This article originally appeared on TechRepublic, our sister site. Columnist Tom Mochal receives dozens of e-mails each week from members with questions about project management problems. He shares his tips on a host of project management issues in this Q&A format.

Tom, I noticed that you are a Project Management Professional (PMP). I have been in various roles in IT for 25 years, starting in mainframe development. I’ve implemented methodologies and development tools, and lately I’ve done some project management consulting.

I began to read about the Project Management Institute and wondered about the certification program. The PMP certification process seems intensive, time-consuming, and expensive. Based on your personal and professional experience, is the certification process valuable?—Mike

I think the perception and the value of a PMP certification has changed during the past few years. When I was looking for a job eight years ago, I noticed that a few project management positions indicated that a PMP certification would be advantageous, but I don’t remember any position where it was a requirement.

The market has changed
Two years ago, when I was again evaluating the job market, I noticed a sizable number of openings that were requesting or requiring the PMP credentials. Although the majority of companies still didn’t require the PMP, a sizable number did.

Ultimately, I didn’t need the PMP certification for the position I accepted, but my observation of the marketplace led me to look more closely at the requirements for the PMP. My thought was that if the time came when I needed to look for a new position, I didn’t want the requirements of the project management marketplace to have moved ahead of my resume.

My experience
I found the PMP requirements and preparation rigorous. Here’s what’s required just to fill out an application:

  • A Bachelor’s or “global equivalent university degree”
  • At least 4,500 hours of project management experience (This must be supported by lengthy forms verifying the number of hours.)
  • Three years of project management experience within the past six years
  • Thirty-five credit hours of project management education covering subjects like project quality, scope, time, human resources, communications, risk, procurement, and integration management

Applicants who don’t have a degree must have:

  • At least 7,500 hours of project management experience
  • Five years of project management experience within the past eight years
  • Thirty-five credit hours of project management education covering the same subjects as an applicant with a college degree

In addition, the PMI recommends—but doesn’t require—those interested in earning PMP certification pay the $129 fee to join the national organization. PMI members pay less—$405 compared to $555—than non-members for the certification fee.

To pass the four-hour test, you must correctly answer 137 of 200 multiple-choice questions. The PMI also requires that you earn 60 hours of continuing education every three years following certification and that you adhere to the PMI’s Project Management Professional code of conduct.

After filling out the paperwork showing my experience, I participated in a series of preparation classes sponsored by my local PMI chapter. It was during this class that I became more aware of the value that organizations place on the PMP certification. For instance, in my class of approximately 40 students, about half had their certification costs paid for by their companies. (I paid $400 for the class and $89 for a text on PMP certifications.)

Many of the individuals also said that their companies would no longer hire project managers who weren’t certified. In fact, my classmates’ own positions were less secure if they were not PMPs. The fear of being left behind within their own company was a powerful motivating influence for many of the people in the room.

If you want to find out more about PMP certification, the application process, classes and testing, visit the Project Management Institute’s Web site.

Note: In March, the PMI changed the certification exam for the PMP. The exam will no longer draw from PMI’s study resource, the 1996 edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Instead, the exam will take questions from the 2000 version of the PMBOK.

The value of the PMP
Overall, I believe the PMP certification distinguishes you from other project management candidates, even if your company does not require it. I see it becoming more and more popular as a screening tool for companies looking for project management candidates.

Over time, I think it will become as important as a college degree is today. By that, I mean that it won’t be a requirement for every project management position, but it would be more common for a company to require the PMP than to not require it.

Of course, no one is saying that the PMP certification proves that you’re a better project manager than someone without the certification. However, I think it shows your prospective employer that you have some degree of seriousness in the profession and that you were motivated enough to invest the time to pass the exam. It also indicates that you have and can apply knowledge of project management methodology, rather than just relying on hard work and organization skills.

From a purely materialistic standpoint, I also believe that employers are willing to pay more money for a PMP-certified professional. This stems from the belief that, although there are never any guarantees, a PMP-certified person probably has a background and skill level that is higher than his or her noncertified peers.

The bottom line is that, if you have the prerequisite experience level, I recommend that you earn the PMP certification. If you decided today that this was your goal, it might still take you four to six months (or longer) to fulfill the prerequisites, take a study class, prep diligently for the test, and then take and pass the exam. As you can imagine, you’ll feel tremendous relief and a sense of accomplishment once you pass. Good luck to you if you decide to pursue the certification.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project management and life-cycle skills. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.

Is the PMP certification worth your time?

Have you earned your PMP certification? Has it helped your career or enhanced your project management knowledge? Send us an e-mail or post your comments.