PM Certification Overview

There are lots of different certifications and qualifications available for Project Managers and choosing the right one can be confusing (and costly). This article helps cut through some of the red tape and will give you an idea of what to target and why.

I’ve been working in the IT industry for about 15 years, the last seven as a consultant. Most of that time I have been either a Test Manager or a Project Manager, and while the Test roles and qualifications are a little outside the scope of this article, it’s the project management roles and certifications that I have been gravitating towards lately and the subject I want to focus on here.

I am a qualified Prince2 Practitioner… if you don’t know what that means exactly, don’t worry, we’ll cover that shortly, but I’m also looking towards my next certification and found very little information on the net about which ones are the best to target and who should be looking at doing them in the first place… so I figured it would be a good use of my consultancy experience to try and fill that gap and give a bit of advice to others looking at running the PM certification gauntlet.

Let’s start out by looking at the reasons why someone would want to get a Project Management Certification in the first place.

Reason #1 – Currently working on, or about to start, a project that uses a standard PM Methodology

This is one of the most common reasons why people undergo certification – and it’s not just for the project managers! Most standard methodologies offer both ‘foundation level’ (in other words, entry level) and ‘practitioner level’ certifications relating to those methods.

The foundation level tests for a fundamental understanding of the processes used in that methodology and as such, it is a great primer for a number of people on your project. Apart from the PM, it’s common for project schedulers, team leads, or anyone working in the Project Management Office (PMO) to undertake a foundation level certificate.

Standard methodologies where this is common include: Prince2, Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) and Agile (ok, Agile isn’t really a standard methodology per se, but entry level certifications exist that focus on the basic practices).

In most cases where I’ve seen this scenario played out, your employer typically is the one funding the certification costs… so, if you’re starting a new project, and there’s room in the training budget (or room in the project budget if you’ve thought ahead and added it in there!) it’s worth asking the question of your employer.

Reason #2 – Currently working as a PM or looking to work as a PM and wanting to skill up on a particular methodology (or you just feel like doing some study and this seems like an interesting thing to do!)

If you fit into this category, your first point of call should be to check if your employer will cover the cost. A lot of employers recognise the benefits of training and skill enhancement of their employees and will be more than happy to make that contribution.

If you’re lucky enough to have a complying employer – check to see if they will pay for you to attend a course (most usually take 5 days for a combined foundation and practitioner level course), or whether they’ll only take the cheaper self-study option. I highly recommend doing the full course if you can – a lot of them are usually focused around ‘how to pass the exam’ rather than in-depth study, but if you want the best chance of passing, then a course is your best option.

Just be aware, that most employers I’ve seen who pay for their employees to sit the exams put a condition on it that they expect you to pass… what this usually means, is that if you fail, you’ll need to re-sit the exam at your own cost. So do yourself a favour and give yourself the best chance to pass the first time by attending a 5 day course if you have the option.

You’ve got the choice of just about any certification if you fit into this scenario. You might want to skill up on the methodology you’re using now, one you will probably use in the future, or something that just looks interesting. Agile, Project Management Professional, Managing Successful Programs – or any of the standard methodologies are popular choices here.

One last tip before deciding – find out what methodologies and certifications are commonly used in your local jobs market. If everyone in your area uses Prince2 to manage their projects, then you’ll give your future job prospects a boost if you choose that over a methodology that’s hardly being used. If you do a lot of work with government agencies, then this is definitely something worth finding out as they tend to have standard methods across all departments.

Reason #3 – Looking to get a position as a PM and want the certification to enhance your CV

If you’re just getting into Project Management or looking for a new job and are concerned that you lack a few qualifications on your CV, then your reason for getting certified is going to be directly tied to getting a new job.

It’s really important that you do a bit of research into your local job market if you’re heading along this path… there’s no use getting certified in Agile Project Management if all the businesses in your local area are anti-agile for some reason. Same with Prince2, PMBOK or any other methodology you might come across.

You’re also (more than likely) going to be paying for this out of your own pocket – so most people tend to follow the cheaper self-study options rather than attending structured courses. That’s fine, just make sure you give yourself every chance to succeed and are confident that the certification you choose will help you get that job you want. Guided courses do have the benefit of making it more likely that you’ll pass and are also great networking opportunities, so don’t discount them if the cost is affordable.

Certifications can be good to get you in the door in some cases, but it’s experience and track record that gets you most PM positions – don’t assume that a certification is all you’re going to need.

Common choices here focus directly around methodologies used in your local area, as well as the PMP and its entry level counterpart Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM).

Thank you

Thanks for taking the time to read through my overview. is a new site for Project Managers and I want to make this into a top tier resource for information on certifications, so I appreciate any feedback that you have – I’ve told you what I think – have I missed anything? is there anything you’d like to add?

Use the contact link at the top of the page to send feedback and I’ll update the article if necessary, all project managers know the value of review and enhancement!

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1 Response

  1. May 5, 2015

    […] Hi Johnny, There are a few options open to you. PMP is quite a significant time investment and requires you to have quite a bit of PM experience under your belt (which it sounds like you have)… but more importantly – what are you trying to achieve from it? Are you looking for it to open some doors for future job prospects? Do you want it to attract clients? if so what kind of market are you targeting? what kind of methodologies are common in your area (Agile, Prince2, PMBOK?) A few notes here: […]

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