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My PMP Journey: Lessons Learned

In an effort to give back to the community, this post documents my experience with the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification process. I hope it helps someone in a similar way as I have been helped by others that have shared their experiences.

Benefits of the PMP are numerous

My objectives for undertaking this challenge were to:

  • Enable myself to manage projects using the standard approach and language currently being used in the industry.
  • Fill in any gaps in my project management knowledge.
  • Validate my project management experience and skills.


I feel as though my objectives have been met, and then some! This experience has provided me the chance to become much more knowledgeable and confident about my project management skill set. My ability to communicate with others that hold this certification, or at least have studied the PMBOK guide, has greatly improved. While I am still looking for employment (passed the exam only one week ago), I have noticed a more favorable response from recruiters and hiring managers when they learn about this achievement. Also, after joined my local PMI group in Pittsburgh, PA, I received a very pleasant surprise.  The PMI group offers significantly more than I expected, in terms of outreach, education and support.  All things considered, I’m more than ready to apply the knowledge and experience that I’ve gained during this journey coupled with the support provided by PMI group members.

The financial costs can be controlled

I only paid about $800 including education, simulation study questions, exam fee and one year membership to PMI. Training options and associated cost can vary greatly, upwards of $10K on the high-end. I purchased PM PrepCast educational content and simulation study questions. I had a very favorable experienced with the accuracy of the content and the flexibility courseware. It offers high quality audio/video lessons that can be downloaded via podcast and transported on the go. On demand content supports my learning style, so this worked much better for me than the boot camp approach. By the way, I am not connected with PM PrepCast in any way other than being a paid customer.

My approach

The time investment for applying, studying taking the PMP exam is usually significant. It took about 300 hours for me to complete. Note that your mileage may vary on this, as everyone begins their PMP studying at a different point in their career. As a result, time requirements differ. The best gauge of your readiness to take the exam is to purchase high-quality exam simulation questions to check your knowledge as you get closer to scheduling the exam.  I recommend only purchasing a simulator that provides the answers and references to the PMBOK. I used the following approach to prepare for the exam:

  1. Reviewed PMP certification process and requirements from the PMI web page:
  2. Purchased the PM PrepCast content and simulation questions. Completed the 35 hour education requirement for PMI.
  3. Joined PMI and applied/registered to take the test. Joining PMI provided me with a discount when I signed up to take the exam that was greater than the cost of joining PMI without the discount (in other words, joining PMI was free). Joining PMI also gave me another major benefit, access to the downloadable PMBOK guide and other content. Note that when you apply to take the test you don’t actually schedule the test until you application is approved, then you have up to 1 year to schedule. I used this spreadsheet (see the link) to help organize my data prior to submitting it online to PMI: Later in this post there are more tips about registering/applying.
  4. Went through additional content from PM PrepCast and supplemented with Head First PMP study guide to obtain a different perspective. At this point, I really drilled down on topics that I wasn’t clear on. I also read through the PMBOK guide and focused on the relationships between the knowledge areas.
  5. Began taking simulations in quiz mode and then studied all the answers and read the PMBOK guide references. After scoring 70% or so consistently, I began taking the full length simulation exams (200 Questions). Once I hit 80% consistently I knew I was ready.
  6. Developed a strategy. I completed all the shorter questions first and went back through to complete the longer ones on my second pass. On my third pass, I worked on the earned value and other math related questions. In the last few minutes, make a guess on any questions that may remain. You get zero points for unanswered questions.


I passed the exam on the first attempt.  I was actually surprised though, by the amount of reading required on the actual exam. I feel as though the way I used the simulation test did not adequately prepare me for the amount of reading required. I think the key difference between the two is that the actual exam used a lot more scenarios with “red herrings” to test knowledge around process inputs, outputs, tools and techniques vs. the simulation question asked the question directly in the last line of the scenario. In the simulation, I tended to skip, or skim the first part of the question and simply read the last line and then just choose my answer. This gave me an unrealistic gage of the amount of time I would need for each question during the actual exam.


Expect (plan) to have your PMI application audited

Prior to applying to schedule my exam, I heard that there is a 50% audit rate. I was actually audited. I did plan for this, and therefore completed my application in a way that would help to streamline the audit process. I also applied early enough to allow for a delay in my schedule that could be caused by such an audit. In my situation, much of my project leadership experience occurred as an employee within an IT services team. I led services delivery projects for our customers. So, I had to cite about 18 projects over a 2-year period to satisfy part of PMI’s requirements. I also had to include an overseas experience from a previous employer that I knew could be difficult to contact. For each of these scenarios I chose a contact that I had been in touch with and that I felt confident would respond quickly if required. I recommend communicating with your organization contacts (those that will verify your project experience) to confirm the data that you plan to enter into your PMP application prior to submitting to PMI. You can’t change it once it’s submitted.  PMI is very big on ethics, be truthful and accurate on this application!


There were more requirements to obtaining this certification than I originally anticipated. In the end, I treated it like any other project and was able to complete it on time (before the test content changed to PMBOK v6 on 1/12/16) and under budget. In the end, I feel that I received much more value from the PMP than I have with any technical certification that I have obtained (CCNA, MCSE, MCP, etc). If you’ve read this far, likely you are contemplating taking such a journey.  Good luck and Godspeed!

Connect with Dana via LinkedIn: to discuss this post or possible employment opportunities.

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Dana has been working in the IT industry for over 15 years, mostly with Microsoft System Center CM2007/SMS and recently with Software Asset Management (SAM) technologies and processes. Dana got his start with technical writing by submitting Systems Management Server (SMS) 2.0/2003 articles to back in 2000. He continued that effort with myITforum. Dana also published two SMS books entitled Distributing Software with Systems Management Server 2003 and The Start to Finish Guide to SMS Software Delivery.

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