PMP Certification: is it Worth it?

Certification as a Project Management Professional, or PMP, is a designation granted by the Project Management Institute (PMI) to attest that the holder of the certification possesses the knowledge and skills codified in the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBoK). Since its genesis in 1984, the PMP certification has grown internationally to include 833,025 certification holders as of March 2018. When someone attains their PMP certification, this serves as a strong signal to employers and clients that they have achieved a certain level of education, project experience, and have passed the rigorous test that qualifies professionals as a Project Management Professional.

Holders of a PMP certification maintain their credentials by obtaining professional development units (PDUs) through continuing education, practicing their profession, and renewing through PMI. Most PMPs would be horrified at the idea of losing their certification through negligence, and prefer to maintain their title through renewal rather than through passing the certification exam again. This is partly because the PMBoK is constantly updated with the latest best practices and principles of project management, and the testing requirements can change from year to year. The exam is daunting, even to seasoned Project Managers with over 10 years of experience.

Beyond the well known PMP certification, the PMI also offers other certifications, including:

  • Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)
  • PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)
  • PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
  • PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)
  • PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)

Note that the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) is the junior version of a full PMP, requiring fewer project hours and less stringent classroom requirements.

What is the Project Management Institute?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) is an international institution founded in 1969 to hold the profession of project management to a certain standard, provide resources and guidelines to project managers, and enforce a certain level of ethical standards for their certified PMPs. The PMI not only offers free resources and certifies project managers, but also offers paid memberships to aspiring and current project managers, which grants them access to a library of webinars, reports, and events. Chapters of PMI members can be found around the globe, and provide professionals interested in project management an opportunity to network and share ideas with each other.

Who should get their PMP certification?

72% of PMO leaders consider the PMP certification to be beneficial for mid-career project managers, as it encourages continuous learning and demonstrates strong project management foundations. Professionals looking to make a career out of project management, or who work in fields where projects are a major component of the industry, such as IT, construction, or healthcare, will reap benefits from certification, especially when vying for a promotion or looking for new jobs.

In the IT industry, it is rare for IT managers to not have some kind of project management training, though this does not necessarily include PMP certification. Familiarity with project management principles is key to being able to work collaboratively with project managers at companies experiencing growing pains, especially those transitioning from small to mid-sized businesses.

Executive admins and project coordinators will also benefit from PMP certification, especially those feeling that they have plateaued in their current positions. These roles often involve supporting project managers or smaller scale projects that provide the foundations for the experience component of the PMP requirements, but don’t communicate to employers the level of readiness to make the full transition into Project Management on paper. Savvy employers of high-achieving executive admins and project coordinators will not require a PMP certification, but might encourage and even pay for PMP certification to bolster the confidence of these individuals as they grow in their project management careers.

The PMP certification is especially valuable to those who aspire to work on large enterprise-level projects with many moving parts. The exam is written with such complex scenarios in mind, where project managers can no longer get away with skipping a few steps in the formalized project management process.

Why someone should get a PMP certification

The number one reason project managers get certified is tied to compensation, with 82% of PMP holders surveyed by PMI in 2017 reporting higher median salaries than those without PMP certification. Across the 37 countries surveyed, the average was 23% higher.

Some employers require the PMP for a promotion beyond the equivalent of their Project Coordinator title, whereas others maintain it as an informal requirement. However, most employers will offer some sort of monetary compensation for obtaining the PMP. This can range from as little as reimbursement for the exam fee and study materials, to as much as a bonus or raise for obtaining formal credentials. Given that the one-week bootcamp courses designed to prep PMP candidates run upwards of $2,000, reimbursement or other monetary incentive is understandably an important motivation to acquiring the PMP.

According to PMI’s 10th edition of their salary survey, the median salary of project managers in the United States with 5-10 years experience is $100,000. With PMP certification, that same number jumps up to $120,000. Across all level of experience, the PMP designation offers a 25% salary advantage over equally experienced peers.

Beyond compensation, project managers will commonly find “PMP certification preferred” as a common line item in the qualifications section of project manager job descriptions. Recruiters scan for PMP certification as a way to validate a candidate’s suitability for project related roles, and some roles may require PMP certification to even be considered for the position. Therefore, project managers looking to make a life-long career out of project management would greatly benefit from obtaining and maintaining a PMP certification.

What’s involved in getting your PMP Certification?

To qualify to take the PMP exam, PMI requires the following, depending on your level of education:

If you have a secondary degree (high school, associates, or global equivalent)

  • 7,500 hours of project leadership experience
  • 35 hours of project management education

If you have a four-year degree

  • 4,500 hours of project leadership experience
  • 35 hours of project management education

The project and classroom hours are part of the application, so keep a record of past projects and classroom time that qualifies for PMI’s professional development units (PDUs). This will come in handy when filling out the application.

For PMI members, the fee is $405 to apply and take the exam, whereas the fee is $555 for non-members. Membership also comes with a free download of the latest version of the PMBoK, which regularly runs $99 for non-members from PMI, but can be found for less at other retailers. Just be sure to acquire the latest edition! (Currently, the 6th edition is the most current, and PMI offers a bundle with its Agile Practice Guide for no extra cost.)

The exam is delivered at testing centers across the world, and has a time limit of 4 hours. The PMI recommends spending at least 35 hours to prepare for the exam. Content on the exam can be derived from the PMBoK, but most find that other study material helps contextualize the information better. Formal study courses are provided by PMI’s Registered Education Providers. Exam questions are delivered via computer based testing (CBT), and applicants will know their results right after completing the exam.

In Summary

PMP certification isn’t for everyone, but for those who find themselves on the project management career path, it provides formal credentials and an income boost. Where possible, project managers, coordinators, and executive admins should look into their employer’s requirements for career progression and whether reimbursement for certification is offered. Not only will the certification help make you more employable, but it can also result in financial benefits, since those who are certified tend to have higher salaries.

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