Which certification to pursue: CAPM vs. PMP?
The Project Management Institute (PMI) has several certifications available, and it might be tricky to figure out which one is right for you – but we can help!
For someone interested in a project management certification, you probably think about either the more well-known PMP (Project Management Professional) or the less well-known CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management).
It’s true, PMP is better known, but it’s also harder to qualify with a more difficult exam. CAPM is a great starting point for people early in their career or newer to project management overall.
You may want to think of it as a continuum, and some people choose to start with CAPM and move on to PMP, but we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.
Let’s start with a brief description of each, look at some highlights of each certification and the process to qualify, and then some tips to help you decide.
CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) – What is it?
Earning the CAPM shows you understand the fundamental knowledge, terminology, and processes of effective project management. It’s meant for people without project management experience.
It is an excellent start for anyone who wants to start a career in project management. CAPM aspirants may also work on projects and wish to formalize their project management knowledge. The roles might be a project coordinator, team leader, project contributor, or business analyst.
The certification is also an excellent choice for 2nd or 3rd-year university students or new graduates. Entry-level positions that look for this certification are jobs like project coordinator, meeting planner, event organizer, and project control officer (PCO).
The eligibility and certification processes are also a little less strenuous than the PMP (more on this later).
PMP (Project Management Professional) – What is it?
The PMP is the gold standard of project management certification and ideal for people leading large-scale projects.
Recognized and demanded by organizations worldwide, the PMP shows your competence to perform the role of a project manager, leading and directing projects and teams. This certification will allow you to increase your salary by up to 26% and get promoted to senior roles such as Senior Project Manager, Program Manager, Portfolio Manager, Project Director, Head of PMO, and VP of Project Management.
Eligibility and certification processes for this designation are quite a bit more strenuous than the CAPM. The eligibility and certification processes are more demanding, worthy of the prestige you earn with this accreditation.
To be eligible to write the exam for CAPM Certification, you need to have a high school diploma or equivalent and have completed 23 hours of project management education.
To be eligible to write the exam for PMP Certification, you need to have either:
- A four-year degree, 36 months leading projects, and 35 hours of project management education or CAPM certification, OR
- A high school diploma or equivalent, 60 months leading projects, and 35 hours of project management education or CAPM certification.
About the Exams (CAPM vs. PMP)
The exams are also different. The CAPM exam focuses on testing your knowledge of and familiarity with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). The PMP exam is more a test of your understanding of project management principles, problem-solving skills, and analysis in specific situations.
One hundred fifty (150) multiple-choice questions, three hours, focused on PMBOK Guide content. These exam questions tend to be knowledge-based, where you show that you know specific facts and processes about project management.
For example, questions on the CAPM exam may ask you for the formula to calculate the Cost Performance Index (CPI).
Oh, and there’s a great Complete CAPM Exam Prep Course to help you get ready to write the CAPM exam, which also counts towards the training requirement. In addition to our online course, the CAPM exam costs $225US for a PMI member and $300US for someone not a member.
One hundred eighty (180) multiple-choice questions, multiple responses, matching, hotspot and limited fill-in-the-blank, 230 minutes (just under four hours), covering knowledge areas considered essential to the practice of project management, tasks consistent with project manager responsibilities, and project management situation problems to solve.
For the PMP, you are tested for your ability to think at a higher level and apply what you know in certain situations. For example, you might be given a problem to determine if the Cost Performance Index (CPI) is the appropriate calculation or some other calculation and then actually perform the analysis.
The question will then ask, “What should the project manager do next?”
You may have guessed this, but we also have a Complete PMP Exam Prep Course to help ensure that you are ready for the PMI exam. Our course has proven results, a money-back guarantee, and also meets the training requirement to be eligible to write the exam. In addition to our online course, the PMP exam costs $405US for a PMI member and $555US for someone not a member.
How do I decide?
CAPM certification is proper if …
Are you just getting started with projects? Do you want to learn more about project management to be more comfortable working on a project? Are you early in your career? Are you a student thinking that project management is a direction you might want to go?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, then CAPM is a great starting point. It’s a little easier to qualify, and the exam requirements are a little more straightforward.
This certification is an excellent foundation for anyone considering project management as a career or even just for participating in many projects who want to understand the behind-the-scenes of managing projects.
If you end up loving it, you may want to proceed on to PMP certification later.
PMP certification is right if …
You have been leading projects for a while and want to make your experience official.
This certification validates that you are among the best with desirable soft skills. You can lead a project team in today’s changing environment effectively. You are comfortable with the technical aspects of successfully managing projects. You have a good pulse on the connection between projects and organizational strategy and have the project leadership skills employers seek.
The new PMP includes two fundamental approaches: predictive (traditional or waterfall) and adaptive (agile and hybrid).
PMP certification gives you a competitive edge against others leading projects and proves that you work smarter. CIO magazine ranked the PMP as the top project management certification in North America because it demonstrates you have the specific skills employers seek, dedication to excellence and the capacity to perform at the highest levels.
The median salary for project professionals in North America is 26% higher than those without it. PMP certification shows you have the skills to drive business results and increase your organization’s impact in the office and worldwide.
Did that help you choose?
The Bottom Line
CAPM certification is a great starting point and an “entry-level” certification. Maybe it’s all you need – solid knowledge of project management principles and practices and how it all comes together. It’s certainly enough to be a vital project participant and helps you get a foundation of project management skills to get started.
CAPM is also a significant first step if you’re thinking about PMP certification in the future and can even be a stepping stone towards earning PMP certification and count towards PMP eligibility.
PMP certification is harder to obtain and more well-known. It shows that you have strong proficiency and are an experienced project manager. This certification is a requirement for some upper-level project management jobs and a way to legitimate the project management experience you already have.
Once you are PMP certified, you may want to specialize further and work on agile certifications, portfolio management professional certification, or program management professional certification, to name only a couple. As your career progresses, there’s probably a PMI certification that can support it.
Regardless of which one you pursue, be proud of what you achieve and let people know you made an effort and put in the hard work to earn your certification. Consider including your credentials in your email signature, and update your resume and LinkedIn profile. You might even want to use the PMI digital badge you receive after completing certification.
These digital badges tell people some key details, like when you received your certificate, what essential skills are associated with the certification, and what it took for you to qualify. The efforts you take to maintain your certification on an ongoing basis demonstrate to others that you take your career and training seriously, and for those who might not know, to help them understand and appreciate the effort you’ve already invested and invest on an ongoing basis.
Displaying your credential might make others aware of a skill set they didn’t know you have or lead people to ask you about your experience and what you learned while working on certification.
You already did the work. Take credit for it!