If you’re working as a project manager, getting your PMP designation is no longer a nice-to-have. These days, it’s really more of a must-have. With more than 600,000 PMPs in the world, it has become the de facto certification in project management, particularly within the United States. Why is this important? First (and most obviously), because it’s popular with and matters to employers. That’s far from the only reason, though.
With the advent of Human Resource systems, résumés submitted to companies no longer fill the email inbox of someone in HR. Instead, résumés get dumped into an HR system. The easiest way for a Hiring Manager to search for and screen out resumes for Project Managers is to search by keyword. Many times, that keyword is “PMP”. If you do not have these letters on your resume, it’s likely your resume will never be found. Will having the PMP designation get you the job? No. But it will increase your chances of getting an interview; and in a sea of Project Management candidates, it helps you stand out. Further, research shows Project Managers with their PMP earn, on average, 17% more annually than their colleagues who do not have their PMP. There is really no excuse not to get it.
“But Erika!” You say, “I know tons of PMPs who couldn’t punch their way out of a paper sack. Getting your PMP does not make you a good Project Manager!” I absolutely agree. However, getting your PMP does two critical things: First, it shows employers, customers, and your team you are serious about your career as a Project Manager and have invested the time, energy, and brain power needed to pass the PMP exam. Second, it helps you speak the language of Project Management.
When someone mentions Work Breakdown Structure, for instance, you will know exactly what they mean – that shared language goes a long way toward alleviating confusion and promoting effective communication within teams.
Hopefully by now you’re saying to yourself, “Ok, fine. I’ll take this stupid thing. How do I make sure I’m successful?” Fret not. I’ve got you covered. Here are some surefire ways to guarantee you’ll only have to take the PMP exam ONCE. (This is a bear of an exam. Once is plenty.)
1. Take studying seriously
This is a difficult test! Most people spend 100-200 hours studying for it. Make sure you are ready to devote the hours needed to be successful and remain focused. For example, do not decide to do this part-time and “see how it goes”. Devote the time to passing this thing (I mean block it off, go to the library, stay at the office, find a quiet, interruption-free space at home). Just because you have been a Project Manager does not mean you will pass this exam easily. Just ask anyone who has taken it. Further, don’t rely on your ability to memorize terminology. You need to have a solid understanding of the words as well as the reasoning behind the concepts. Make sure you are adequately prepared and study appropriately.
2. Take a PMP exam prep course
(Trust me. I made this mistake and am here from the future to tell you it was not pleasant.) This will save you a tremendous amount of time and effort – and provide you with the 35 educational hours required to sit for the exam (if you don’t already have them). When I took my exam, I had previously taken a bunch of Project Management-specific training, decided that should be plenty, and skipped any PMP-specific training. Unfortunately, that decision caused me to spend FAR more time studying than I should have. A boot camp style class is the way to go. Plus, you will be able to get your questions answered as you submit your application (another way to significantly cut down on time) and begin to study. You’ll also get to know other Project Managers going through the same process who can help hold you accountable.
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3. Take Practice Exams
Before, during, and after class, be sure to take lots of practice exams and simulate the real exam as best you can. This will help you focus your study time on any areas in which you are weak and get you into the mind of the sick and twisted people who write the PMP exam. Further, make sure you understand the “why” behind the right answer. Don’t just try to memorize everything. Many exam questions are long and tricky, and you need to make sure you understand the concepts behind the terminology. This will help you not only on the exam, but afterward as well. No one wants to work with a book smart PMP who doesn’t understand the value best practice behaviors bring to the organization.
4. Put it on the calendar
Once you have taken a PMP prep course, schedule the exam while the information is still fresh (no more than 2-4 weeks afterward). I have seen too many people let life get in the way; and when too much time passes, it’s easy to become complacent and never end up taking the exam. Scheduling the exam, paying your money, and having an impending deadline on the horizon is a great way to keep the pressure on and motivate you to study.