How to Become a Project Management Professional

Project managers are in high demand across all industries. But that doesn’t make the job landscape any less competitive. To stand out against other candidates, you have to take extra measures that establish your superior expertise and knowledge.

Becoming a Project Management Professional (PMP) is an excellent way to put your project management career on the fast track to success, complete with a nice salary boost. Read on as we list the steps to become a certified project management professional.

Step 1: Meet the PMP Certification Prerequisites

The PMP is the leading project management certification that supercharges project leader careers across industries, helping organizations find people that can work smarter and assure better outcomes.

Naturally, you’ll have to fulfill certain educational and work experience requirements before gaining such an advanced certification. Depending on your educational background and degree, the Project Management Institute (PMI) gives you two different options:

  • If you have a high school diploma or associate’s degree, you must complete 60 months of experience leading projects plus 35 hours of training.
  • If you have a four-year college degree, you only need 36 months of project management experience plus 35 hours of training.

Regardless of your level of education, all PMP candidates must have 35 hours of project management education or training by a PMI-recognized provider OR have received the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification. You must document your experience and training, including your role and responsibilities, project length, training courses completed, and more.

You cannot register for the PMP unless you fulfill these prerequisites. While there’s no shortage of detailed and well-drafted courses, the costs vary. A traditional class course costs $1,000-$2,000, whereas an online course is considerably cheaper at $100-$500.

Step 2: Become a Member of the PMI

Becoming a PMI member isn’t mandatory to get certified, but it’s a move we highly recommend.

A PMI membership helps you save money on exam fees (it’s $405 for PMI members and $555 for non-members). Plus, you get access to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, also known as the PMBOK Guide, which is essentially what the entire exam is based on.

Go to the PMI website and register to become a member. Membership is a $129 annual membership fee, plus a $10 application fee.

Students can avail of a heavy discount, slashing down the membership fees to $32. However, you must be a full-time student enrolled in a degree-granting program at a US-accredited university or college or a global equivalent.

In addition to the international organization, you can join a local chapter that will cost another $30. This can be an excellent opportunity to network and find project management jobs.

Step 3: Apply & Pay the PMP Exam Fees

Next, you have to apply and pay for the PMP exam.

You’ll apply to take the exam on the PMI site. If you are not a PMI member, you’ll have to create an account. Then, fill out the online form detailing your education and experience. After submitting your application, keep an eye on your email. You’ll receive an eligibility email in three to five business days.

Once you receive the email, pay your exam fee ($405 for PMI members and $555 for non-members). The PMI selects a predetermined number of applicants at random for physical audit. If you’re chosen for the audit, submit hard copies of your credentials (education, work experience, and training).

The auditing process usually takes about six weeks. Once you’re approved, you can schedule your exam.

Step 4: Schedule Your PMP Exam

After getting the go-ahead from the PMI, you have one year to take the exam. A good rule of thumb is to give yourself three months before scheduling, so you have enough time to prepare without losing motivation.

Since the PMI doesn’t administer the certification exam, you’ll have to schedule your exam through an international testing company called Thomson Prometric. Head over to Prometric to find the nearest testing center and schedule your exam.

Step 5: Study, Study, Study

PMI certification exams aren’t easy. If you think you can pass by just “winging it,” you’re in for a disappointment.

Study the PMBOK guide thoroughly if you want to pass the exam. You can also take boot camp-style classes or buy study materials if you prefer doing things by yourself. Statistically speaking, students who enrolled in classes did better than those who studied independently. But the choice is ultimately yours to make.

You can find PMP study guides, courses, and prep materials in many places. However, if you want to use PMI materials, the institute offers a self-paced online exam prep course for $799 for non-members and $699 for members. It is a 35-hour course developed by the PMI and PMPs, and the PMI says that it covers the right material for the exam and can count as the 35-hour training requirement to apply for the exam.

The PMI also provides a list of Authorized Training Partner courses from other brands and instructors for you to do PMP exam prep. Find the list of over 1240 authorized training partners here.

Step 6: Take the Exam (And Hopefully Pass It)

While you can schedule your exam online, you must take it in person.

You’ll have four hours to answer 200 multiple-choice questions covering the central project management domains. You’ll get your results immediately after finishing the test. Your certificate will be mailed about a month later.

If you don’t pass the exam on your first try, you can still retake the test. So don’t lose hope!

There’s a one-year eligibility period during which you can take the PMP exam two more times. However, if you fail the test three times, you’ll have to wait one year from the date of the last exam to apply again. Retaking the exam costs $275 for PMI members and $375 for non-members.

Step 7: Maintain Your PMP Certification

The last and final step is maintaining your PMP certification.

As a certified PMP, you must regularly review your certification. To do this, you have to earn 60 professional development units (PDUs) every three years. As you earn PDUs, you can use PMI’s Continuing Certification Requirements System tool to report them to the PMI.

Generally, one PDU is equivalent to one hour of project management training.

At least 35 of the PDUs must be centered around continuing education, while the remaining can be broken down into the following three categories:

  • A minimum of 8 PDUs must focus on technical project management skills
  • A minimum of 8 PDUs must focus on leadership skills.
  • A minimum of 8 PDUs must focus on strategic and business management.

The additional 11 PDUs can be in any of the three categories. You can do all 60 PDUs within the education category if you prefer.

You can complete a maximum of 25 PDUs in the “Giving Back” category, by working as a professional project manager (8 PDUs maximum) or by giving back to the community (volunteering, creating content, teaching courses, etc.).

Maintaining your PMP certification may seem complicated, but that certainly isn’t the case. The whole process is so well-organized that gaining and reporting PDUs hardly takes any effort. You can monitor your PDUs and claim new ones directly from your PMI account.

Common Problems When Earning Your PMP Certification

Now, let’s take a look at the most common stumbling blocks project managers face when sitting for the PMP exam.

Mistake 1: Taking the Exam Too Early or Too Late

As mentioned, the PMP exam is a challenging exam to pass.

Many people deny this fact and take the exam too early, which leaves them with too few days of preparation. Others know they need time to prepare thoroughly, but they keep trying to postpone appearing for the exam even after finishing their exam prep.

Both cases result in failure.

Think wisely. Evaluate your capabilities honestly and determine how much time you need to prepare appropriately for the exam. Don’t wait any longer and sit for the exam as soon as you’re done studying the material.

It’s highly likely you’ll pass the exam—provided you studied the material well.

Mistake 2: Suffering From Test Anxiety

People delay taking their exams because they fear they’ll fail them. Many project managers suffer from test anxiety, especially considering how monumental passing the PMP certification can be for their careers.

In 2006, the PMI estimated the pass rate to be about 61%, which isn’t bad considering the complexity of the exam. You can also talk to training providers to get an idea about the pass rates of their candidates. For instance, Project Management Academy had a 99.9% pass rate in 2018.

Plus, it’s not like sitting for the exam is your only shot at earning the certification. You can try again if you fail. But if you put all that effort and time into preparing, you’re likely to succeed and rightfully earn that coveted credential.

Mistake 3: Ignoring the Importance of the PMBOK Guide

Probably the most common mistake project managers make when preparing for the PMP exam is ignoring the most valuable asset they already have at their disposal: the PMBOK guide.

The PMBOK guide has everything you need to know—the exam pattern, preparation tips, study material, and more. What candidates do is either they don’t read the guide at all, or if they do, they read it superficially, rendering it useless.

Don’t make this mistake. Read the PMBOK guide carefully and thoroughly as soon as you start your exam prep. It’s the only way to secure a passing grade.

Mistake 4: Choosing the Wrong PMP Exam Prep Provider

One of the biggest challenges PMP certification exam candidates face when taking the exam is deciding on the right PMP training provider.

Considering the importance of the certification and the size of the investment you make in PMP training, it’s natural to second guess your decision. To help you make the right choice and increase your odds of passing the exam, here are a few tips to identify a good PMP exam training provider:

  • Research training instructors and training materials: Highly qualified instructors and helpful training materials equip you with the knowledge needed to pass the PMP exam. Moreover, renowned instructors can give you access to training materials that go beyond what’s offered in the course, including practices and training portals. Be sure to research the training providers to learn more about their teaching style and their pass rates.
  • Check for a pass guarantee: Having a pass guarantee indicates the training provider has confidence in their program and is capable of preparing its participants adequately to pass the exam.
  • Audit protection: The PMI does a mandatory audit to verify all your exam materials, including proof of project management hour completion and verification of your project management training hours. While necessary, audits can be time-consuming and inconvenient. Luckily, you can have a training provider supply proof of training completion to save yourself from the tediousness.

Shortlist your top PMP exam training providers and rank them based on the above factors in mind. You’ll know which provider to pick.

Mistake 5: Overstressing the Night Before the Exam

According to studies, one-third of adults don’t get enough sleep. The problem with insufficient sleep is that your brain doesn’t get enough time to relax. And when you try giving the PMT exam with an overstressed brain, you won’t end up performing well.

We cannot stress enough the importance of having proper and sound sleep every day, especially the night before the PMP exam. The exam will be difficult, and the only way to crack it is with a fresh and sound mind. So don’t skimp on a good night’s sleep!

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

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