How to get project management work experience without PMP certification

Getting PMP work experienceLately I’ve been getting a lot of questions on my post about whether or not it’s worth getting PMP certified. The most common questions I receive are about whether or not someone has enough project management work experience to apply to take the exam. According to PMI, in order to apply to take the PMP exam, you need:

4,500 hours (36 months) of professional work experience leading and directing projects if you have a bachelor’s degree, or,

7,500 hours of work experience (60 months) of professional work experience leading and directing projects if you have an associate’s degree.

Some people find there is a bit of a Catch-22 when it comes to getting project management experience to take the PMP exam. On one hand, you need to amass this project management experience in order to apply to take the test. But on the other hand, many project management jobs require that applicants be PMP certified project managers before they are even considered for the role. So how do you go about getting project management experience to apply to take the PMP exam if you are not already a PMP credential holder?

Here are a few ideas:

Get a job as a project manager without a PMP

Even without PMP certification, it is possible to get a job as a project manager. Some project manager jobs do not require certification; find those, and give it your best shot landing one of those jobs.

Smaller companies may be more open to hiring someone without a great deal of project experience if they show that they are an intelligent, positive, and hard-working candidate. Startups and similar small companies will be more likely to hire non-PMPs than might government or military organizations, where long lists of credentials and industry work experience are highly valued.

Work some project management experience into your current job

If you’re working as an engineer, software developer, quality assurance analyst, or some other technical profession, it might not be too difficult to get some On-the-Job Training (OJT) in project management. Volunteer to manage small projects for your organization, or ask to serve as an assistant or associate project manager.

You might also speak to your manager or human resources department about project management mentoring; if you can shadow an experienced mentor, you can learn a great deal about leading and directing projects. In turn, you can take some of your mentor’s workload away from him or her, which will likely be appreciated – project managers usually have a lot to do!

Finally, you can work as a team lead in your current position. While being a team lead might not equate to actual project management experience, you will still be managing people, timelines, and potentially budgets, which will be great experience that you can put on a resume and later talk to recruiters about when it comes to applying to project management jobs.

Be a member of a project team

Even just working on a project team can be quality experience for a future project management career. Technical experience is very important for project managers; in fact, I find that engineers, developers, and other technical employees make some of the best project managers. Getting quality experience as a technical member of a project team will, in my opinion, make you a much better project manager than someone who does not have a technical background or experience working on a multitude of different types of projects.

While you are working on projects, keep track of how the projects are going, and of what PMI process groups you are working in – initiating, planning, executing, monitoring & controlling, and closing. Knowing what areas of the project you’ve been working on will help you to “talk the talk” when it comes to applying for project management roles.

Get involved with your PMO

An company’s Project Management Office (PMO) offers project governance, advice, and templates for the entire organization. If you’re working in a company that has a PMO, why not step up to help out with some of this governance? This will give you a broad degree of project experience, and will show you what methods are used to manage projects in your company. And if your company doesn’t have a PMO, you might speak with your manager about getting involved in starting one up. Your company might appreciate someone who can serve as a central point of contact for project management information.

Take some project management courses

If you have the time and energy to do it, you might seek out some project management education. In order to get PMP certified, you will need 35 contact hours of project management education, so you will need to get it at some point! Why not get it sooner rather than later?

There are plenty of courses, both online and offline, that offer project management training, and if you are serious about being a project manager, you might consider getting a Masters degree in Project Management. While this still does not equate to project management work experience, having such a degree will certainly give you a leg-up against candidates who have not had any formal project management training.

Get CAPM certified

If you don’t have enough professional project management experience to get PMP certified, you might consider getting CAPM certified. CAPM stands for Certified Associate in Project Management, and it is designed for people who are interested in becoming project managers and are just getting started with their project management careers. You do not need to have any professional work experience to earn the CAPM credential; the test is based on PMI’s framework, as is the PMP, though the CAPM test is not as rigorous as is the one for the PMP.

As I believe that the PMP is a much more respected certification, I am not normally an advocate of CAPM certification. However, if you are having a lot of trouble finding a project management job without the PMP, perhaps the CAPM can help you to demonstrate to recruiters or the people in your human resources department that you are serious about becoming a project manager. Plus, by going through CAPM certification, you will learn about PMI’s project management framework, which is something you will need to know anyway if you do plan to eventually take the PMP exam. I’ve written a post about the pros and cons of getting CAPM certified here that you can check out to see if CAPM certification might be right for you.

Another option you might choose is to undergo a different, non-PMI certification. The two that spring to mind are the ScrumMaster and ITIL Foundation certifications. Agile Development using Scrum is very popular these days, and by undergoing an Agile certification you will learn how to manage iterative development projects using Scrum. Meanwhile, ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a British certification focusing on IT Service Management (ITSM) that is popular and respected, in the United Kingdom especially, but also in Canada and the United States.

Stay positive

My final piece of advice is… stay positive! When you’re walking into an interview, don’t focus on your lack of project management work experience, and any potential negatives that being inexperienced entails. Focus on the positives, and on all of the great things that you can do. Even if you don’t have professional project management experience, you probably have managed projects at school, as a volunteer, or even in a club or at church. Prove to your recruiter that you are an accomplished problem-solver, a team player, and a dedicated worker. If you can give recruiters a glimpse of the amazing project manager that you will one day become, they might decide to take you on to help you begin your journey.

Good luck!

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33 Responses to “How to get project management work experience without PMP certification”

  1. Hi Brian,

    You have put together a good resource. Thank you for that.

    I have a different kind of a problem, something people like me would be looking for a way to deal with.

    I am 54. I have been in software development and management for close to 25 years. I have done just about everything in software development. I have also managed projects, not necessarily following all of what is prescribed by PMI.

    Recently, I got myself PMP certified.

    I am wondering whether companies will consider people like me with the age factor.

    Just need some advice. Thanks

    • Hello Pat,

      Regarding the age factor, I think that you are in luck. If you have 25 years of software development and management under your belt, and have now become PMP certified, I believe you’re in a great position to start managing projects. While some jobs are difficult for older people to attain, project management or program management do actually seem in some cases geared toward people with experience and achievements under their belts… in fact, I would guess that many organizations might prefer more seasoned project managers over younger, lesser experienced candidates.

      As for where you might look, you might consider looking into government positions. The reason I say this is because in my experience, in the United States and Canada anyway, there are a great deal of older, more experienced people working project management jobs in government positions. It might be worth a shot!

      Good luck to you, and congratulations on passing the PMP examination.

  2. Hi Brian,

    I have over 16 years project management experience, but I am now 68 years old. Is too late to be PMP certified?

    Thanks.

    Lou

    • Hello Angel,

      No, it’s never too late to be PMP certified. I personally plan to be learning and growing well into my golden years! If getting PMP certified is something you’d like to do, I recommend going for it. I respect you for taking the initiative.

      Good luck!

  3. Isaac Griswold-Steiner Reply July 14, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    Hello Brian,

    I was just wondering if you had any specific advice for someone looking to get PMP worthy experience while in college.

    Regards,
    Isaac

    • Hi Isaac,

      That’s a good question. As far as I am aware, experience for the PMP exam needs to be professional experience, so schoolwork wouldn’t count.

      My recommendation to you would be not to worry to much about getting PMP-worthy experience in college, but to work your way through college in such a way that you can get PMP-worthy experience when you get out. For example, even if managing projects within your school for clubs, your fraternity, student government, or whatever else will not earn you any of the 4500 hours of professional project management work experience you require, perhaps by working as a project manager through college you will be able to get a job managing projects where you get out, or your future managers will give you certain project management tasks due to your experience in the domain. You might also try volunteering your project management for nonprofits and the like – that could be another route to getting a good project management job in the future.

      Good luck to you – it is nice to see such initiative from someone still in college. I hope that you end up having a great career in the field.

  4. Hello Brian,
    I have been a project manager for two major commercial retail alarm companies installing security, fire, access and CCTV systems nation-wide. I do not have my PMP certification, nor do I have a college degree of any kind.
    I have been in the industry for the past thirty four years and have held titles such as installation manager, operations manager, systems engineer and have been a project manager for the past eight years.
    I was considering PMP certification until I realized that a college degree was part of the requirement. I am 52 years old and to do both seems somewhat daunting, as well as expensive. I’m wondering if it is worth my time and expense. Your thoughts?

    • Hello Chris,

      A college degree is not, in fact, part of the requirement – you do not need to have a college degree in order to get PMP certified. However, if you do have a college degree, you will need fewer hours of work experience in order to qualify for PMP certification – 4,500 hours with a bachelor’s degree as opposed to 7,500 hours with a secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree, or the global equivalent).

      Also, you don’t necessarily have to have been a project manager in title in order to qualify – you simply need to have that many hours of experience leading and directing projects (regardless of title). So if you led and directed projects as an operations manager or systems engineer, those hours of work experience would count.

      Meanwhile, I’m not sure if it is worth getting PMP certified in your case – that is something you’d have to find out based on your career and your geographic location. My advice would be to ask your Human Resources professional what they think about the certification. They would see many different resumes and applicants for jobs in your field, so they would know which certifications and credentials are most in demand for your domain.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Yes, I got involved with project management work before getting my PMP as project management experience is required for getting the PMP. But I think CAMP may not worth the effort.

    • Hello Edward,

      It is true that getting the CAPM may not be worth the effort. I have written an article discussing the pros and cons of getting CAPM certified here.

      Thanks for your input, and all the best!

  6. Your advice is very valuable to fellow would-be PMP. This is one of the top question everyone wishing to obtain the PMP would ask. Great article!

    • Hello Ed,

      Thanks so much for the kind feedback – I really appreciate it! I’m glad to be able to help aspiring PMP applicants figure out the best path to certification.

      All the best to you in your project management career!

  7. Hello, Brian,

    I am about to be laid off from my (very large) company. During my time here, I have participated in, & led, quite a few projects-even “forced” to put the title of project manager on my outgoing signatures. I have also participated in a “company-specific” project management training. Currently, all I hold is my BA in HR. I am thinking of using the time immediately after my layoff to aggressively study for my CAPM, then take my overall work experience to test. Is this a good idea? Am I missing a step here?

    • Hi Dionne,

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re about to be laid off – that’s never very fun.

      It sounds like you’ve had quite a bit of project management experience. In my opinion, if you already have enough project management experience, and are interested in furthering your career in project management, you should get the PMP certification rather than the CAPM certification. In my experience, the PMP is more valued and can land you more interviews and more jobs. Other people may have differing opinions, of course, but I believe the PMP will serve you better if you can get it, or if you have a path toward getting what you need in order to qualify for it (the work experience hours leading and directing projects in particular).

      I’ve written an article about the pros and cons of the CAPM certification here in case you’d like to check it out.

      Best of luck to you!

  8. I am working as Project Accountant for more than three years in a big Pharmaceutical manufacturing organization, I am aspirant to do PMP certification, I am also having professional qualification in Finance/accounting, as you must aware now there are many companies offering position in finance and they also require PMP certificatin,
    During my this job I had worked around many manufacturing facility upgradation projects and capacity enhancement as well, would you please help me how I can elaborate this in Project management working hours experince

    • Hello Aftab,

      I’m not sure if I completely understand your question. However, if you’re asking about figuring out which hours you’ve worked that would qualify for the project leadership and direction work experience for the PMP exam, you would simply tally up all the hours that you spent working in one of the five PMI process groups. Remember that you do not have to have actually been working as a project manager; even if you were completing project management tasks under another title, that would also apply.

      In any case, good luck to you.

  9. Thanks for the reply, Brian! Is it possible for me to take the course/exam on my own? Or do I HAVE to be company/employer sponsored?

    • Hello Dionne,

      You can certainly take the course and exam on your own. That is what I did myself. Also remember that the course does not necessarily have to be a PMI-centered course – any formal (re: not self-learning) project management education will apply.

      Best of luck!

  10. Hi Brian,

    Lot of valuable infoirmation and I am hoping you can help me out.

    I am trying to find the required PM experience with an MBA. I can only find the required hours(4500) with 4 year bachelor degree but no where I can find for the MBA.

    Thanks
    Simi

    • Hello Simi,

      Unfortunately, there are not different levels of experience for people who have Masters or PhD degrees… there are only two levels; one for people without a Bachelors degree, and one for people with a Bachelor’s degree. As you have your MBA, you also have your Bachelor’s, so you would use the 4,500 hours as your goal to apply for the PMP exam.

      Hope this helps!

  11. Hi Brian,

    I have 10 years of IT experience and Engineering degree and I have worked for India, US and UK clients.
    I have performed the different roles such as system Engineer, System Administrator, Analyst programmer, IT Analyst and Technical Lead in my tenure. I have involved in project management activities since 4+ years for multiple projects. Could you tell me that can I elligible for PMP exam?
    If a 4500 hours of project management experience is mandatory for PMP then could you tell me how can i calculate it if I have worked on multiple project simultaneously.
    Waiting for your reply!!

  12. hey,

    i was wondering if i would be qualified to take the pmp exam with 5 yrs experience as a lead supervisor and a hs diploma?

  13. Hi Brian,

    I work for a company where upper management initiates projects, and then once they decide to go ahead with a project, it gets turned over to me to do the planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. Do you think it will be a problem if I didn’t have any “Initiating” hours to report in my work experience?

    Thank you,
    Alex

  14. Brian, another question:

    Also, my projects, while sometimes months long, typically don’t have formal project charters. Basically, upper management will say “Get this done by .”

    Also, I’ve not made work breakdown structures, but I do make schedules and facilitate team meetings to get status reports from team members.

    Do you think my experience is too informal to satisfy the work experience requirement?

    Thanks again,
    Alex

  15. Brian

    I have just been made redundant from my current role and looking to move into a project management role.

    For the last 6 or 7 years, I have been managing projects as part of my role although I am not called a project manager. I would like to gain the PMP qualification and wonder what type of evidence I would need to provide to the PMI to be able to take the test.

    Thank you

    David

  16. Hi,

    I am really intersted in taking the PMP certification but i have a doubt regarding the project management experience. I am holding a bachelors degree and work as a finance executive, i have done two onshore migrations/transitions/OJT for my company.
    the first one was for 1 month and the second for 4 months. Will this experience be counted.

  17. Hi,
    I moved from Domincan Republic to Puerto Rico,Civil Enginner and Masters of Science in Construction Management, My last work experiencie was only 1 year as a controller of more than 8 projects, the first 6 most the company doesn’t have projects manager, so it was part of my job and most of the my activites were: payroll, controlling all project (all resourses(human and materials)), planning next day of work,……)
    I don;t have enough our to apply PMP, but I need to find a job, and I can’t decide for CAPM..
    Need ur recommendation

  18. Hi,
    I am 25yrs old. I have been working as a Mechanical Design Engineer in a Manufacturing company.i have 4 years of technical experience. i wanted to shift my career to the managerial side. i want to apply for PMP certification but i do not have any project management experience. since i was on the technical side for 4yrs i do not think i will get a project engineer job. i need your advice as how to shift to management side and want to know if i am eligible to write PMP exam.

  19. Hi Brian,
    Thanks for sharing such valuable advice and information with the world!

    I have a Master’s degree in Comp. Sci & about 6 years of experience that includes 2 years of Software testing and the rest Software development experience. For about 3 years, I have contributed to many project management activities in my team like participating actively in planning meetings, scheduling releases, conducting scrum calls etc. But I have not had the title of a project manager ever.

    I would really like to become a project manager at this point. I personally think CAPM is not worth taking at this point in my career. But am I eligible to take up PMP? How do I show professional experience when I have always had a title of Software Engineer? Please help

  20. Hi Brian
    I am a 23 year old male whose very passionate about becoming a certified project manager.I will be starting a course in project management from the University of Cape town the course is an advanced diploma in business project management Nqf level 7. I was also planning to do a Post graduate diploma in project management from the university of stellenbosch which is Nqf 9.I wanted to know when exactly should I consider going for the pmp exam after the advanced or post graduate diploma in project management???I would though prefer be a certified project manager at atleast 27 years ,please if you could also email me at s211257478@live.nmmu.ac.za some advice as am about to begin a journey that I believe will be worthy it.

    Thank you
    Unam

  21. Hi Brian,
    Thanks for the post, it was worth reading.
    I currently work in a bank as a lending specialist, been there 6 months and it is my first experience in the banking sector although I have been in sales for 6 years. I have decided I want to become a project manager in the finance sector and already preparing for the PRINCE 2 exam (the equivalent of PMP exam). However, because I have only been in this role for only 6months and I have been advised that the next move for me will be in another 18months, i fear I will not be able to fully maximize the PRINCE 2 qualification now. Would you advice i go ahead and take the exam now or wait 18months or theteabout when my manager will think i am ready for a move?
    Also, I am currently doing a postgrad diploma in business administration and project management is one of the 8 courses i will have to pass to get the degree, do you think it wise to finish the program and rely on the one course to support my desire when interviewing in the future or would you suggest a masters in project mgt.(i plan to get an mba once i am through).
    Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Thanks.

  22. Hi Brian,

    Thank you for pointing out that PMI will only consider Experience Leading and Directing Projects from the 8-years immediately preceding the date of your PMP Certification Application.

    Of my zillion hours accumulated prerequisite experience, I have only about 980-hours that fall within this time period.

    Saved me from wasting a considerable amount of money to obtain the required 35 contact hours of “formal project management education”.

    Problem is that in the present job market in the U.S., “PMP certification required” is turning up more and more as a mandatory must have for many senior level positions.

    Have an engineering Master’s degree, an MBA, and many years of very senior level work experience.

    Does not seem to me that obtaining the CAPM makes much sense for someone for whom the PgMP certification would be more appropriate.

    Kind Regards

  23. i am a graduate materials engineer with three years experience in non managerial positions but will like to move on with my career in project management . can i get certified as project management professional ?

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PMP Exam Prep:  Seventh Edition

About the Author


Website: Brian Crawford
I'm a Canadian and British dual citizen with an internationally-focused American MBA and an MS in International Project Management from a French business school. I am PMP, ScrumMaster, and ITIL Foundation certified. I'm particularly into travel, writing, and learning about different languages and cultures.