Once you've determined that you're eligible to take the Project Management Institute's (PMI) exam toward PMP certification, your next step is to fill out and submit the application.
The biggest impediment aspiring PMPs face before taking the exam is filling out the nine-page application. Although the application is straightforward, it requires applicants to convey a lot of detailed information about their project management experience. Gathering all of this information can be a project in itself and can take days if not weeks. Consequently, many who start filling out the application never finish it, and thus their hopes of earning the coveted PMP certification are dashed before they even take the exam.
In this second article in CIO.com's series on preparing for the PMP exam, you'll learn how the application process works and about its various steps. You'll also get some tools and learn some best practices that will help you fill out the application efficiently.
Step 1: How to Fill Out the Application for the PMP Exam
Too often, I see IT professionals decide to take the exam, but then life intervenes, and filling out the application for the PMP exam becomes the last item on their list of priorities. To avoid failure by procrastination, your best bet is to fill out and submit your application as soon as you have confirmed that you meet all of the eligibility requirements. Filling out the application and later paying the application fee (which ranges from $250 to $555, with most people paying $405) is a great motivator and will keep you focused on your goal: earning PMP certification.
The Project Management Institute prefers that you apply online. A printable version of the application is available, but applying online is simple and convenient. You have 90 days to complete your application from the moment you start filling it out, and you can save what you've written between sessions.
The application is broken into three major sections. The first section asks for your contact information (e.g., name, address, job title, employer's name) educational background and the industry you work in. Section two requires you to list your project management experience hours (i.e., the amount of time you've spent leading and directing project management-related tasks). In section three, you record your contact hours—the amount of time you've spent in project management training or education programs.
Section two will take up most of your time because you will need to provide detailed information about all the projects that you have worked on. For example, for each project, you must document the title you held when you worked on this project as well as the name of the organization that employed you when you worked on it. You must also name a primary contact for this project and describe the tasks that you led and directed, along with the number of experience hours you gained during project initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling, and closing.
The total number of experience hours that you need to document in section two depends on your educational background. If you have a bachelor's degree, you will have to document 4,500 hours that were performed within the last eight years. If you don't have a bachelor's degree, you'll need to document 7,500 hours.
Gathering all the necessary information about your project management experience hours and contact hours can be a project in itself. I therefore recommend the following best practice: First collect all of that information offline using the Experience Verification Worksheet, a tool that I provide to all my students for free. Gathering that information ahead of time makes filling out the application a much smoother process.
Before you can submit your application, you must read and agree to the Project Management Institute's Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. It's a small box on the actual application that you have to check, but it is very important. By ticking this box you agree to henceforth manage your projects according to very high standards.
Step 2: The "Application Completeness Review"
After you submit your application online, the Project Management Institute takes five days to review your application and make sure it's complete. (If you mailed a paper application, the review process takes 10 days.) If your application isn't complete, the Project Management Institute will let you know and ask you to complete it.
Step 3: Pay the Fee
Once the Project Management Institute verifies that your application is indeed complete, the organization will send you an e-mail requesting you pay the fee to take the PMP exam. You cannot schedule the exam until you have paid this fee. You can submit your payment online and at the same time select whether you want to take the exam on paper or on a computer, if you need a language translation aid or any other special accommodations, such as wheelchair accessibility or a large font computer screen if you're visually impaired.
Step 4: Prepare for a Random Audit
Your application may be randomly selected for an audit. The Project Management Institute elects to audit some of the applications it receives for the PMP exam to ensure that only qualifying candidates take the exam.
If your application is selected for an audit, you will be notified by e-mail after the Project Management Institute receives your payment. From the day the PMI notifies you of the audit, you have 90 days to send in your audit materials, such as copies of your training certificates that show that you have the 35 required contact hours. Once PMI receives your audit materials, reviewing and processing them takes five to seven days.
The audit is nothing to worry about as long as you are prepared for it. You should prepare for it while you're gathering information for your application. Maintain a folder with documents that support the work you did on each and every project you list on your application, whether those documents be e-mails, project plans, meeting minutes or project charters.
As you fill out your application, be honest about your project management experience. Don't embellish it. If you do, the Project Management Institute will find out during the audit that you've stretched the truth. How? For each project that you include in section two of your application, you will have to name a "contact person." For the audit, the PMI will give you a form that each of your contacts will have to sign to confirm that the information on your application is accurate.
Therefore, I recommend the following best practice: Get in touch with all of your contacts before you submit your application and ask them to tell you if they agree with what you have written about a given project. This way, you can make sure they will back up whatever you record on your application if the Project Management Institute audits it.
Step 5: Schedule Your PMP Exam
After your application has passed the completeness verification and you have paid your credential fees, the Project Management Institute will send you an electronic notification informing you that you are eligible to schedule the test. You have one year to take your test, and you can take the exam two more times should you not pass it the first time.
The PMP exam is administered by Prometric, a provider of testing services. You will actually schedule your exam on Prometric's website. Simply locate the Prometric office closest to your hometown and find an available date that fits your schedule. Some Prometric offices are very busy, and you may have to wait weeks or months to take your exam. Scheduling your exam well in advance not only guarantees that you have a seat, it also puts a big red X on your calendar, which is a great motivator to keep on studying.
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 PMI's New Media Council. He is also the host of the Project Management Podcast and the PDU Podcast.
Other articles from the 'Prepare for the PMP exam' series:
Prepare for the PMP exam part 1: Assess your eligibility
Prepare for the PMP exam part 3: Build a project study plan
Prepare for the PMP exam part 4: Study materials
Prepare for the PMP exam part 5: Tips, techniques
Prepare for the PMP exam part 6: Using practice tests
Prepare for the PMP exam part 7: Exam day logistics
Prepare for the PMP exam part 8: Getting recertified
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