How to Become a Certified Project Manager

Some people manage projects within the execution of their regular job duties. Others manage projects exclusively as for their professional responsibilities. This latter group consists of professional project managers.

Once people make the switch in their careers from managing projects to being project managers, they begin to see that in order to land the best jobs they need professional certifications. For the mid-career and the most senior project management jobs, a project management certification is a given. Here are the steps to becoming a certified project manager. 

Decide You Want to Become a Certified Project Manager

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The first step to becoming a certified project manager is deciding you want to be one. For many, this decision represents a shift in one’s career. People often stumble into professional project management after having success in managing projects on a sporadic basis. They find they have a natural ability, and they want to cultivate that capacity in ways that will benefit them professionally.

A certification shows current and potential employers you are serious about making a career in project management. 

Pick Which Certification You Want to Pursue

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While there are several global organizations that offer project management certifications, the Project Management Institute, or PMI,  is the world’s premier professional organization for project managers. In addition to several specialized project management certifications, PMI offers two generalist certifications -- the Project Management Professional, or PMP®, and the Certified Associate in Project Management, or CAPM®.

The PMP® is the most common project management certification in the world. The CAPM® is a lower level certification for newer project managers who will likely pursue a PMP® once they reach the PMP® qualifications.

Become a PMI Member

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Joining PMI as you pursue a project management certification has two primary benefits. First, you gain instant access to the latest edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge, or PMBOK® Guide.

This book is the source material for questions on the PMP® and CAPM® exams. Second, paying the membership fee gives you discounts on other purchases, such as your exam fee, that makes whether to join an obvious choice. 

Schedule Your Exam

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Once you join PMI, you should schedule your exam. You should choose a date and time that gives you ample study time. A rule of thumb is about three months. This gives you enough time to study and puts the right amount of time pressure on you motivate your preparation. Exams must be taken in-person, so you should pick a testing location that is convenient for you. 

Study, Study, Study

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PMI exams are not easy. You need to study the entire PMBOK® Guide in order to pass the PMP® or CAPM® exam. Many people choose to take boot camp style classes.

For instance, people may pay a few thousand dollars for a four-day course that covers the PMBOK® Guide material and gives exam-specific tips. Other people choose to buy study materials and go it alone. Either way can work, but passage rates are higher for people who take classes.  

Take the Exam

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The exam is the only part of the PMI certification process that cannot be done online. You can schedule your exam online, but you must appear in person to take the exam. The exam is a multiple choice exam taken on a computer, but the testing center verifies each test taker’s identity so that someone cannot impersonate another person scheduled to take the test. Once you finish the exam, you complete a short survey. After the survey, you will know whether you passed or failed. 

Celebrate Your Success

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Hopefully, the computer at the testing center says you passed. If it does, your name will appear on PMI’s certification registry within 24 hours, and you will receive your certificate in the mail within about a month. As you walk out of the testing center, take a moment to reflect on your success, and that night, go out to a nice dinner. This is a big accomplishment, and you should celebrate it!