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To PMP or Not to PMP?

I'm often asked for career path advice by up-and-coming professionals in the project management space. Though there are a lot of great topics to discuss around this career path, inevitably, one particular question always arises, "should I get my PMP certification?" Before I write anything else, I’ll preface by saying that my recommendation on getting the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification varies based on several factors. While it can be a great certification to have, it’s also time-consuming, expensive, challenging, and I advise you to consider the following before making a decision on whether or not to pursue it.

Industry

What kind of industry do you currently work in? What kind of industry to you want to work in? If you're working at a new-ish tech company, don't bother. The methodology that the PMP teaches isn't relevant in these types of organizations, and the PMP certification would likely not benefit you in this environment. For newer and smaller tech companies, I would recommend an Agile related certification instead of PMP, as this methodology is more prevalent in tech and software development. Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) or Certified Scrum Master (CSM) from the Scrum Alliance is going to get you farther. Plus, it's faster and less expensive than the PMP.

On the flip side, if you are working for a very mature organization that has been around a long time, (think construction, energy, government), then the PMP certification may be a great tool to help you advance your career. In these larger corporate environments, the PMP methodology is likely used, respected, and prevalent in the company culture and process. In some cases, having a PMP certification is even a requirement for certain jobs, customer contracts, and to drive professional advancement.

Who's Paying

It would be remiss if you did not consider the cost of the certification as part of your decision. While pricing can varies, between boot camps, text books, and the test itself, it’s easy to drop anywhere between $1,500 and $3,000 on the entire certification process. If your company financially supports this type of professional development and is paying the bill, as well as giving you time to study and take the exam, my advice is to highly consider it. You're never going to regret learning and adding skills to your toolbox.

If you're paying the cost yourself, consider if the industry you're working in truly values the certification. If it does, then it may be well worth the cost.

Time Commitment

Everyone learns and studies differently, but plan on blocking about 100 hours to complete a boot camp, study independently, and take the exam. Determine if you have the bandwidth and ask others in your field if they feel like they got a return on their time investment. You'll need to use A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge PMBOK as well as a second study guide. Rita Mulcahy's PMP Exam Prep is a favorite of many and easily digests the dense material in the PMBOK to concepts that are easy to grok.

Qualifying

The prerequisites for taking the exam are pretty hefty, and won't be able to be met by those new in their careers. Filling out the application is intense and can take 10-15 hours in and of itself. You'll need to scour your work history and memory bank to provide the level of detail needed for the application. Don’t cut corners here as applications are randomly audited.

Taking the Test

How comfortable are you taking standardized tests? This shouldn't be a deterrent, but another thing to consider. If you're an anxious test taker, take more time to prepare. You'll go to an authorized testing center, be timed, and are allowed one sheet of scratch paper. Remember that passing this test involves answering the questions the way the PMBOK would have you answer. Not necessarily what you would do in real life. Don't try to beat the test, become one with the test and don't get discouraged if you don't pass the first time. It's just as normal to fail the first time or two as it is to pass.

All in all, the potential career advancements should be a secondary consideration in your decision. At the end of the day, pursing this certification should be done for your own personal growth and sense of accomplishment. Passing is a big deal and you will feel proud, as you should. You've earned it!

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