What It Takes to Become a Certified Project Manager

Certified project managers need to be street smart and book smart. By street smart, I mean that folks who want to sit for the exam are required to have a specific level of experience before doing so. By book smart, I mean that an exam-taker will need to know the PMBOK Guide inside and out before sitting for the exam.

Wait, What’s a Certified Project Manager?

Great question! Before you consider consider devoting your time to studying for an exam, you should know what you’re getting into.

The Project Management Institute (PMI for short) is the thought leader in the field of project management. They offer a number of certifications and professional development events, but the ones you are are CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) and PMP (Project Management Professional).

Why get these certifications? Well if you have some experience in project management, you might see that a lot of folks have the fancy post-nominal letters of “PMP” after their name. Or you might have been looking a job posting recently and seen that a PMP certification is required or preferred.

PMI actually claims that PMP-certified project managers make a 20%-higher-than-average annual salary, so that probably has piqued your attention too! (PMI.org)

Street Smart: Meeting PMI’s Criteria for Certified Project Managers

For the CAPM exam, you must meet the following criteria:

-Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or the global equivalent)
-1,500 hours of project experience


-23 hours of project management education completed by the time you sit for the exam

For the PMP exam, you must meet the following criteria:

-Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or the global equivalent)
-7,500 hours leading and directing projects
-35 hours of project management education


-Four-year degree
-4,500 hours leading and directing projects
-35 hours of project management education

Frankly, if you are interested in studying for an exam, I recommend the PMP rather than CAPM. CAPM is an entry-level exam, so if you don’t quite meet the criteria for the PMP, you can take it. But if you are on the cusp, I recommend waiting a few more months until you qualify for the PMP exam.

If your organization doesn’t follow formal project management rules, it may be a little more difficult for you to think of how you qualify. Challenge yourself — what have you accomplished at work in the past few years that qualifies as a unique project? You may have more street smarts than you initially thought, but you have been using PMI terminology on your project.

Frankly, knowing how projects work in the real world is more important than being able to study and pass the test. Your real-world experience will impact how accessible the materials is to you and how you can contextualize it. It’s not that you won’t need to study a lot — you will! — but it makes the studying less arcane when you have more experience.

certified project manager

She’s smiling because she has the qualifications to take her PMP exam — do you?

Book Smart: Passing the PMP Exam

For CAPM certification, you must take a three-hour, 150-question exam every five years. For PMP certification, you must take a four-hour, 200-question exam once and then maintain the credential through 60 hours of professional development every three years.

In order to pass the PMP exam, you have to do a lot of studying. You can absolutely attack the exam on your own with study materials, which is what I chose to do. Many folks join a study group, which you can locate via your local PMI chapter.

Many colleges and universities offer in-person prep courses. While these courses may work for some folks, I can’t say I’d recommend them. They are simply too expensive. Many of them cost more than two thousand dollars! I’m sure you’ll pass the exam if you take one of these courses, but there’s definitely cheaper ways to get the coursework you need.

Becoming a Certified Project Manager

If you’ve read this far, you might be getting serious about becoming a project manager. One way to get support for your credential application is to ask your supervisor. Your company may support you in your PMP-related endeavors, both financially and giving you some time to study for the exam.

Consider adapting the following sample letter to your needs:


I am extremely interested in obtaining my PMP (Project Management Professional) certification. This credential will have the following positive impacts to our company:

  • Increased capacity for project management, which means more on-time and effective project execution
  • Improved communication on projects, which will lead to a better culture and increased efficiency
  • A better-trained employee!

I would be glad to speak further about this request in person. Thanks for your time and consideration.



So now you know what it takes to be a certified project manager, and you have some tools to go back to your company and ask for their financial assistance in getting ready for the exam. I recommend the following:

  1. Make sure you have the requisite experience before applying.
  2. If you are almost ready to take the PMP exam but only have experience enough to take CAPM, wait a bit to take the PMP instead.
  3. Study on your own with PMI-certified materials or with a local PMI study group. Avoid overpriced in-person prep courses.

Want to be sure the PMP exam is right for you? Comment below, and let’s chat.

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