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4 Project Management Certifications to Advance Your Career

Last updated: March 23, 2020
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With the prevalence of remote and gig working continuing to rise, the need for project managers to keep widespread teams on track is at an all-time high. Of course, this means that project management is also becoming a more attractive career field — and that you may have more competition when searching for jobs or clients. To stand out on the job hunt, you can get a project management certification that proves your abilities are top-notch.

Getting a certification can help all current project managers (PMs) advance in their career. As you improve your skills, you can contribute more to the company you work for or want to work for, or to the clients you take on. In return, they’ll see your value continue to grow.

If you’re ready to take your career to the next level, keep reading as we go over four of the best project management certifications to consider and what it takes to receive each one.

4 Best Project Management Certifications

While a certification isn’t a requirement for PMs, it is an opportunity to show employers and clients that your mid-career skills have been thoroughly tested and approved by official standards.

A certification is a great opportunity for PMs. Think about it like this: Every job applicant in fields like software engineering is required to demonstrate their skills through a technical test, but project managers are usually only required to have experience and perform well in standard interviews. By volunteering to take a sort of aptitude test, you’ll be one of the unique applicants or freelancers who have actively proven their abilities before getting hired.

Below, we’ll go through a handful of the best certifications you can add to your resume.

1. Project Management Professional (PMP)

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Offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the PMP designation is perhaps the most widely recognized certification available. PMPs who pass the 200-question certification exam — based on PMI’s lauded Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) guide — are considered to be highly versatile, even global.

The biggest reason that PMPs are held in such high regard is because they must meet high standards. All PMPs are experienced project managers who have directed cross-functional teams within schedule and budget restraints for a little under four years minimum. In order to qualify to become a PMP, you must first meet one of the two basic qualifications:

  • Hold a secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree, or the global equivalent) with 7,500 hours of project management experience
  • Hold a four-year degree with 4,500 hours of project management experience

Applicants should also have a current Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification or 35 hours of project management education.

The passing grade for the PMP certification has varied between 61% and 81% over the years, and now is not disclosed, so we recommend studying up to ensure your confidence when taking the test. Once you pass, you are required to earn at least 60 professional development units (PDUs) every three years to keep your PMP title.

PMI Member Cost: $405

Non-Member Cost: $555

2. Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

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An acceptable prerequisite for the PMP exam, the CAPM certification is also offered by PMI and is far easier to obtain. This is because it’s an entry-level certification program built to help you move toward large projects and leading roles, even if you don’t have much hands-on experience in the field. In fact, PMI even encourages current college students to take this exam due to the minimal education requirement.

To become a CAPM, you must:

  • Hold a secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree, or the global equivalent)
  • Have completed 23 hours of project management education, at least by the scheduled date of your exam

Valid for five years without any required PDUs to maintain it, the CAPM title proves your high-level knowledge of the PM field and the PMBOK guide.

PMI Member Cost: $225

Non-Member Cost: $300

3. CompTIA Project+ Project Management Certification

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CompTIA may be known as a leading IT trade association, but its professional certification program is trusted by business owners across many fields. Whereas PMPs are tested to handle large projects, people with the entry-level CompTIA certification are mainly focused on small or medium projects. Passing this 95-question exam is a way to showcase your ability to manage the basic project lifecycle when faced with real-world resource constraints, rather than just projects in controlled environments.

This is one of the easiest certificate programs to succeed in. All you need is 12 months of PM experience or the equivalent in education. Then you’ll simply need a passing score of 710 (out of 900) on the exam.

Another perk of choosing the CompTIA Project+ PM certification is the fact that it’s good for life. There’s no need to deal with expensive renewals to keep this achievement on your resume. Some major brands that currently use Project+ as a standard include Canon, HP, and Dell, so your chance to land a PM job with one of these companies is definitely heightened.

Cost: $319 (prep and exam bundles available for $449 to $599)

4. Master Project Manager (MPM)

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Closing out our list is another great project management certificate for experienced PMs looking to advance even further to top-level positions. Offered by the American Academy of Project Management (AAPM), the MPM certification is used by a large network of PMs in over 150 countries, especially in the IT sphere. As an MPM, you are known for your PM knowledge, as well as your commitment to ethics and continuing education.

While the MPM certification is for professionals on the same level as PMPs, it doesn’t require quite as much to achieve. The only major prerequisite is that you must have three years of project management experience. You also should have a college degree or approved project management training.

The exam itself is only 20 questions, so every question is critical for your score. Take your time to ensure you get a passing grade. Once you do pass, you’ll be certified for three years and will get two years of free membership in the AAPM network.

Cost: $300

Frequently Asked Questions

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Getting certified is a path that many project managers take to continue furthering your career. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions to help you determine if it’s the path for you:

1. How much do certified project managers make?

The average project manager salary is $74,919 as of late 2019, including both certified and non-certified PMs. While certification doesn’t necessarily have a direct effect on the salary an employer offers, studies show that project managers who hold certifications have a 20% higher average salary than non-certified professionals.

2. Can I get a project management certification in place of a college degree?

Unfortunately, there are no certifications that can replace a college degree when you want to land a job in project management. While some job openings may accept PMs with equivalent experience, you may find that getting a bachelor’s or even master’s degree is the easiest path to both a job and many certification options.

3. Are there any certifications that can make it more likely for me to land a job in the software development field?

If you’ve browsed through PM job listings, you may notice that PMs are in high demand (and often paid well) in the software development field. Most of these companies are seeking PMs who are experienced with a specific approach called agile project management, which breaks down complex projects into fast-paced “sprints.”

To demonstrate your abilities with agile practices, you’ll want to aim to become a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) with the Scrum Alliance or a PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP).

Move Further in Your PM Career

If your goal is to become a senior project manager sooner rather than later, you can get a project management certification to advance in your field. Passing a certification exam will demonstrate to both employers and clients that you are actively working to better your skills and contribute more. With our selection of some of the most trusted certifications for PMs, you can find the one you qualify for and want to pursue.

If you’re a freelance project manager who is also seeking new ways to connect with more clients, you can take a look at our guide to finding work through Toptal.

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