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Should You Get PMP Certified?

“Should I pursue the Project Management Professional certification?” is a very popular and good question to consider carefully. The right answer for you depends on your experience to date and your plan for your career.

Your experience to date. To even sit for the PMP® exam one requirement is a significant amount of project management experience and at least 35 hours of project management education. If you have a secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or the global equivalent), PMI requires 7,500 hours leading and directing projects. OR, if you have a four-year degree, 4,500 hours leading and directing projects is required. If you don’t have this much experience yet, jump down to the end where I present an alternative certification.

That said, I've met quite a few people who have the PMP who claimed project management experience, when in fact, that experience is debatable. A lead on a portion of a project while also acting as a subject matter expert, does not a project manager make. PMI is focused on “project management practitioners”. They are assuming that you have already been functioning as a project manager and are considering getting PMI-certified because you are dedicated to the profession. This is akin to having been a bookkeeper for a long time and pursuing your CPA to up your game and show the world you are dedicated to pursuing a career as a professional accountant. And that brings us to…

Your plan for your career. Do you truly feel that project management is your calling? Is managing projects the work you wish to do for the foreseeable future? If so, keep reading.

Here is my unfiltered bottom line. Personally, I don't know why one would bother getting the certification if one doesn't want to be a project manager, full-time, as their career.

Reward in your current organization. Are you in an organization that values the PMP, will pay for a bootcamp (these generally satisfy both the 35-hour educational requirement as well as efficiently preparing you for the exam), support your pursuit of the designation, as well as consider an increase in salary or level once you achieve it? If so, why not go for it? It will take time and effort, but there is immediate benefit on its way. If that isn’t the situation at the moment, read on.

Making you more marketable. If you believe that you will need to leave your current job AND you would like your next one to be as a full-time project manager, you should seriously consider the PMP. Organizations that use the “PMI way” as the basis for how they run projects often do list the PMP as a required or desired designation for new candidates. So, if in your geography, you feel that having the PMP designation will help you to be more marketable, this is another good reason to pursue it. (Please see the Warning section below.)

How dedicated are you? It’s not over after you pass. Once you get certified, you do not have a lifelong appointment like a Supreme Court Justice. Over the next 3 years, plan to obtain 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs), in order to keep the designation. This can be accomplished through a mix of doing your job as a project manager, education and “giving back” to the profession. Mostly, 1 PDU is equivalent to 1 hour of your life.

A Warning. While I understand that many hiring organizations, including Project Management Offices (PMOs), list the PMP as a requirement for new hires, I have worked for and hired great project managers with no PMP because they have real end-to-end project management experience and a leadership style that works for that environment. And some of us can actually assess real experience vs. “paper PMPs” pretty quickly. So if you are not a true "practitioner", please be sure to position yourself appropriately lest you be in violation of the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

An alternative if you aren’t sure. I would encourage anyone who would like to truly learn the Project Management Institute’s approach to Project Management, to study for the PMP in order to LEARN an industry standard viewpoint and the common language used by PMPs, PMOs and organizations who base their methodology on these standards. I do NOT mean attend a class, memorize enough to pass the test, and then forget everything. I mean really LEARN it. For anyone who has played a variety of roles on a project, but who hasn’t been the project manager (yet), this type of learning could provide more of a 360-degree understanding of a project. Learning is always valuable. You could attend a bootcamp course and study the material, but not go through the pain of applying for and sitting for the 4-hour exam. Then, you would still get the benefit of that 360-degree view and be able to wow your management with your knowledge and appreciation for the standards set forth by PMI. Just remember, studying textbook project management and learning what PMI believes is the right answer in multiple-choice scenarios … does not a project manager make.

An alternative if you ARE sure, but don’t have enough experience to sit for the PMP. The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® is still a PMI certification and the material you need to study to pass the exam is about the same. Prerequisites to sit for the exam are either a secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or the global equivalent) and 1,500 hours of project experience, OR 23 hours of project management education completed by the time you sit for the exam. The certification exam has 150 multiple-choice questions, and you have three hours to complete it. To maintain your CAPM, you must retake the exam every five years. But by then, you should be ready to sit for the PMP anyway.

Good luck with your decision! In the meantime, to get a peek at what you will have to learn, grab a tablet and download our App where we make learning fun through the power of gamification.

If you have a group interested in passing the exam, we can help! Check out our certification page. If you are part of a training firm interested in supplementing your courses with our ProjectFlo® Process Learning System, learn more about our simple, fast, four-step process here.


About the Author: Dawn Mahan is Founder & CEO of PMOtraining, LLC. and obviously may be biased because she is PMP-certified, has developed training curriculum and mentored project managers who are considering certification. She also loathes timed, multiple choice exams and is a nervous test taker. So, if she can do it, so can you!

PMI®, PMP® & CAPM® are registered trademarks of the Project Management Institute.

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