Project management certification can be a useful tool to advance your career, whether or not you’re a formal project manager or aspire to become one in the future. But it’s not right for everyone. If you’re considering it, this video will help you make an informed decision.
The article below summarizes the video content.
In December of 2020, I earned my PMP certification. If you’re not familiar, PMP stands for Project Management Professional, and it’s probably the most well-respected certification in the field of project management. It was a big commitment and an endeavor I didn’t take lightly.
Some people find it surprising that I have my PMP, since I’m not a formal project manager and I don’t aspire to become one. But I do train on the topic of project management, and I manage a lot of projects on behalf of my clients. In fact, on average, I manage about 50 projects a year.
Like many of you reading or watching this, I also managed projects (in an unofficial capacity) throughout my career as an administrative professional.
So, my decision to become PMP certified stemmed from a desire to a few things:
- First: To develop my personal competence (and verify the competence I had developed through experience)
- Second: To enhance my credibility and confidence as a trainer on this topic
- Third: To demonstrate my commitment to the formal standards within this complicated and dynamic field
As you may know, I am a big advocate for professional certification. There is something powerful that happens when you have a few letters after your name. It immediately elevates how people perceive you—even if they have no idea what those letters actually mean! (And it’s always a good topic of conversation to explain what they mean.)
Since obtaining my PMP certification, I’ve had a lot of people (including many administrative professionals) ask if they should consider it. My answer is always the same: It depends.
If you’re planning on becoming a formal project manager (or hope to become one in the future), then YES, you should absolutely get certified! In most PM roles, the PMP is a required (or at least preferred) qualification.
If you’re NOT planning on becoming a formal PM, it may still be a benefit to you, but it’s not as clearcut. Here are some helpful things to know as you consider whether or not project management certification is right for you.
Know Your Goals
Obtaining any professional certification is an investment of time and money. You don’t want to jump into it without knowing exactly what you hope to achieve. What will this certification give you that you don’t already have? Is certification the best way to get those things, or are there other options that may be equally or more effective and less time consuming and costly?
The list of reasons I shared earlier are the same ones I came up with when I was considering certification. I am happy to say that, for me, all of these goals have been achieved with the PMP certification.
It is not, however, a guarantee of anything. If you want to become certified because you think it will get you a promotion or a raise, perhaps it will help. But (as we all know) nothing is certain in the workplace. It may be a useful tool in shaping your role to be more PM focused and it may be compelling evidence of your PM skillset, but you will have to use it intelligently. It can’t do the work for you.
PMP vs. CAPM
There are actually two different certifications that may interest you. The PMP is the more popular of the two, but also more rigorous. It requires formal training, proven project management experience, and passing a challenging exam.
The CAPM (Certified Associate of Project Management) is a less rigorous and less well-known, though still very respected, certification also offered through the Project Management Institute. It requires fewer hours of training, no documented experience, and a smaller (perhaps less challenging) exam.
The specific requirements for each certification are always available on the PMI website, and they may change over time, so check in over there before you make any decisions.
In general, I think the CAPM is a great first step for someone considering PM certification. Should you decide (after obtaining the CAPM) that the PMP is of interest, you will be well on your way. The CAPM is particularly good for those who are not formal PMs and are not considering it as a career path.
Consider the Time Commitment
Obtaining either the CAPM or the PMP is a serious time commitment. The PMP is significantly more. I spent 3 solid months preparing, even as an experienced PM trainer. About half that time was spent in rigorous study (meaning 10+ hours a week of reading, watching video trainings, and creating or reviewing study materials like flashcards and concept sheets).
After successfully passing the exam, I felt my study time was overkill, but in hindsight, it’s easy to say that. If I hadn’t studied that much, perhaps I wouldn’t have been successful. We’ll never know.
The point is: Don’t jump into it without really considering the time required and making sure you’re up for it. It’s best to define a specific period of time (3 to 6 months) and clear your schedule as much as possible to focus on studying. If you try to space it out too much, over too long a period, you run the risk of losing momentum. The closer your study sessions are to one another, the more likely you are to retain the material.
If you decide to move forward with either the PMP or CAPM, here are a few quick tips to help support you in the process.
- Track Your PM Experience: Even if you decide to go for the CAPM (and not the PMP at this time), it’s still smart to go ahead and start tracking your project management experience. While it’s not required for the CAPM, you still may decide to pursue the PMP in the future and, if so, you’ll be ahead of the game. Trying to go back and recreate your PM experience after the fact is a lot harder than just tracking as you go. Capture the project details, dates, your role, and the number of hours you spent working on various components of the project.
- Find Reputable Training Providers: When going for the PMP or CAPM, there are specific things you need to learn. Frankly, certification training is not the same as practical training. As I said earlier, I provide project management training, but my classes are practical—they are designed to help you manage projects in the real world. They are not designed to help you pass the exam. That being said, my programs will certainly give you a solid foundation on which to build. You’ll learn the same language, concepts, and processes, but it won’t be presented with the same exam focus.
If you’re looking for training that will prepare you for the PMP or CAPM exam, you need specific exam-focused training. PMI has a number of providers they recommend, and I can recommend the two courses I completed when preparing. (Yes, I did two different courses, which provided me with double the required hours. I believe in over-preparing!)
To be clear: I do not think project management certification is a fit for everyone. For many people, it is simply unnecessary and won’t payoff in any kind of tangible way. However, like most learning activities, it can be a personally rewarding experience for the right individual.
If you’re not sure whether PM certification is a fit for you, come to a practical training program first (like my Project Management Learning Lab) and see how you like it. If it’s not a fit, you’ve still gained a ton of real-world strategies to improve your project work. If you discover it’s something you love, you’ll be well positioned to move on to the next steps for certification if and when you’re ready.