Many certifications in the IT industry aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. With these so-called “paper certs,” you apply for a test, pay a fee, take the test, and you’re certified. You don’t have to possess the basic skills or meet any experience requirements in order to qualify for the test before you sign up.

The Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI) is different. All certified PMPs must have 4,500 hours of project management experience before they can qualify for the certification’s exam.

In a recent article, we offered an overview of the PMI, the PMP certification, and the skills a PMP-certified project manager can bring to your team. Now we’ll examine the two ways IT managers can add a PMP to their team: by hiring an external candidate with a PMP or by encouraging a current employee to obtain the certification. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of each option and tell you what to look for in an outside candidate.

Why you should add a PMP
Now more than ever, the IT industry is acknowledging the need for project managers and the value of the position. In the past, developers and programmers were given PM status over a project just because they were talented developers or programmers, said Shari Stern, a PMP and a member of the PMI’s Certification Board Center.

While project managers don’t necessarily have to have a PMP, the certification does set them apart. PMPs are trained to follow a strict methodology and focus on pre-planning projects. “IT people tend to do the work and then backfill the paperwork, if they ever get around to it,” said Terryn Barill, CEO of Terryn Barill, Inc., a management and IT consultancy in Princeton, NJ. “(PMPs) know that you’ll never have a chance to backfill the paperwork…so the documentation gets done ahead of time. There’s a lot more forethought and planning.”

Having a PMP in your organization:

  • Shows other organizations and clients that your enterprise uses best-practice project management skills.
  • May catch a client’s attention and help you gain business if your organization outsources projects.

Once a PM in your organization has 4,500 hours of project management experience, it’s time to think about the PMP certification. But preparing for the PMP test requires time and money.

Offer your PMs incentives
The best way to encourage your PMs to obtain the certification is to pay for the test and any training classes needed to prepare for it. You can also offer time off from work to study for the test, which costs $555 for non-PMI members and $405 for members. (A yearly individual PMI membership is $119.)

PMP training classes are offered through companies designated by the PMI as Registered Educational Providers (REPs). One such company, Global Knowledge, an IT education and training solutions provider, offers classes that train PMs for the PMP and teach them more about project management fundamentals. “These classes give IT PMs practical ways to improve their effectiveness in planning and delivering IT projects,” said Eric Goldfarb, CIO for Global Knowledge.

Should you hire externally?
If you don’t plan on or can’t offer an incentive for your current PMs to obtain a PMP, you can hire a certified PMP. But keep in mind that while having a PMP is desirable, the certification should not be a PM’s sole qualification. “There’s no guarantee that acquiring a PMP will give you the right skills to successfully deliver an IT project,” said Goldfarb.

Where do you draw the line? For example, should you hire a PM with three years of experience and a PMP certification over a PM with eight years of experience but no PMP?

It depends, said Norbert Kubilus, a partner with Tatum CIO Partners, LLP, a nationwide partnership of senior-level IT professionals. Kubilus advised that managers look closely at a PM’s experience and give specific attention to the candidate’s portfolio before making a decision.

Consider what experience lies in the project manager’s background and look at the types of projects he or she has been involved with before. When managers evaluate a potential hire, Kubilus suggested they ask themselves these questions:

  • What kinds of IT projects has the PM managed?
  • What was the scope of those projects?
  • Does the PM have experience with complex or difficult projects?
  • Does the PM have experience with a variety of projects?
  • What were the resources required for the projects?
  • What was the size of the projects’ budgets?
  • How many people were assigned to the projects?
  • How many people was the PM in charge of for each project?
  • Were the projects that they managed delivered on time and within a set budget?
  • Did the projects meet the expectations of both management and the projects’ end users?
  • Was the PM successful in managing projects that grew in complexity and difficulty?

“If the person with the eight years of experience was very successful in managing projects that were progressively more complex and more difficult, then I might lean towards that person,” Kubilus said, even though they lack certification. But, he said, if that person’s experience was limited to similar types of projects, a person with fewer years but a greater variety of experience and a PMP certification might win out.

Whether you encourage your project managers to earn a PMP or hire from the outside, the PMP certification—coupled with the right experience—demonstrates that your shop stays on top of the changes in the project management field.