Project managers earn certifications to demonstrate their expertise and knowledge in project management. Certification isn't required, but can be a great career move. Employers across industries often require or highly prefer certified project managers.
There are project management certifications available at all career and education levels; from those who hold an associate degree and are just getting started in the field, to those with a bachelor's or master's.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers some of the most widely-recognized certifications for project managers, but there are additional valuable certifications for project managers to explore.
A certified project manager is someone who has proven their knowledge of certain project management-related tenets (such as crisis management, project budgeting, team building, task delegation, and leadership skills) then taken and passed an exam. The resulting certification is formal proof that a project manager has the knowledge base and skills to carry out successful projects.
One well-known and popular certification is the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). It is designed to help experienced project managers advance their careers. This certification is only available to PMs with at least three years of experience. Employers often look for project managers who've put in the time and dedication it takes to earn a PMP, meaning this certification may help you earn high-level roles.
The popular PMP certification is only available to project managers with at least three years of experience.
Other certifications are entry-level and designed for people who are just beginning to manage projects; for example, people who are coming from another business area or those just entering the job market. Often, entry-level certifications require that you take a course, either online or in-person, before you're eligible to take the exam.
"The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) through PMI can help you advance your career," says Morgan Martin, the CEO and founder of CoApt Projects, LLC. "The CAPM includes the same core tenants as the PMP, but has a less rigorous exam and more accessible prerequisites."
Which Project Management Certification Should You Pursue?
There are dozens of project manager certifications available. Some certifications are broad and demonstrate your overall skill and competence as a project manager, while others are specific to methodologies such as Agile. As a project manager, you'll find certifications at every education and career level. There are entry-level certifications, mid-career certifications, and advanced certifications.
Some popular project management certifications include:
Certified Associate in Project Management (CAMP)
Who this certification is best for:Entry-level project managers who want to set themselves apart and show their dedication to the industry. The certification exhibits a foundational knowledge of project management and an understanding of the project management process.
Certifying body: Project Management Institute (PMI)
What it's for: Taking on entry-level roles in project management and getting your career started.
Exam prerequisites: A high school diploma or associate degree and 23 hours of education specific to project management. You can take PMI's online Project Management Basics course to fulfill this requirement.
Exam topics covered: The role of a project manager, the project management process, project scheduling, project budgeting
Renewal requirements: You'll need to complete 15 professional development hours every three years.
What else you should know: You can take your CAMP exam from your home computer. You'll need to schedule a time and have a computer with a webcam, but you won't need to go to a testing center.
Project Fundamentals Qualification (PFQ)
Who this certification is best for: The PFQ is a globally recognized entry-level certification. It's a good choice for early-career project managers who work, or aspire to work, with companies that do international business.
Certifying body: Association for Project Management
What it's for: Project managers who earn this certification will have an entry-level credential that is recognized by corporations around the world. This could help you take on international projects or even be hired by international companies.
Renewal requirements: 35 professional development hours every five years
What else you should know: Online courses and study guides are available to help you prepare for this exam.
Project Management Professional (PMP)
Who this certification is best for: The PMP is the most widely recognized certification for project managers. It is recognized both nationally and internationally and is the certification mostly likely to be required by employers.
Certifying body: PMI
What it's for: The PMP shows that you are a professional in the field of project management. It demonstrates to employers that you have mastered all the skills and knowledge needed to be successful and manage projects effectively.
Exam prerequisites: At least an associate degree and five years of project management experience. Candidates with a bachelor's degree or higher can apply with three years of experience. All candidates need to have at least 35 hours of education specific to project management.
Exam topics covered: Conflict management, team management, team structuring, leadership styles, motivation styles, assessing performance, task delegation.
Renewal requirements: 60 professional development hours every three years
What else you should know: PMP courses, study guides, test preparation, and more exam tools are available online through PMI and other organizations.
Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)
Who this certification is best for: The CSM is for project managers in the fields of information technology or software development who use Agile and Scrum as their primary methodologies.
Certifying body: Scrum Alliance
What it's for: The CSM demonstrates you have the ability to use Scrum to help your team perform and your projects succeed.
Exam prerequisites: You'll take a course through the Scrum Alliance either online or in-person before taking your exam. Courses are at least 14 hours long.
Renewal requirements: 20 Scrum education hours earned through the Scrum Alliance every three years.
What else you should know: The Scrum Alliance also offers higher-level Scrum certifications to help you advance your career.
Who this certification is best for: This certification is designed for professionals who manage small to medium-sized projects. It's designed to be entry-level.
Certifying body: The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA)
What it's for: This certification covers the basics of project management. It's a good choice for people who want to move into a project management role or for people who want to formalize their project management knowledge.
Exam prerequisites: None
Exam topics covered: Project basics, project tools, project constraints, communication
Renewal requirements: Certification does not need to be renewed.
What else you should know: Online courses and study guides are available through CompTIA.
Professional in Project Management (PPM)
Who this certification is best for: The PPM is designed for mid-career project managers seeking to advance their skills and gain higher-level roles.
Certifying body: Global Association for Quality Management (GAQM)
What it's for: The PPM can boost your skills and allow you to take on larger-scale projects. It demonstrates to potential employers that you're a dedicated professional who can handle complex projects.
Exam prerequisites: You'll take GAQM's four- to five-hour online course before you take the exam. There is no experience requirement, but at least two years of project management experience is recommended.
Exam topics covered: Developing projects, setting project goals, project life cycles, communication, teamwork, scheduling, team building, risk management, crisis management
Renewal requirements: An online renewal course every five years
What else you should know: PPM certification is internationally recognized.
How Do I Get Certified?
Certification is a multi-step process. In general, you'll need to apply, pay a fee, take a test, and then keep your certification active.
Decide which certification is right for you. A certification is a great way to advance your project management career. Your best bet is to pick one that aligns with your education, career stage, and field.
Fulfill requirements and prerequisites. You'll need to complete requirements and prerequisites for any certification you're interested in. This might include experience hours, educational hours, application forms, fee payments, and more. If a training course is part of the certification, you'll need to complete it before you can take your exam.
Get approved to test. You'll be asked to send proof that you've completed all the necessary requirements along with your application. The certification board will review your application materials. If you're approved, you'll be given a testing date or testing window.
Study! The exams for project manager certifications can be rigorous. It's a good idea to take advantage of online study guides and test prep materials.
Take and pass the exam. Your exam will be computer-based and might take place in your home or at a testing center. Most exams are multiple choice and will take between one and three hours to complete.
Maintain your certification. Maintaining your certification generally requires taking continuing professional education courses and paying a fee.
Choosing the Right PM Certification
It can be overwhelming to choose a certification as a project manager. There are so many available that it's difficult to tell which ones are worth earning. Fortunately, there are a few ways to narrow it down.
"When choosing a certification for yourself, consider the type of environment you want to work in and the role you'd like to have," says Martin. "If fast-paced IT development is your calling, we recommend exploring Scrum and Agile certifications. If you're looking to implement larger-scale projects for organizations where policy and process are critical, such as government, healthcare, manufacturing, or construction agencies, the PMP certification through PMI will give you a solid foundation to build on."
You can add to your PMP with additional certifications as your career grows. It's a good idea to stay on top of industry news to see what certifications are increasingly in demand. You can also keep an eye on job postings in your area to see if there are any additional certifications preferred by employers.
Certification is highly recommended for project managers. It demonstrated that you're a dedicated professional who understands the core tenets of project management. Additional specialty certifications such as the ScrumMaster certification for IT and software development professionals is a great way to demonstrate your mastery of specific skills. Such additional certifications may help you land higher-level roles, advance your career, and boost your paycheck.
Another benefit? Earning certification will make you part of a professional organization such as PMI and provide opportunities for you to take professional development courses. That can benefit both you and your employer for years to come.
"Being a part of a network such as PMI or the Scrum Alliance means continuous education opportunities that are helpful to you as an individual, and are attractive to employers worrying about keeping pace with an ever-changing environment," says Martin.