Database pros and networking gurus who make the leap into project management may think they won't have to cram for certification exams anymore. But project managers seek out certifications, too, such as the demanding Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). About 181,000 individuals have received PMP certification worldwide, and more than 12,000 of them work in information technology.
Earning the PMP credential is a rigorous process, requiring three to five years of industry experience plus continuing education to maintain certification. Stringent standards like these translate into widespread recognition for PMPs.
"We are seeing more and more job postings that are saying PMP preferred and PMP desired," says Denny Smith, manager of certification at the PMI. "That lets us know the industry is seeing value in this.
A Monster job search on "PMP" reveals hundreds of positions in a variety of industries. PMPs also benefit when it comes to salaries. According to Foote Partners' 2009 IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index, the PMP was one of the highest-paying certifications.
Ready for the PMP?
"Many individuals seek [the PMP], because it is a level of acknowledgment in the project-management field that they have accomplished something significant," Smith says.
Unlike many other certifications, the PMP has tough eligibility criteria:
- A bachelor's degree and 4,500 hours of project-management experience are required with at least three years of experience in the past six years. Candidates who do not hold a bachelor's degree must have 7,500 hours of experience with five years in project management over the past eight years.
- Thirty-five hours of project-management education via university programs, company-sponsored programs or distance learning.
The PMP process doesn't end with the exam. PMPs must earn 60 professional development units -- typically, 60 hours of project-management learning and professional service -- every three years. "Not only do they earn it, but they have to maintain it," notes Smith.
PMPs at Work
While PMPs work in all fields, IT predominates. Whatever the industry, projects don't always stay on track.
"It's been my experience that IT professionals are very optimistic" about project plans and scheduling, says Shari Stern, an Atlanta-based PMP with her own consulting firm. Project managers play a key role by maintaining schedules or finding ways "to put things back on schedule," she says. "It's been my experience that if you're really a technical person, you don't want to be doing that. It's a different skill set.
With a project manager in place, technical professionals can focus on technical tasks rather than planning, scheduling and other project-related matters. "Once they've been through a project that way, they don't want to go back," notes Stern, who chairs the Certification Governance Council, a semiautonomous board associated with PMI.
Time to Specialize?
PMPs who work in IT may want to distinguish themselves further with IT-related "certificates of added qualification":
- IT Systems exam tests knowledge of development tools, storage devices, software capabilities, security issues and other issues.
- IT Networking exam tests knowledge of project life-cycle models, legal requirements, security issues and network types.
More junior members of project teams may want to pursue the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) credential. Like the PMP, there are eligibility criteria:
- A high school diploma or global equivalent and either 1,500 hours of experience or 23 hours of project-management education.
"The requirements are less rigorous than the PMP, because it is a more junior designation," says Smith. "There are a lot of people involved in projects who may never want the more senior PMP designation.
Learn more about project management careers.