledge.
Yet many training companies love advertising this type of product. Why? they make a killing off these.
Paying an instructor one time to read a script instead of paying an instructor to teach many live-classes makes economic sense for the company- at the detriment of the student.
Let's face it, students learn better in-class with other students and a dynamic live instructor. The second best option is live-online classes if the instructor is dynamic enough to keep your attention.
Even though I took a great pre-recorded course online, I am very glad that I chose to do a live boot camp as well!
4. Can you get a hold of them (after you pay)?
This is a common complaint I hear. Once a student pays, communication is challenging, if not impossible. This leaves students wondering if they were scammed. With all of the money spent, they may show up to a class location that is not real or has been cancelled. Luckily, in most cases the class is running as scheduled. But it really is a stressful event for any struggling student forking out a couple thousand dollars.
5. Are they guaranteeing things they cannot or will not ultimately honor (or have so many hoops to jump through it will never be honored)?
I see it so many times on the internet. 100% pass guarantee or similar. First, how does one guarantee this as no training company knows if the student will pay attention during the course or actually do the tremendous amount of studying required to pass these very tough examinations? If the exams were easily passed, the CAPM or PMP would be worthless to employers.
Second, even the best meaning companies with these guarantees put so many loopholes or hurdles to overcome that very few will ever see a refund. The reason why is most of these companies operate on razor thin margins and simply do not have the cash laying around to honor this guarantee.
Third, some are just dishonest and are practicing false advertisement. As stated above, how would you get an enforcement action for a few hundred dollars from an off-shore company or a company headquartered across the country?
6. Is the price of their course way more than many people's paycheck?
As stated in number two above, legitimate off-shore companies and companies not in your area have tremendous overhead costs. These legitimate companies have to pass those costs on. They have to operate with remote locations and expensive freelance instructors (or pay for their own instructor's travel expenses plus wages). This is why you see prices upwards of $2,000 for a course.
Local companies do not have these challenges. For example, (yes a shameless plug here...lol) PMCertDC have prices that range from $999 to $1,299- all inclusive of training, curriculum, study tools etc. and all classes are held at real locations across the D.C. metro area. Even the live-online courses are being taught at a real PMCertDC location in with real students present. Find classes here! (end of shameless plug).
7. Is the price of their course the lowest advertised (and maybe too good to be true)?
First and foremost, it may actually be a scam. It is not hard to put up a good website, advertise, and then steal the money. If it is not a scam, then the old saying may be apply here, "You get what you paid for it". This could mean sub-standard instruction (such as pre-recorded instruction), a "class" held in a Starbucks (which a competitor tried to pay me to do as a freelance instructor and I declined), or a class with inexperienced PMP holders acting as instructors and merely reading off slides, or worse!
Recently I taught for an international firm that was the lowest price around. They charge $699 for an online course. While they were a legitimate company, there training materials were poor, they did not provide a printable version of their slides to take notes on, and did not include any sort of post-course study tools such as exam simulators.
I recently spoke to a person that admitted to teaching PMP and CAPM courses without even being certified! This is in direct violation of PMI's standards. The company he was cheating for was PMI registered as a recommended provider. When I asked him how that company got away with it, he stated that the chance of being caught is next to nothing. He admitted that in most cases they could find a certified instructor, but if they were in a pinch, they had him teach the course at a lower cost. Bottom line: Totally unethical and detrimental to to the students just to save money and have the lowest price on Google.
Keep in mind, PMI is staffed with mostly volunteers. So unless enough people complain, they will more than likely never investigate.
8. What to do the real reviews say about them?
Being in the industry, I know who the good and bad companies are. While many honest companies have Google ratings of 4 starts, I see some of the dishonest companies with ratings of 4.8-5 starts! How could this be? I did some research and low and behold, I found the answer.
Using review monitoring companies, many bad actors can pay for better reviews even though it violates the terms of service for Google and others. Do not rely solely on Google reviews or Yelp (both great companies). In fact, companies can get guaranteed deletion of poor reviews for as little as $150 each! See the below screenshot as an example. Notice how companies make a killing scrubbing bad reviews.
In order to gain real reviews, perform a search of the company by name and scroll down. You will usually get to the truth on pages 2 or 3 of the results on sites that specialize in "pissed off consumers" or "scam reporting". Check the Better Business Bureau as well.
Conclusion: Before shelling out your hard earned money, ensure that you know what you are getting. Better yet, find a reputable local company when possible. If you are in the DC Area or want to learn in a live online environment, check us out here:)
Editors Note: As an honest broker of knowledge, if we are unable to accommodate your training needs, there are a couple of national companies I can recommend. Just shoot us an email.
Nathan J. Kerr, MS, PMP is the co-owner and founder of Five Star Training.