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Project Management Professional (PMP®) Credential: The What, the How, and the Why

PMP Credential professionalAttaining the PMP® credential makes a strong statement. It says that you are serious about the practice of project management, but more important, that you are willing to invest in yourself and in your career. If you have experience leading projects, here are three good reasons to consider the PMP® credential:

  1. The PMP® credential is marketable.
  2. The PMP® credential is internationally recognized.
  3. The PMP®-certified project manager is a credible source of project management best practices, which can be leveraged in any organization.

Project managers who achieve the PMP® credential can have the following impact in their organizations:

  1. A better understanding of the project management discipline
  2. A better understanding of what is required to launch a project
  3. An increase in stable projects through the use of consistent, repeatable processes
  4. Increased confidence from vendor and business partners in working with your organization
  5. Decreased costs due to more streamlined and successful projects


The PMP® credential is administered through the Project Management Institute (PMI), a member association for project management professionals. The Project Management Institute, A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide) is a widely-accepted statement of the sum of knowledge within the profession of project management. Getting the PMP® credential means you qualify in experience and can pass the 200-question test based on the PMBOK® Guide. Who should apply for the PMP® credential? Those who have demonstrated competence in leading and directing project teams. To qualify, you must be able to document 35 hours of project management education and provide:

  1. A bachelor's degree, plus 4,500 hours of documented experience leading and directing project tasks, accrued within eight years of the date of application


  1. A high school diploma, plus 7,500 hours of documented experience leading and directing project tasks, accrued within eight years of the date of application

Note: If you graduated from a GAC-accredited program*, only 3,000 work experience hours need to be presented.

*Project Management Institute Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs

In documenting your experience, overlapping months will not be double counted. Additionally, you should have experience in all five process groups: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing. Assuming good record keeping, estimate about eight hours to complete the application process. The Project Management Professional (PMP)® Handbook provides all the details you need to apply, and can be downloaded from PMI’s website. Experience verification forms can be filled out in hard copy or online.

PMI conducts application audits to confirm the experience and/or education documented on credential applications. The purpose of the audit is to enhance the credibility of the certification program and of the credential holders. For the PMP® credential, a percentage of applications are randomly selected for audit. Anyone can be audited for any reason at any time. If audited, you will be asked to submit supporting documentation including copies of your diploma/global equivalent, signatures from your supervisor(s) or manager(s) from the projects you recorded, and copies of certificates or letters from training institutes for the courses you recorded. You are given 90 days to submit the supporting documentation.

Once your online application is submitted, PMI will process the application within five business days. Your one-year eligibility period (the time during which you can take the exam) starts on the day your application was approved. Now you must schedule the test date and prepare to take the test! PMI suggests that you schedule your test at least six weeks in advance of your preferred test date and at least three months before the expiration of your one-year eligibility period. You may take the examination up to three times within this one year eligibility period should you not pass on the first attempt. There are fees associated with the application process. When you first sign up, the fee is $405 for PMI members and $555 for non members. The re-test fee is $275 for PMI members and $375 for non members.

Consider these tips to prepare for the PMP® examination:

  1. Get and study the latest edition of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).
  2. Review the Project Management Professional (PMP)® Examination Content Outline, (available on the PMI website) which identifies the proportion of questions on the exam from each of the five domains, as well as the tasks that are measured through the certification process. Also identified are cross-cutting knowledge and skills used in multiple domains, including PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.
  3. Take a prep course, which simulates the experience of taking the test and will cover the PMBOK® Guide content in detail. It will also give you references for supporting material; for instance, books or papers on the psychology of human behavior which include key concepts for what motivates individuals, or how teams move through phases of behavior.
  4. Get additional PMP® preparation resources from the marketplace. For example, practice exams and workbooks specifically geared toward helping you pass the PMP® examination.
  5. Memorize the PMBOK® Guide formulas and the nine knowledge areas covering integration, scope, time, cost, quality, human resource, communications, risk, and procurement, all which include inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs for each of its key processes.
  6. Form a study group.

In taking the test, keep in mind that out of the 200 questions, 25 are considered pre-test questions (not scored), placed randomly and used to test the validity of future test questions. All unanswered questions are scored as wrong answers, so it is better to guess at an answer if you are stumped on a question. The exam is scored immediately, so you will know if you have passed at the conclusion of the test.

It takes less than one minute for the results of the exam to appear on the screen once the applicant indicates the exam is complete. There are two levels of information provided on your score report. The first is the overall examination results that tell you whether you passed or failed. The second is a picture of your overall strengths and weaknesses within each domain. Each domain is assigned as Proficient, Moderately Proficient, or Below Proficient, based on the number of questions answered correctly within the domain.

To maintain the PMP® credential you need to earn professional development units (PDUs). The PMP® credential requires earning 60 PDUs per three-year cycle. The three-year certification cycle begins the day you pass the exam. PDU categories (listed below), fall under two divisions — Education and Giving Back to the Profession. There is no limit on the PDUs earned within a 3-year cycle in Educational PDU categories. However, a maximum of 25 PDUs has been imposed within a 3-year cycle (for PMP®) in Giving Back to the Profession PDU categories.

  1. Courses offered by PMI’s Registered Education Providers (R.E.Ps), chapters, or communities
  2. Organization meetings
  3. Self-paced learning
  4. Self-directed reading
  5. Informal learning
Giving Back to the Profession
  1. Create new project management knowledge resources
  2. Provide volunteer services
  3. Work as a professional in project management
  4. Give a presentation on topics relevant to the profession
  5. Share your domain knowledge to help others

Keep in mind that a PMP® credential alone does not make someone capable or a good fit for the profession. Strong project managers demonstrate excellent people skills, leadership, problem solving, and organizational skills in addition to the technical knowledge they gain by studying best practices. Still, there is a demand for legitimate credentials, as well as individuals who know how to manage projects, and if you look at the numbers (over 410,000 credential holders), there certainly is a buzz around the PMP® designation that will translate into increased marketability and legitimacy for your career in project management.

About the Author

Bonnie Cooper, PMP, instructor and subject matter expert for Corporate Education Group, is a twenty-year information technology professional, and is currently Program Director for the Massachusetts Medical Society’s (MMS) Corporate IT Program Office. In her current role, she is responsible for coordinating the efforts of project teams, overseeing the implementation of project standards, managing the corporate IT strategic plan, and leading the program to re-engineer the membership platform for MMS.

Project Management

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