PMP certification: Overview and career path [updated 2021]
The Project Management Professional (PMP) is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) advances careers through its globally recognized Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. This program is not tied to any single method, standard, or organization.
It can assess candidates’ talents and personal attributes needed to succeed as project managers.
Skilled project management workers are needed. A credential like the PMP is a valuable option to prove skills, experience and knowledge in a rapidly evolving field.
“With an expected increase in jobs, competitive salaries and the chance to make a difference, the future is bright for project professionals,” PMI.org acknowledges in its “Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017–2027” report. Organizations are seeking out those who hold project management-related certifications.
What is the PMP certification?
The Project Management Professional certification is an internationally recognized credential offered by the Project Management Institute, a U.S. nonprofit professional organization. It stands out compared to other project management certifications because it is not focused on a particular location, industry or methodology. Instead, it requires that you understand the best practices and principles of project management and validate that you have the experience, skill and competency required to lead any project and achieve the desired objectives. The versatility of the PMP certification makes it the most sought-after credential by project managers.
The PMP certification is also highly favored by employers. Research from PMI in 2015’s Pulse of the Profession study has shown that when one-third of an organization’s project managers are PMP-certified, they complete more of their projects on time, budget and meet original goals.
As the demand for skilled project managers is relatively high in many industries, PMP is considered the gold standard and will set you apart from non-certified professionals.
To get the PMP certification, you’ll need to meet the prerequisites, apply online through a three-step process, go through an audit (if selected) and take a 180-question, multiple-choice exam based on the project management body knowledge (PMBOK) guide.
The exam was updated in January 2021 to reflect three domains:
- People: focus on the soft skills that project management professionals need to manage a team effectively (42%).
- Process: focuses on the technical aspects of project management (50%).
- Business environment: focuses on how projects and organizational strategy are connected (8%).
Prep for the PMP certification by reviewing the Exam Content Outline.
While you do not have to be a member of the PMI to be PMP-certified, it is recommended that you join, as this will help you reap the full rewards of your PMP certification. The PMI membership will reduce your exam cost by $150 and connect you to a wealth of resources and a community of project management experts and organizations worldwide.
Who should earn the PMP?
A project is simply a temporary endeavor to create a product, service or result. Based on this definition, a wide range of industries ranging from construction to IT need competent project managers to deliver their desired project objectives. The PMP certification shows that you have the necessary skill and experience and is essential for all project managers or anyone who manages projects.
As a project manager, you should get the PMP certification if you want to:
- Broaden your career options
- Increase your earning potential: according to the Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey, PMP-certified project managers earn 22% higher on average than their peers
- Improve your skills: the PMP certification requires a lot of preparation, during which you will learn best practices of the profession
How does the PMP compare to other IT certs?
Suppose you are pursuing a career in information technology. In that case, there are several certifications targeted towards managing IT projects like Six Sigma Green Belt and Certified Scrum Master, or entirely focused Agile practices — the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP).
The certification you go for should depend on your job role, industry and your level of project management experience.
Most IT certifications are designed explicitly for or better-suited to particular processes, industries or methodologies. The PMP focuses on the whole project, can be applied in all industries and is internationally recognized. However, you need some project management experience to be eligible for the PMP.
What experience do you need?
To be eligible for the PMP Certification Exam, you need to have had some experience managing projects, some formal education and some project management training/education. Depending on your level of formal education, the required experience varies. More details can be found in the PMI Certifications Handbook.
If you have a secondary degree (high school diploma, associate degree or the global equivalent), you need 7,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education. If you have a four-year degree, you need 4,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education.
Sometimes, people get worried when their job title is not a project manager. It’s important to note that a project is simply a temporary endeavor to create a product, service or result, so your work experience creating any of those counts.
Is the PMP worth the effort?
This is probably the most common question about certifications. Your best answer is to analyze the costs and benefits (like any good PM will do).
Getting PMP certification can be expensive (member price is $405, non-member pricing is $555) and time-consuming, depending on your study method. It’s natural to wonder if it is worth the effort.
There are several advantages of having the PMP certification that makes it worth it.
- It increases your earning potential (an average of $108,000 a year): PMPs earn an average of 22% more than project managers that are not PMP-certified. According to PayScale, a general project manager has an average of $88,000; information technology project managers make an average of $98,000 and senior project managers earn (on average) $117,000.
- It sets you apart from the competition: it adds value to your resume and shows your employer that you are dedicated to the project management profession.
- It inspires confidence in your employer and stakeholders: the PMP certification tests your competency as a project manager and increases the probability that you will deliver the desired project objectives within the set time and on budget.
- It widens your career options: the PMP is recognized and respected in any location and industry. If you decide to change your job, there will be no restrictions on which path you can take.
- It continually improves your skills: the PMP exam requires you to fully understand and apply the principles of project management, and the certification is valid for three years. However, it is maintained by earning professional development units (PDUs). They are a way of showing that you are keeping up-to-date with developments in project management.
- It provides you with lots of resources and networking opportunities as a PMI member. You can have access to local chapters that are disseminated in all major cities throughout the world and will be able to participate in various meetings, forums and conferences tailored to the acquisitions of PDUs needed to fulfill continuing certification requirements (CCRs) that will have you remain an active certificate holder in good standing status.
What is the best way to train for the PMP?
There are several ways to train for the PMP, depending on how much time you have, your budget and your preferred study method. Whichever method you choose, it’s recommended that you become a PMI member and download a free copy of the PMBOK, which the exam is based on.
Here are the three major routes that most candidates take to becoming PMP-certified:
This is a standard method and the cheapest option, but it requires a lot of time, planning and self-discipline. If you choose to self-study, it is important to know that it will not count towards your 35 hours of project management education — you’ll still need to find online training by a Project Management Institute (PMI) Registered Education Providers (R.E.P.). There are tons of PMP study materials online; you will have to choose your study materials to supplement the PMBOK.
Online training courses
PMI and the other registered education providers offer online courses (e.g., PMI Authorized On-demand PMP Exam Prep) in every area of project management skill development and are available if you don’t have as much time and want the advantages of classroom training in the convenience of your own home office. They are live, interactive classes led by a qualified instructor you will be able to interact with. It’s the same experience as a physical classroom and provides study materials and practice exams without the travel expenses.
In-person boot camps
You can also physically attend an instructor-led course. They are a little expensive, but the fastest way to study is to get ready for the exam as quickly as possible and prefer having a defined schedule to follow. These boot camps will usually last for five days, and you will be able to take the exam at the end of the classes.
Passing the PMP certification exam
A PMP credential can help provide a clear-cut career path as a project manager, an advantage in the job market, an increase in chances of being hired and a higher salary.