So you’re ready to get certified as a professional project manager. But as you’re looking through the requirements for some of the most well-known certifications, you notice that many of them require proof that you’ve led and directed projects. (Like, lots of hours.)
Automatically, you must be thinking that it’s the classic experience catch-22. You need the experience to get the certification, which will get you the job. However, you need the certification to get the job for the experience. It’s not.
You likely have plenty of project management experience. You just have to know where to look.
Experience isn’t just about management
First, let’s take a look at some of the requirements. Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is among the most popular certifications in the field. To qualify to take the exam, you need 7,500 hours of experience in leading and directing projects (a note about this later).
If you have a bachelor’s degree or better, you can qualify with 4,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects. You can apply for the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification with 1,500 hours of project experience or 23 hours of project management education.
The language regarding “leading and directing” a project on the PMP website seems daunting. Don’t let it scare you. Even if “project manager” doesn’t appear on your resume, you can still count project experience toward your certification. Here’s how.
For the purposes of PMP certification, the experience is broken into five separate categories:
- Initiation – In this phase, a project is officially introduced to a sponsor and the scope is first discussed.
- Planning – The full scope of the project is fully defined.
- Execution – With everything outlined in writing, the work begins.
- Monitoring and Controlling – Project managers track, review, and regulate the progress of the project.
- Closing – This is the final phase when the client signs off on the project.
With these categories in mind, think back to all the things you’ve done at work, or even outside work. You don’t need to lead a project from initiation to closing to count those hours. Instead, compile your experience from each of these experience categories. You might have planned and initiated a project, or executed a project plan within a process group.
For different positions, it might look like this:
- Initiation – Team lead for React website build for X company
- Planning – Planned infrastructure upgrade for X company
- Execution – DevOps support for X project
- Monitoring and Controlling – QA lead for X portion of X project
- Closing – Software developer for the release of X project
It’s okay that you might have more experience in one phase than others. In fact, you should.
Experience through participation
But the important question is how do you get that experience in the first place? There are several ways you can serve in a project leadership role without a certification in place.
Work experience – Look for ways you can get project leadership experience at your own organization. Even without being a project manager, you can easily jump on a project (if you aren’t working on one already). Even if you’re not managing projects, you can count your participation in execution, or monitoring and controlling.
Volunteer experience – It may seem painful to work for free, but it’s a great way to get hours of experience. CBT Nuggets trainer Jeremy Cioara is a big fan of volunteer work as a means to gain technical experience. For instance, if you’re setting up a WiFi network at a church or building a website for a non-profit, you’re gaining experience in all five category areas.
Side projects – If you have extra time, take a side gig. You can find freelance project management work. It’s just a matter of getting out there and networking.
As you work your way toward certification, make sure you log every hour you put in on projects, separating the work into the correct categories. This will make it easier when it’s time to hand your documentation over. Make sure you ask each project lead for a reference to make the auditing process easier.
Keep accurate records of your experience
We’ve heard from project managers that the hardest part of the certification isn’t the test. It’s documenting your years of projects. Let’s break that down:
You need 4,500 hours for PMP. If you’re working on some element of a project for 40 hours per week, you’ll have to account for about two years and two months of experience. Can you remember what you did in February two years ago?
It’s better if you accurately log your experience as you go along — emphasis on accurately. The biggest risk you’ll face is that you might be audited on that experience, which means that you’ll have to get a signature from the leader of each project certifying that you put the number of hours into the work that you stated you did.
Counting on your experience for the future
As you’ve found, you have plenty of project management experience. You just had to know where to look. A project management certification will take you to the next level in your career, opening opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise. Good luck!