How to Get Your PMP® Certification

“I really appreciate all the help you provided. It has greatly improved my project management abilities and changed some of my philosophies. I’ve already incorporated a lot of what I learned at work. Your support and teaching has gone well above and beyond what I expected and I wanted to thank you. You’re making a huge difference.” Dan

Just wanted to drop you a quick note that I have passed the PMP certification exam! Thanks for all the help and advice. The exam was more difficult than I anticipated but in the end I did well. I would suggest everything that you suggested. Thanks once again for your help and advice–it wouldn’t have been easy without your guidance.Ashish

“I passed the exam! Thank you very much for all the help you provided. Your teaching and suggestions were right on target. I am very glad I signed up for your class! Thank you very much!” Barb

“I would like to inform you that I have passed the PMP exam and I am a PMP now! Thank you very much for your help & support!” Mark

“I passed! I am now PMP certified! Thanks for your help!” David

You Can Do It!

How to get Your PMP certificationCongratulations on starting your journey toward gaining the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification! Certainly there is work ahead for you to attain this certification, but I can assure you that you will look back at this day with satisfaction that you invested the time and resources to make it happen.

You can do this! This page is designed to help you take the next steps.

Starting with a Strong Why

So, why do you want to get your certification?

I’ve found that a strong why–a compelling motivation–can help fuel you for the work that is necessary to get certified. Even if you are a highly seasoned project manager, you will need to invest time that you probably don’t have using materials you likely don’t own, keeping you from things you’d rather be doing!

So, what’s your Why?Maybe it’s because you want to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack? Sure, there are hundreds of thousands PMP’s worldwide, but there are far more project managers that aren’t certified. Why not show you’re one of the best?

Maybe it’s because you want to show your current employer that you’re passionate about developing into a more effective leader. You’re not satisfied with status quo–you want to be and do more. This certification can send that message. Maybe you want to prove to yourself that you can face a challenge like this and complete it.

How to get Your PMP certificationIt’s very satisfying to set a goal like this and then deliver on it. Many desire to do so. Few do it. Why not you?

Whatever your motivation, I suggest you treat this certification as a project. Your Strong Why is like the Business Needs that drive the project. You’ll want to identify stakeholders that will be actively involved in helping you succeed. Consider us as one of those stakeholders! Brainstorm constraints, assumptions, and objectives. Indeed, you are embarking on a project–one that you will look back at with pride for the rest of your career.

Steps to Prepare For Your PMP® Certification

Here are the major phases for your certification project:

  • Preparation (reviewing requirements, getting the necessary education hours, etc.)
  • Application (filling out the PMI application, submitting payment, and receiving approval. My opinion: this is the most difficult part of the entire journey. You have to document the required training and project hours in your application. Read the handbook mentioned below, then force yourself to get started. Check out our offer to the right to help you organize your hours!)
  • Studying (using preparation materials to prepare for the examination. See below for recommended resources.)
  • Examination (actually taking the test)
  • Celebration! (You did it!)

I suggest you start with the Credential Handbook, which is available from PMI. Click here to download it from their site. In that handbook you will get a detailed overview of the requirements, process, and examination. Let me know what questions you have after reviewing the handbook.

In addition, you might find it helpful to review PMI’s FAQ regarding certification.

Want to see what the application looks like? Here’s a link to the paper-based PMP application.

To learn more about how to get your PMP and download a free spreadsheet to help you consolidate your project hours, click here.

I strongly recommend you use the online application process but reviewing the paper-based on can give you a sense of the information you’ll need.

Recommended PMP® Certification Resources

Here are some examination preparation materials that I recommend: One of the best deals in terms of value for the dollar is Cornelius Fichtner’s PM PrepCast™.  I’ve had many people tell me they found it to be an excellent resource to helping them pass the exam. Make sure to check it out!

PMP Exam Prep, Sixth Edition: Rita’s Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Exam
is one of the best prep books out there, and it’s updated for the most recent PMBOK® Guide. You might just learn some things about project management while you go through it, but you will definitely get the insights you need to pass the exam. You’ll find many other resources offered by the author to help you pass the examination. If you’re serious about passing the exam and want to use a prep book to do so, get this book today.

A must-have reference comes from PMI: A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Fourth Edition (also referred to as the PMBOK® Guide). If you join PMI (I recommend you do), you can get a free electronic version of the PMBOK® Guide.

If you prefer paper, get it for a great price at Amazon.

The PMBOK® Guide doesn’t read like a novel! It’s also not sufficient by itself to help you pass. I know a good project manager that only used this document, reading and re-reading it multiple times, which would be enough to put the best of us to sleep.  Unfortunately, he didn’t pass the examination. You need this guide for reference but you’ll need other prep material to supplement it.

I’m one of the reviewers on the Head First PMP book. I like the learning style of the book–particularly for those who don’t like traditional textbooks. The test questions aren’t as difficult as Rita’s book but the content will help in your preparation.

A final book I recommend is Kim Heldman’s exam prep book. My favorite part of Kim’s book is that it comes with a CD that can very nicely supplement your studying. The CD has chapter summary audio, which you can listen to during your commutes. In addition, the entire book is available in .pdf so you can easily search it. It also has flash cards that can be run from a PC, PocketPC, or Palm handhelds. Finally, it has a test engine that allows you take a couple practice tests using the computer. My recommendation is you use one of the other books as your primary text and supplement your studying with Kim’s excellent resource.

Getting Your Training Hours

When it comes to getting the necessary training hours to qualify for taking the examination, I invite you to call us about our Project Management Series of workshops, including:

  • Essentials of Project Management. This popular PMI-based workshop is delivered in-house or via e-learning. Learn more about getting 14 contact hours toward certification (or 14 PDU’s) by clicking here.
  • Advanced Project Management. This advanced workshop is also available in-house or via e-learning. It addresses some of the more challenging aspects of the PMBOK® Guide such as Procurement Management, Earned Value, and project selection benefit measurements while balancing critical skills such as negotiation, managing conflict, and stakeholder analysis. Learn more about getting 14 contact hours toward certification (or 14 PDU’s) by clicking here.
  • PMP Exam Preparation. This session, delivered in-house in either one or two days (7 or 14 contact hours), prepares you for the challenge of taking and passing the certification exam.

Getting Started with Your PMP® Certification Process

In my opinion, the most difficult part of the entire process is right now:  Getting started. How to get Your PMP certificationGoing through your project and training history to document the necessary hours is flat out not fun. When you’re tempted  just forget it, recall your Strong Why. Remind yourself that, in the perspective of a career, this is short term pain for long term gain!

Start telling people that you are pursuing it. Giving public notice will build extra motivation to follow-up on it.

Do I Have Enough PM Experience?

You likely are aware that an important part of the application process is to document your work experience. In short, PMI wants to verify that you’re not just a smart college graduate who is good at taking tests! They want to make sure you’ve actually been doing project management work, regardless of whether that was your title or not.

How many hours? Well, it depends if you have a bachelor’s or equivalent degree or not. If you have a Bachelor’s degree (or global equivalent), you need to document 4,500 hours of project work experience. If you have a high school degree (or equivalent), the number goes up: 7,500 hours.

Those hours need to have been accrued during the last eight consecutive years. You need experience with each of the five process groups, though not on every project. In addition, PMI is looking for experience that includes non-overlapping months. Make sure to review the credential guide from PMI as it provides more details on how this works.

Do My Hours Count?

I’m often asked questions about if someone’s project hours qualify or not. It’s usually asked in the context of “I was more of a team member than a project manager.”  So, do the hours count or not?

A recurring theme from PMI regarding qualification hours is that you need to have “led or directed project tasks“. There is some gray area in the description as to how much you are leading and directing to sufficiently qualify. Here’s my bottom-line:

  • You need to have some responsibilities of “leading and directing” for each project you list on the experience verification form.
  • Your descriptions for each project need to be able to make it clear that you did some leading and directing. Be thorough in your application descriptions.
  • Make sure your descriptions and claims are truthful. Not only is it the right thing to do, your application may be audited (requiring a signature per project from a boss/sponsor/etc.).

How Much Will It Cost?

After you submit your application, PMI will review it for completeness. When you pass this review you will be notified so you can submit a payment. The computer-based exam currently costs US$405 (if you’re a member of PMI. Be ready to pay US$555 if you’re not). If you don’t pass, it will cost PMI members another US$275 (or US$375 for non-members) to re-take it.

That’s sufficient motivation for most of us to make sure we pass it the first time! See if your employer is willing to pay the exam costs. Why pay for it yourself if your manager is able to do so?

You can spend under US$100 for prep materials if you get one book, such as those recommended above. The cost for PMP Exam Prep classes, if you decide to take one, can vary widely among providers. If your company won’t cover the cost, sometimes a less expensive option is to check your local community college to see what they offer. If you live in the Chicago area, I teach the series of prep classes at the College of Lake County. You can contact them at (847) 543-2615 for details.

I’ve heard good reviews on Rita Mulcahy’s PM FASTrack® PMP® Exam Simulation Software, which typically goes for under US$300. The reality is you can spend thousands of dollars on prep classes and materials if you want. Diligently working through a good prep book and creating or joining a test prep group with one or more colleagues can save you a lot of money.

How Will I Know If I Get Audited?

A small percentage of applications get audited. According to PMI, audits are completely random. If your application is selected, you’ll be notified via e-mail immediately after submitting your payment. NOTE: There are some rumors that submitting your payment on a Saturday increases the likelihood of getting audited! Though I can’t imagine that is true, I did recently have a PMP Exam Prep workshop participant submit his payment–on a Saturday–and got audited! Once again, I’m quite sure this is just a coincidence but if it makes you feel better, wait until a Monday!

Getting audited is an inconvenience but not something to panic over. There will be an audit package you’ll download from PMI. You’ll need to get a handwritten signature for each project from either a sponsor or supervisor to vouch for what you documented (hours, dates, descriptions). For those people who are challenging or impossible to get in touch with, you can use team members who were close enough to the project to verify your submission.

Each person will sign a form and return it to you in a sealed envelope (with their signature on the flap of the envelope to prove it was not opened). In addition to these envelopes you will send in copies of training certificates to verify you attended and completed the classes you included on your application. All of this material is then snail-mailed to PMI.

Most people tell me they can complete this process in two weeks or less if they stay focused. Want to make it go faster? Get your training certificates gathered ahead of time. Talk to each contact person on your application before submitting it. In the unlikely event you get audited, the process will go much faster.

How Much Time Will It Take to Prepare?

There’s no set time to prepare. Once your application is approved you decide how much time you want to prepare. I chose a month, and during that time I went through my prep book about 3 times. I recently heard from a guy who I helped pass the exam. He decided to take longer, saying his preparation “was my life for the last 4 months outside of work.”

The big message: be prepared to sacrifice time, most likely at least 40 hours. You don’t want to “wing it.” You definitely want to show up knowing the material.

Where Will I Take The PMP Certification Exam?

The exam is administered around the world through an organization named Prometric. You can find locations in your area by visiting the Prometric website. In step 1 on that page, select “Project Management Institute” as the testing program. Then select your region in step 2. You’ll be taken to a screen where you can select “Locate a Test Site.” Follow that link to see where the exam is offered.

NOTE: You won’t be able to find out if there’s availability on a specific date until you have your eligibility ID from the PMI application process. However, you can at least find out possible options in your area.

Some Test Tips

It’s helpful to have a strategy going into the test. My strategy could be summarized as:

  • There’s plenty of time–don’t rush.
  • Answer every question. If you don’t answer a question, it’s guaranteed to be wrong!
  • If you’re not confident with your answer, make a note of the question number on the scratch paper that is provided. If you’re quite sure (for example) that answers B and C are not valid, note B and C with an X through them on your scratch paper. This allows you to not start the thinking from scratch when coming back to it. Also, tell the exam system to mark the question for review, making it easier to find it later.
  • After completing the exam, go back and review the marked questions. My recommendation is to only override your previous guess if you are strongly confident it was wrong. Otherwise I recommend you trust your initial gut feel.

You’ll need to study because the questions can be tricky. There are often at least two reasonable answers for each multiple choice question. Your prep material can provide some pointers on what PMI is looking for. Don’t under-estimate how challenging it is to stay focused for 200 questions over 4 hours. It can be mentally and physically exhausting so make sure you have some extended practice times to get used to the pressure. It will make it easier for you when you take the PMP exam. Don’t panic when you come across a question that seems “out there.” Forget about them and move on. Be prepared to take the test in a setting that is far from ideal. There will be others on computers next to you taking certification tests as well (PMP or other). This means there will be background noise of keys typing and fingers tapping. The testing center will supply optional ear plugs but don’t count on them working completely. Similarly, be prepared for the temperature to be either too warm or cold. Wear some layered clothing to allow you to adjust accordingly. These are mostly annoyances that I share to help set your expectations about the environment you’ll be in on the exam day.

Remember: the examination is completely passable! To successfully pass the current exam (this has changed periodically), you must correctly answer 106 questions out of the 175 scored questions (Wait! Aren’t there 200 questions? They include 25 non-scored evaluation questions).

The math: you only need to get 61% of the scored questions correct to pass. You can do this! What questions do you have? E-mail us or call us now at 847.557.9038. We’d be glad to help you achieve this goal.

Go get ’em!

“PMI and PMP” are trademarks, service marks or certification marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc., which is registered in the United States and other nations.

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