PMP: To Certify or Not to Certify?

Project management certification through the Project Management Institute (PMI) is known as PMP certification (standing for Project Management Professional). If you’ve been a project manager for any length of time, this is not news to you. The question is, should you get certified? Does it have value? Is it the only way you’re going to get a good project management position in an organization? Lots of questions…with varying answers depending on who you work for, what your current employment status is, and what your resume looks like.

PMP CertificationLet’s consider some of these concepts further…but first let’s consider the requirements for becoming certified. If you have a bachelor’s degree, then you must have 4500 hours of relevant PM work experience including three years (36 months) of PM experience within the previous eight years prior to sitting for the PMP exam. You must also have 35 contact hours of PM education. Requirements get a little higher if you don’t possess the bachelor’s degree, but for the sake of this article, we’ll assume the candidate has a bachelor’s degree. The cost for PMI membership and testing will run you about $535 and the cost of the initial training requirements may cost you anywhere from $1000-$2000. Then there is the ongoing annual training requirements, but that cost is far lower thanks to the many low-cost professional development unit (PDU) options have become available to satisfy ongoing training requirements.

Let’s consider the following scenarios…

The unemployed PM

If you’re a project manager who is currently unemployed and you don’t already have your PMP certification, then by all means, pursue it. The cost is likely worth it. My only gripe is the lazy human resource reps who seem bent on using PMP certification as a weed-out tool for even choosing which candidates make the first round of resume reviews. I consider that practice highly unwise because most of the best project managers I’ve ever known are not PMP certified. Thankfully, while this seemed widespread a couple of years ago, I’m seeing far fewer positions that are requiring it – most just list it as preferred or nice to have.

The PM looking to move on

If you’re a project manager currently employed at one organization and you’re looking for greener pastures at another company, then certification may again be a good idea. Yes, your experience and project successes that you’ve tucked under your belt will definitely help you get noticed as will the fact that you’re not desperately seeking employment, but rather actively looking to broaden your horizons. However, if you really want to set yourself apart and show that you’re serious about your profession, then it’s probably a good idea to actively seek certification – even if your company doesn’t offer reimbursement for the training and testing. It will probably help you get noticed by the organization you’re looking to jump to as you move up the project management food chain.

The PM looking to advance in his organization

This is the scenario where I part company with those who swear by PMP certification. Unless your organization requires it – or in the case of one company I was working for that wrote it into my sign on agreement that I was to receive a $10,000 pay bump for becoming certified – then I just don’t see a need. If you’re a good PM, you’re a good PM. PMP certification won’t change that. I’m not a strong believer in the PMI way of doing things or the ‘need for a common language’ among project managers. Much of what we do as project managers requires logic and common sense, good organizational skills, an acceptance to take on lots of responsibility without a bunch of accolades, the willingness and ability to make good decisions on the fly, and absolutely the ability to effectively and efficiently communicate to the lowest and highest levels of your own organization and your project client’s organization. If you’re OK doing all those things and have a proven track record in all of those areas, then I don’t see the need. Your management already knows your value to the organization and your customers will see it on every project you lead.


So, what’s the bottom line? Should you certify? Well, for me it definitely ‘depends.’ I’m in the camp that thinks PMP certification doesn’t make you a better project manager. It really more or less serves to ‘legitimize’ you in someone else’s eyes. The need to acquire it depends on your circumstances, your desperation, your current workload, your availability to log the necessary training and study time, and whether you’re already a good PM. And by that last statement I do mean that yes – acquiring the PMP certification can mask a bad project manager and make them appear enticing to a hiring organization. It can also allow you to ‘fake it till you make it’ in a way. It all comes down to how you feel about it. It certainly isn’t a bad thing to acquire – go for it if you have the need and time. Just understand it isn’t the end all thing that is going to make your career for you. You have to do that for yourself.

Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland

Noteworthy accomplishments:
*20 year provider of successful technical project management leadership for clients across nearly every industry imaginable
*Author of more than 4,000 expert professional project management and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos over the past decade
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*Named #1 in the 100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management
*Named a Top 10 Project Management Influencer to Follow in 2016
*The most read author of expert project management content on Project Times/BA Times for 2015
*Named most prolific provider of project management content over the past 5 years
*Noted for successful project management and financial oversight for $50 million Dept. of Education financial contract/program
*Chosen by the Dept of Defense as a subject matter expert (SME) to help select IWMS software provider for the largest IWMS implementation ever awarded

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