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The Complete Guide to Project Management Certification

By Lars Lofgren

Behind every successful project is a project manager. The best professionals filling these positions are more than just natural leaders—they are certified project managers.

If you want to take your team to the next level and make yourself more appealing to open project management jobs, getting certified is the best way to fast-track your success.

Certified project managers even get paid more than non-certified managers.

Ready to get certified? This guide will explain top project management certifications and how you can achieve them.

What is a Project Management Certification?

Project management certifications give managers more credibility and recognition in their careers. These certifications are based on high standards and ongoing needs in the project management field.

Certified project managers stand out from other candidates in the job market. Employers are much more likely to hire individuals with a project management certification, as they have proven themselves as qualified professionals.

Once obtained, project management certifications must be maintained through ongoing learning and professional development.

4 Tools to Improve the Project Management Certification Process

There are lots of great online resources to help you get a project management certification. My favorite four tools are listed below:

#1 — PMI Membership

The vast majority of credible project management certificates are issued directly from the Project Management Institute (PMI). So getting your PMI membership is one of the best ways to get a jump-start on this process.

There are more than 600,000 project managers in the PMI community. It’s the perfect place to network and build relationships that can take your career to the next level. Members also have access to 300+ local PMI chapters located across the globe. You’ll have access to 1,000+ free tools and project management templates as well.

Another benefit of a PMI membership is the cost savings. Members get discounts on certification exams, like $150 off the PMP certification. Your membership also includes a free downloadable PMBOK Guide as well. The paperback version and ebook of this resource both retail for $99. You can also use your PMI membership to access exclusive job boards and find new career opportunities.

There is a one-time $10 application fee to join, plus an annual fee of $129. Students can join the PMI for just $32 per year.

#2 — Master of Project Academy

Master of Project Academy is an excellent training resource for anyone who plans to take a project management certification exam. 500,000+ professionals in over 180 countries have enrolled in a course from Master of Project Academy. Students from the academy boast an impressive 99.6% first attempt pass rate in project management certification exams.

PMs from companies like Amazon, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, BMW, and Google all rely on the Master of Project Academy for certification training. The organization maintains an A+ rating and accreditation by the Better Business Bureau, so you know that it’s a trustworthy resource.

They offer classes for the PMP Certification, CAPM Certification, and other popular project management certifications. Master of Project Academy offers agile training, corporate training, and dozens of more options to elevate your career. You can even enroll in free courses directly on this website.

I like Master of Project Academy because it’s 100% online, so you can get prepared at your own pace. Purchases are backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee as well.

#3 — Simplilearn

With 2+ million professionals relying on Simplilearn for furthering their education, this company has a reputation that speaks for itself. They support employee and team training for global enterprises like Dell, Citi, GE, Bosch, Pepsico, KPMG, and more.

Simplilearn has an extensive list of course categories, including AI and machine learning, cybersecurity, big data, digital marketing, business and leadership, cloud computing, and more. It’s nice to know that they have such a broad range of education options. But for our purposes here today, we’ll obviously be focusing on the project management courses.

Simplilearn has courses for PMP certification, CAPM, and more. They have practice tests and even introductory courses to project management. So you can rely on this tool regardless of your experience as a project manager.

For advanced training, you can even use Simplilearn for a project management master’s program. They offer advanced courses with rigorous curriculums lasting 24 to 36 months.

From DevOps training to becoming an agile scrum master, Simplilearn has it all. Check out the website to browse through the project management courses and training materials that best fit your needs.

#4 — PMTraining

PMTraining is a reputable tool for people seeking live online courses for project management. Professionals working for companies like Amazon, Nestle, SAP, and Kaiser Permanente all rely on PMTraining for success.

The resource is best known for its PMP certification training, but it also has courses to prepare you for CAPM certification, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, and more. The courses and training cover topics like project management communications, professional responsibility, resource management, stakeholder management, and risk management.

You’ll also learn more about schedule management, project frameworks, project cost management, and other crucial aspects of being a certified project manager.

In addition to the live virtual classes, PMTraining offers project management certification practice exams as well. They have been providing training solutions since 2004, and PMTraining currently holds a badge as an authorized training partner of the Project Management Institute.

Core Project Management Certifications

Every project management certification is unique. We’ll dive deeper into the top credentials below.

Project Management Professional (PMP)

PMP is the gold standard in the world of project management certifications. This 180-question exam must be completed in 230 minutes. Questions are in the forms of multiple-choice, multiple response, matching, hotspot, and limited fill-in-the-blank.

Designed by project professionals, the exam validates skills associated with people, processes, and business environments. Ranging from soft skills you need to manage a team through the technical aspects of running a project, the PMP covers it all. The exam also covers predictive, agile, and hybrid project management approaches.

According to the Project Management Institute, the median salary for certified PMPs in North America is 25% higher than those without this certification.

PMP qualifications include:

  • Four-year degree
  • 36 months as a project manager
  • 35 hours of project management education and training or CAPM Certification

OR

  • High school diploma or associate’s degree
  • 60 months as a project manager
  • 35 hours of project management education and training or CAPM Certification

The exam fee is $405 for PMI members and $555 for non-members. If you meet the qualifications, you can apply for the PMP certification here and sign up for an online proctored exam.

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

The CAPM certification from the PMI is perfect for any project manager seeking opportunities to manage larger projects. This 150-question exam must be completed in three hours.

Compared to other PM certifications, the prerequisites for a CAPM aren’t as strict. You need to have a high school diploma or an associate’s degree and 23 hours of project management education.

It’s common for people just beginning their careers in project management to start with the CAPM. The certification provides a good foundation of project management basics that quickly translate to real-world applications.

Aside from project managers, many individuals on a project management team also seek the CAPM certification as a way to demonstrate their knowledge.

The exam fee is $225 for PMI members and $300 for non-members. Apply here to continue.

PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)

As the name implies, the PMI-ACP is a very specific certification. Rather than focusing on project management on a broad level, the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner exam is a way to formally recognize your agile skills and knowledge of agile principles.

This exam was created by agile specialists. With the demand for agile project managers on the rise, the PMI-ACP is the fastest growing certification offered by the Project Management Institute.

If you currently work on an agile team or your company is transitioning to agile practices, this certification is a must-have.

PMI-ACP prerequisites include:

  • Secondary degree
  • 21 hours of training in agile practices
  • 12 months of project management experience in the last five years
  • Eight months of agile project experience in the past three years

The exam costs $435 for PMI members and $495 for non-members. Apply here to get started.

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

The Certified ScrumMaster course is facilitated by the Scrum Alliance. While there are other certifications out there that focus on Scrum, this one is a great starting point for anyone who is new to the Scrum methodology.

You’ll learn how to improve your role as a Scrum Master while applying the principles, values, and practices required for your team to succeed.

The cool part about the CSM certification is that you’ll be taking classes from Scrum trainers around the world. Every class offered is unique, so you can search for a course that fits your needs. The training offers hands-on skills that Scrum masters can instantly apply to real projects.

All of the classes provide 14+ hours of interactive teaching from a certified trainer. Once you’ve completed a course, you just need to pass a 50-question exam within 60 minutes. Two attempts to pass the exam are included with the cost of your course.

Price varies based on the course you select. But prices tend to start around $495.

Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)

The PfMP certification from the Project Management Institute is designed for executives and senior-level project managers. This certification will help align your projects and strategic objectives at an organizational level.

You’ll also learn more about how to properly allocate resources to deliver higher expected values.

With a PfMP certification, you’ll be recognized for advanced knowledge and understanding of project portfolio management.

The prerequisites for the PfMP are quite strict. You’ll need plenty of experience to qualify, including:

96 months of professional business experience in the past 15 years

  • Secondary education degree
  • 84 months of experience with portfolio management

OR

  • 96 months of professional business experience in the past 15 years
  • Four-year degree
  • 48 months of experience with portfolio management

The exam fee is $800 for PMI members and $1,000 for non-members. Apply for the PfMP here.

2 Tricks For Project Management Certifications

To ensure the certification process goes smoothly, use these quick hacks and best practices described below. This is guaranteed to make your life much easier.

Trick #1: Study For the Exam

This might sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people fail project management certification exams. General experience isn’t always enough. You’ll need to do some bookwork and course preparation as well.

In most cases, you’ll be able to find a study guide or a practice test online. Some study resources will be provided to you by the organization issuing the certification.

If the prerequisites require a certain number of training or education hours, use that time wisely and focus on the courses relevant to that particular certification. I know plenty of people who joined study groups to prepare for the exams as well.

Most tests limit your number of attempts. So if you fail, you might only have one or two more tries remaining. If you continue to fail, you’ll likely lose the exam fee and be forced to wait another year before you can apply again.

Trick #2: Pay Close Attention to the Qualification Requirements

Lots of project managers often make the mistake of overlooking the qualification terms for a certification. They apply to take the exam without understanding the prerequisites.

If you’re getting a certification from the Project Management Institute, you’ll need to provide audit materials to prove your eligibility.

Examples of audit material include copies of your diplomas, signatures from supervisors, copies and/or letters from training courses, and more. The PMI randomly selects applications for an audit. But they also have the right to audit any candidate at a later time. This includes after the individual has received a certification.

So you could have your certification revoked down the road if the audit finds that you failed to meet qualification requirements. This is something that can easily be avoided if you handle things appropriately from the beginning.

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