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!