by Cornelius Fichtner, PMP

How to Prepare for the PMP Exam Part 1: Assess Your Eligibility

Oct 19, 2010
CareersCertificationsProject Management Tools

Not everyone is eligible to take the Project Management Institute's exam toward PMP certification. Here's a breakdown of the requirements. (This is the first of a weekly, eight-part series of articles on preparing for the PMP exam.)

Project management remains one of the hottest career options for IT professionals. CIOs report quarter after quarter that project management skills are among the most sought after IT skills for their organizations.

IT workers are responding to this demand by increasingly seeking out project management certification. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the number of IT professionals who hold the PMP credential has doubled over the past five years. The Project Management Institute offers the most popular project management certification in the U.S.—the Project Management Professional or PMP credential. It signifies that an individual is proficient in PMI’s project management framework, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). It also indicates that the individual possesses significant project management skills and experience.

According to the PMP Credentials Handbook, the PMP exam “objectively assesses and measures experience, education and professional knowledge—the foundation of competent practice as a project manager.”

PMP certification can give IT project managers an edge in the job market, as more employers note in ads for project manager jobs that project management certification is highly desirable, if not required. IT project managers who are certified tend to earn higher salaries than project managers who lack credentials, according to a salary survey conducted by the Project Management Institute.

But not everyone is eligible to take the PMP certification exam. Interested parties must meet certain requirements established by the Project Management Institute. Here’s the low-down on those requirements.

Given the interest in project management certification, and PMP expert Cornelius Fichtner have prepared a series of how-to articles designed to help interested parties prepare for the PMP exam. This article is the first in the series.

Determining Your Eligibility to Take the PMP Exam

The Project Management Institute requires that people who wish to take the PMP exam possess project management-related experience and have received formal project management training or instruction. The organization outlines its criteria for taking the PMP exam in the PMP Credential Handbook. This free publication is downloadable from the Project Management Institute’s website. In it, you’ll find a description of the PMP certification, an explanation of who is eligible to apply, and how to go about applying. Read the first 20 pages and you will know all there is to know about the exam from an administrative point of view.

Here are the basic requirements for taking the exam:

  • A four-year degree (bachelor’s or the global equivalent) and at least three years of project management experience. Of those three years of project management experience, 4,500 hours should have been spent leading and directing projects. 35 hours of project management education are also required.
  • In the absence of a four-year degree, a secondary diploma (high school or the global equivalent) is required, along with at least five years of project management experience. Of those five years of project management experience, 7,500 hours should have been spent leading and directing projects. 35 hours of project management education are also required.

Project Management Experience Hours vs. Contact Hours

The questions project managers ask me about the PMP exam most often concern the required “Project Management Experience Hours” and “Contact Hours.” Somehow, the PMP Credential Handbook makes both sound more complicated than they are, and applicants seek a clearer explanation.

Project management experience hours refer to the number of hours an applicant has spent leading and directing project management-related tasks. The applicant does not have to have been a project manager but must have played a significant role in the portion of the project in which he or she was involved and must have led or directed project tasks. The applicant could have been a team lead, functional lead, technical lead, project sponsor, meeting facilitator or subject matter expert.

The number of project management experience hours an applicant will need depends on whether the applicant holds a bachelor’s degree or high-school diploma. In either case, the applicant must have accrued his or her project management experience hours within the last eight years.

Applicants also need experience in initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and closing a project—what the PMI defines as its five “process groups.”

The online application for the PMP exam provides a limited amount of space (500 characters) in which to describe the project management tasks the applicant led or directed for each project. Be sure to provide concise descriptions since space is tight and one sentence is rarely enough for the PMI to determine a project’s eligibility.

Contact hours refer to the total amount of time an applicant has spent in formal instruction. Contact hours are earned by attending project management-relevant training, either in a classroom or online. While project management experience hours must be accrued within the last eight years, any project management-related training an applicant took in the past can count towards the PMI’s requirement for contact hours. There is no expiration date on any project management training an applicant has undertaken.

Is PMI Membership Mandatory?

Another question I often get asked is whether one has to be a PMI member to take the PMP exam. The answer is no, you don’t have to be a member, but there are at least two financial benefits to becoming a member:

  • PMI members receive a significant discount on their PMP exam application fee. This discount is greater than what it costs to become a PMI member.
  • PMI members receive a free PDF copy of the PMBOK Guide, which is needed to prepare for and pass the exam.

What’s more, many local PMI chapters offer discounts on their PMP exam prep workshops to PMI members.

Confirming your eligibility is just the first step toward taking the PMP exam and getting certified. In subsequent articles, I will take you through the application process, study materials you’ll need, tips and techniques for acing the exam and more—thereby providing you with a roadmap to your PMP certification.

Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, is a noted project management expert with nearly 20 years of project management experience in various industries. He has helped over 11,000 students prepare for the PMP Exam with The Project Management PrepCast, a downloadable and portable exam prep video workshop. A former PMI Chapter president, Fichtner is currently an active volunteer in his local PMI chapter and a member of PMIs New Media Council. He is also the host of the Project Management Podcast and the PDU Podcast.