How to Become a Certified Project Manager

Industry Advice Management

Northeastern’s Joe Griffin, associate teaching professor in the Master of Science in Project Management program, explains the importance of becoming certified as a project manager.

Becoming a certified project manager is an excellent idea for a person who wants to seriously pursue a career as a project management professional.

Certification provides a clear signal to your organization, or the organization you hope to work for, that you’re no longer the “accidental” project manager, but a serious professional who wants to excel. It also helps you begin to establish and master a framework for how you approach project work.

As you will see later, there are a number of different certifications relevant to project managers—each with a particular framework behind it. Your certification signifies that you have a solid grasp of that framework. What’s more, a majority of today’s job postings either require or strongly prefer that project management professionals have a certification, meaning you are more likely to be considered for a role if you’re certified.

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4 Steps to Becoming a Certified Project Manager

1. Research different types of project management certifications.

To become a certified project manager you first need to decide which certification is right for you, and there’s likely more project management-related certifications than you realize. Here is a sampling:

The Project Management Professional (PMP®) is the most commonly referenced certification by far. Currently, there are more than one million PMP® certification holders worldwide, and some estimate that there are more than 476,000 certified scrum professionals globally. Scrum-related certifications are growing much more rapidly than the PMP® certification, but the PMP® certification is more broadly referenced and relied upon across different industries and project types.

The good news is that you don’t have to choose one type or another; you can earn more than one certification. So how does one do this?

2. Choose the right certification for your goals.

There are several steps you can take to determine which project management certification is best suited to your professional goals.

Begin by researching the different certification options available and how they align with your desired outcome. Does the company or industry you’re focusing on prefer one type of certification to another? You can search job boards by certifications or keywords to learn more about this.

Second, research the certification you’re most interested in. Is it recognized globally or only regionally? What are the educational, job experience, testing fee, and ongoing, continuing education requirements? All of these factors need to be evaluated.

Third, chart a path for success. Like any good project manager, create a list of requirements, set a schedule, and execute your project. Prepare for the exam by taking a class or studying with colleagues.

3. Complete the requirements for certification.

Once you’ve chosen which certification you’d like to pursue and have familiarized yourself with the requirements, you can begin to prepare yourself to earn that designation.  

Depending on which certification you choose to pursue, you may need to complete professional experience requirements before you can become certified. For example, in order to sit for the PMP Certification Exam, you must either hold a four-year degree and have 36 months of experience leading projects or a high school diploma or associate’s degree and 60 months of experience leading projects. 

Many certifications will also require candidates to have completed relevant training and education. Those interested in earning a PMP Certification, for instance, must complete at least 35 hours of relevant training or hold a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) Certification in order to be eligible. 

After you’ve met all of the qualifications, you can schedule your exam and begin studying. Then, upon sitting for and passing the exam, it will be time to put your new certification to use.

4. Pursue a graduate degree (optional).

A final piece of leveraging your certification may come as a surprise: Did you know that if you hold one of the Project Management Institute’s certifications, such as the PMP® or PgMP® or PfMP®, you could gain advanced standing into a graduate certificate or master’s degree program?

Learn more: What Can You Do With a Project Management Degree?

Of course, you may ask why you should even consider an advanced degree in project management if you are certified; excellent question.

One of the certifications mentioned above shows your commitment to being an excellent practitioner, but a graduate certificate or master’s degree in project management raises your potential to a different level.

By completing a graduate program, you will focus not just on learning the definitional knowledge that’s so important for a certification exam, but on developing deep project management competencies through an applied and experientially focused curriculum that allows you to build and validate your technical, strategic, and team-oriented skills. You will strengthen your ability to effectively engage others, think critically, solve key problems, and lead organizational change and strategy initiatives.

Advancing in Project Management

Becoming a certified project manager is a key step in accelerating your career growth within the field, and it’s important to put your qualifications to work. Develop a plan for how you will leverage your new certification. Make sure your current employer knows, and then update your resumé and LinkedIn profile. Connect with a community of practice or local project management chapter to continue to strengthen your skills.

Remember that continuous growth is essential to advancing in your career. Your skills development and training don’t need to stop once you’ve become a certified project manager. Don’t be afraid to explore how opportunities like earning a master’s degree in project management can help accelerate your growth.

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2017. It has since been updated for accuracy and recency.