The top Project Management certs to get your IT career in gear
There are some areas in IT where certification is more valuable than others. Project management is one of them. While some people may dispute whether having a PM certification makes you better at your job, there’s no disputing that it can make it easier for you to get that job — just check out Project Manager listings on your favorite job board. As far as boosting your PM skills, as with most certifications the biggest gains come from choosing the right certification for your job role and skill level and throwing your heart into studying for it. To help you get off to a flying start, we’ve combed through the dozens of Project Management certifications available and winnowed the list down to just five credentials. These are the top project management certs, the ones with the most career-boosting power.
Project Management Professional (PMP)
The PMP is perhaps the most-recognized project management credential in the IT marketplace. It was launched by the Project Management Institute (PMI) back in 1984, and hiring managers love to see it on a resume, making it no surprise it ranked in the top 10 certifications of the 2015 Certification Magazine Salary Survey, with PMP respondents reporting an average salary of $100,040. It also claimed the No. 3 spot on the “to do” list of certs that survey respondents are intending to pursue next.
The PMP is a fairly rigorous credential, not suitable for PM newcomers. In fact, one of the requirements is that you must have at least three years of project management experience, with 4,500 hours leading and directing projects, plus 35 hours of PM education. The experience requirement goes up for those who don’t already hold a four-year degree. If you meet the pre-reqs, the next step is to complete an online application documenting the specifics. Once approved, you can take the exam, which will set you back $555 ($405 if you’re a PMI member). The price can vary for special situations. You also have to agree to the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.
The PMP exam contains 200 questions and has a 4 hour time limit. The questions cover tasks in 5 domains: Initiation, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. The PMP exam is changing Nov. 1, so be sure to study latest exam blueprint. The domains will remain the same, but the specific job tasks within them are being updated. The PMP also has a continuing certification requirement. To keep it, you must earn 60 professional development units (PDUs) every 3 years and submit a renewal fee. PDUs are earned by completing additional education and/or “giving back to the profession.”
PRINCE2 certification is another mid-to-advanced certification that’s held in high regard, and PMs with experience often choose between this and PMP as their certification of choice. The name is an acronym for Project In Controlled Environments, a structured project management method. That highlights its primary difference from PMP — it focuses on a specific methodology rather than on general project management knowledge. It’s most widely known in the UK, but is in demand worldwide.
PRINCE2 Practitioner sits in the middle of three levels offered by AXELOS (formerly the program was run by APM Group Ltd). To earn it, you’ll first have to show evidence you’ve achieved a qualifying certification, such as PRINCE2 Foundation, PMP, or CAPM, among others. Next you’ll need to pass a 2.5-hour, 80-question exam (officially described as 8 items, with 10 questions per item). The exam is offered at the conclusion of accredited courses but you can also self-study and book it through an authorized exam provider. It’s an open-book exam (PRINCE2 Manual only). PRINCE2 Practitioners must recertify within three to five years of achieving certification by passing a one-hour recertification exam.
Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
If you don’t have the experience to go for PMP or PRINCE2, the CAPM may be just what you’re looking for. It’s offered PMI, and is rather like a junior PMP. There are still pre-requisites, but they’re much easier to meet: Either a high school diploma (or equivalent) and 1,500 hours of experience on a project team or that same diploma plus 23 hours of formal PM education. The exam costs $300 ($225 for PMI members), and consists of 150 questions covering the PMBOK. You’ll have 3 hours to complete it. You also have to agree to the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Although this is considered an entry-level PM certification, it does enjoy broad name recognition and is occasionally specifically requested in job postings.
CompTIA’s good reputation as a certification provider carries over to its Project+ credential. As with the CAPM, this is an entry-level project management certification, so if you’re relatively new to project management and want to expand your skills and earn a certification at the same time, this could be the option for you, especially since it has no required prerequisites and the cost is the lowest of the top contenders at $277. The 90-minute Project+ exam contains 100 multiple-choice questions covering the project lifecycle, including planning, execution and delivery, change control and scope management, and closure.
Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)
Generally our top certification lists don’t include credentials that require specific training, but this time we’re making an exception because the project management methodology this certification from Scrum Alliance represents is hot, hot, hot! Scrum is an agile software development methodology, and if you can master it, you can rake in top dollar — upwards of $100K annually per Global Knowledge’s list of Top-Paying Certifications for 2015. If you’re wondering just how in-demand it is, search any job board for “scrum master” and be prepared for a very long list of job openings to pop up.
To become a Certified Scrum Master, you’ll have to attend a 2-day training course taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer and then pass the CSM test. Word on the street has it this test could be (should be?) harder. In our opinion, the CSM test should be more challenging and open to people who self-study in addition to those who take the course, but even though it isn’t that way right now, it still appears to be a very valuable project management credential worth considering.
Beyond the Top 5
In addition to the top project management certs listed above, there are plenty of additional options on the table. PMI, AXELOS, and Scrum Alliance all offer additional levels of certification. Although they may be a tad lower on the prestige ladder, one of them may be a better match for your experience level and job role.
The International Project Management Association (IPMA) is another excellent certification source. It offers a 4-level certification program, with the top level (IPMA Level A) equivalent to Certified Projects Director and the lowest level (IPMA Level D) titled Certified Project Management Associate. Each requires an exam, and as you climb the ladder you’ll need an increasing amount of documented experience as well. All levels except D also require the candidate to complete an interview process. From application through interview, it’s quite a bit to work through, which is why this program has a reputation for being more rigorous than the PMP. If it was more widely known (and hence in demand), it would be in our Top 5. It’s most well-known in Europe. IPMA reports 194,000 certification-holders worldwide.