Today, we’re in a job seeker’s market. The labor market is so strong, in fact, that it’s leading more and more Americans to quit their jobs.

With that information in hand, if you were to ask us how important the majority professional certifications are today, we’d have to say: Not very.

An exception to that rule would be Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification.

The stats suggest we’re right.

Eighty-two percent of survey respondents, holding the PMP certification, report 23 percent higher median salaries on average than those without a PMP certification. In the U.S., certified project managers can earn $112,000 per year.

And 80 percent of high-performing projects are led by a certified project manager, making companies sticklers for PMP certified professionals.

Unfortunately, the PMP exam is not a walk in the park. Approximately two out of five people fail their first attempt.

That’s why we’re here. In this post, we’ll answer all the must-know information about the PMP certification, so you can pass the exam with flying colors.

Reading not your thing? Check out the infographic below. The post will continue below the infographic.

pmp certification infographic

What is the PMP certification?

There are more than 750,000 certified project managers around the globe.

Regardless of where you live or what industry you work in, the PMP certification is recognized as the gold standard in project management. It’s the official recognition of a project manager who has taken and passed the PMI’s PMP exam.

Think of the PMP exam as the bar exam for lawyers, in that exam takers must master complex topics in order to pass; the only difference is a PMP certification is not required to do project management work.

Who is eligible to take the PMP exam?

There are two sets of eligibility requirements:

pmp certification

According to PMI, “professional project management experience” means you’ve:

  • performed your duties under general supervision and are responsible for all aspects of the project for the life of the project
  • led and directed cross-functional teams to deliver projects within the constraints of schedule, budget and resources
  • demonstrated sufficient knowledge and experience to appropriately apply a methodology to projects that have reasonably well-defined project requirements and deliverables

What is the PMP certification process like?

Step 1: Fulfill eligibility criteria.

We discussed the eligibility criteria in the question above. Please review again, if necessary.

Step 2: Complete application.

Once you’re eligible, it’s time to apply.

Gather the following information, and then use PMI’s online certification page to apply.

  • Contact information:
    • Email
    • Address
    • Phone number
  • Education attained:
    • School attended
    • Level of education attained
    • Degree date
  • Domain experience:
    • Details of the projects, programs and portfolios you’ve worked on including,
      • Qualifying hours
      • Dates of employment
      • Role
      • Organization details
      • Reference
      • Experience summary
  • Domain education:
    • Names of courses completed
    • Institutions attended
    • Dates
    • Qualifying hours

Applications remain active for 90 days after you begin one.

Step 3: Review your application.

Once PMI receives your application, they’ll verify that you meet the eligibility requirements and that your experience and education is valid.

The review process takes about five to 10 days, on average.

Once approved, PMI will email you next steps.

If you don’t receive next steps, then you may be a part of specific number of applications that are randomly audited to confirm your experience and/or education.

4. Pay.

Once your application is approved, you can pay for the exam online on PMI’s website.

You’ll receive an eligibility number, which you’ll use to schedule your exam, once paid.

Upon receiving your eligibility number, you’re eligible for one year, and you may take the exam up to three times during that year.

5. Schedule your exam.

Finally, you can schedule your appointment online at Prometric.com/PMI using your eligibility number.

Then, all that’s left is to prepare.

How do I present my work experience on the PMP application?

pmp certification work experience

You must document every hour you’ve spent in each of the five PMI Process Groups for all of your past projects.

These groups are the same as the sections in the PMP exam:

  • Initiating the Project
  • Planning the Project
  • Executing the Project
  • Monitoring and Controlling the Project
  • Closing the Project

You can download the above template here.

What is the PMP exam like?

If you meet the above eligibility requirements, you can register for the exam on PMI. If you’re not a PMI member, the exam will cost $555. If you are a PMI member, it costs $405.  

The exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions written with the Project Management Book Of Knowledge (PMBOK) and the PMP Code of Ethics specifically in mind.

The exam is closed-book, so no reference materials are allowed.

There is a total of 200 questions — 25 of which are sample questions, used to fine-tune the degree of difficulty and accuracy of the exam. These sample questions, therefore, are not counted for or against a test taker.

You won’t know which ones don’t count though, as they’re randomly scattered throughout the exam.

In the below table, you can see the five sections within the exam, and the percentage of questions in each one.

pmp certification exam

The above five process groups are mapped to ten project management knowledge areas, including:

  1. Project Integration Management
  2. Project Scope Management
  3. Project Schedule Management
  4. Project Cost Management
  5. Project Quality Management
  6. Project Resource Management
  7. Project Communications Management
  8. Project Risk Management
  9. Project Procurement Management
  10. Project Stakeholder Management

The processes of these knowledge areas are described by their inputs, tools and techniques and outputs. The PMBOK also emphasizes the interaction and interdependence between different process groups.

For example, the outputs from one process may be used by one or more other processes as inputs.

How do I prepare for the PMP exam?

According to the PMI, professionals spend more than 35 hours preparing for the PMP exam on average.

Study a wide variety of sources.

Certified PMPs recommend studying a variety of different sources. This PMP recommends studying the following three sources, in the order below.

  1. The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try: A solid introduction to PMI’s framework
  2. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK): A must-read that you might find be easier to digest after perusing the first book
  3. PMP Exam Prep: Provides a comprehensive understanding of the material, featuring realistic example exam questions

Memorize PMI processes and earned value formulas.

Every PMI process contains one or more of the following:

  • Inputs
  • Tools and techniques
  • Outputs

Often referred to as the PMI ITTO (or ITTOs), you’ll need to spend a hefty amount of time reviewing these, which can sound confusing without the PMI process flow diagrams in front of you.

Here’s how one project manager studied this stuff:

While preparing for the PMP examination I used rote memorization to get two pages’ worth of important information into my head. The first page showed a flowchart of the PMI processes, with arrows indicating how one process might be an output for another process, and an input for a third. The second page had a list of the important Earned Value formulas that you will need to know for the PMP exam: PERT, Cost and Schedule Variance, Net Present Value, and the To Complete Performance Index, among others.

On exam day, when I arrived at the Prometric testing center and sat down beside the computer terminal to take the PMP exam, the first thing I did was write out all of the PMP process flows and important Earned Value formulas onto a blank piece of paper (both blank paper and pencils were provided to by the Prometric testing staff). This is a perfectly legal and in fact recommended way to approach taking the PMP exam – perform a brain dump of all the important information you’re going to need to know for the exam right as the exam starts, and then consult this brain dump throughout the examination. I highly recommend this approach!

Test yourself with as many sample questions as possible.

Answer A LOT of sample questions that are similar to the questions you’ll experience on the actual exam.

It helps if you take a bunch of sample questions from different PMP study guides so you adequately prepare yourself.

Additional Resources: Here’s PMI’s list of tips for preparing for the exam:

Is it worth getting PMP certified? Pros and Cons

The Pros

It’s an impressive credential.

The PMP credential can be the difference between landing a job and being passed over in favor of someone who is PMP certified.

It’s not that surprising that companies demand PMP certified professionals when you consider that, “When more than one-third of their project managers are PMP-certified, organizations complete more of their projects on time, on budget and meeting original goals.”

It proves you’re an experienced project manager.

To be eligible to take the PMP exam, you’re required to have actual hands-on experience directing and leading projects — between three to five years, depending on your education level.

So by simply adding “PMP” to the end of your name, you can dramatically increase your credibility as a project manager.

You’ll earn more money.

The median salary of U.S. PMP certification holders was $111,000 versus a median salary of $91,000 for those without the PMP certification.

It shows you’re committed to the profession.

To get your PMP certification, you have to be dedicated, because securing it is a ton of work. Regardless of whether you want to be a project manager for the rest of your career, getting your PMP certification shows you want to progress in your career, which shows a lot about your character.

The Cons

It’s expensive.

To take the PMP exam, it’ll cost you between $405 (PMI members) and $555 (Non-PMI members). Additionally, you’ll have to pay for 35 hours worth of formal project management education, which can range anywhere from under $100 to $500 per class.

The PMI membership costs $129 annually, and $119 to renew each year.

There is good news though. If you’re already working as a project manager, your company may foot the bill for all or some of the above.

You also have to renew your PMP certification every three years. To maintain it, you need to take enough classes to earn 60 PDUs over a period of three years, which cost money, as well as the certification renewal fee of $150.

It’s time consuming.

First, you have to gather and organize all of your past experience and education, which can be a grueling process.

PMI requires your experience to be documented down to the process level. For instance, how many hours did you spend creating a work breakdown structure, for X project? How many hours did you spend getting tasks done.

Next, you’ll have to spend a decent chunk of time familiarizing yourself with PMI’s processes, and studying for the exam.

PMI only teaches one framework.

Passing the PMP exam, simply means you’re an expert in PMI’s own project management framework — not necessarily an expert in all things project management.

This methodology is based on the PMBOK guide, but there are many other popular methodologies, including but not limited to: Agile, Waterfall and Scrum.

And a nice chunk of people even believe that PMI’s methodology is outdated, as it doesn’t take iterative development (agile best practices) into consideration.

The PMP doesn’t automatically make you a good project manager.

All the PMP certification means is that you’ve accumulated X amount of project management experience and education, and you’ve passed a really hard test. That’s it.

It’s sort-of similar to a college degree. Nearly 50 percent of grads are underemployed or unemployed, so a credential doesn’t necessarily equal success in the real world.

Go forth, and kill your exam.

That should cover everything there is to know about the PMP certification. Now, it’s time to decide whether you need the credential.

If so, it’s time to start gathering your experience into the Excel template we linked to above to see if you’re even eligible yet.

If you are, looks like all you have left to do is prepare, so get your study pants on… It’s time to get certified!

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