Featured Articles

PMO Advisory | May 2018

Preparing for PMI Applications

Prof. Dr. Te Wu (PfMP, PgMP, PMP, PMI-RFP) / May 2018


Creating a strong application is a necessary task in the journey to attain a global certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). PMI currently offers eight global certifications: PMP, PgMP, PfMP, PMI-ACP, PMI-RMP, PMI-SP, PMI-PBA, and CAPM. With the exception of CAPM, the other seven certifications are considered “professional certifications,” and they require a thorough account of your relevant experience to the subject area, such as program management, risk management or agile project management.

There are two major steps to completing the application including:

  1. Planning your application

  2. Working and finishing the application to pass the “completion” test

To successfully complete these steps, prospective applicants must properly evaluate their experiences and education, plan how to best respond to the application questions and fulfill the requirements, write the application and review it thoroughly before submission. As this is an important and broad topic, two relevant articles focus on this topic:

  1. Article 1 (this article) focuses on the first steps: planning your application

  2. Article 2 (coming soon) concentrates on completing the application

Planning Your Application


Today, with over 820,000 active PMPs and thousands of other PMI credential holders, PMI certifications are truly globally recognized.  When I attended the PMI China Symposium in Shanghai in September 2017, over 2,000 people attended. I am planning to attend the PMI Global Congress in Los Angeles later this year, and that forum has over 3,000 participants. In my travels, from Shanghai to Athens to Washington D.C., I find the popularity of PMI certifications is growing rapidly.

However, attaining the credential requires a rigorous examination of your relevant experiences, assessing them in the proper context, expressing them in a way that is aligned with PMI perspective, and working with PMI through audits and panel reviews. After passing the application phase, the hard work really starts as you have one year to pass the certification exam (which is another topic to be covered in future articles.)

When you become serious about pursuing a PMI certification, you must develop the right mindset.  Before you start, there are three MUST ways of thinking as you plan for the certification:

  1. Think Broadly.  While having the relevant job title, such as “project manager” if you are applying for the PMP certification, it is more important that your job description and activities be suitably qualified for that certification. This means that even if your title is a “team lead”, you may have highly relevant project leadership experiences that qualify you for the certification. Job titles matter, as it is a shortcut to understanding your role. But your actual hands-on work matters more. Job title are not always translatable to real experiences. For example, I have a client who organizational title “Team Lead” that is more equivalent to a Senior or even Executive Vice President in other organizations.

  2. Drink the Kool-Aid. You are pursuing a PMI certification. PMI does not claim to be everything for everybody. For example, PMI fully recognizes that there are many ways of practicing project management. Even in the global standards like the Standard for Portfolio Management (for which I was a member of the core committee for the latest edition), the document clearly states that the standard is based on common and good practices, not all practices.  Therefore, you must learn how PMI views the certification.  You may have ten great years of experiences, but the importance for the sake of completing the certification is how to re-position your experiences in the way that PMI accepts it.

  3. Find References. All applications are subject to audit. The specific items of audit vary slightly. However, in general, make sure you have the evidence of your education or training, such as university transcripts or training certificates of completion and a list of people who can confirm your work. The latter is of utmost importance as you cannot pass an audit without someone who can vouch for your work. In most situations, the ideal role to confirm your work experience is your supervisor or manager (note: this is required in CAPM). In special circumstances, you can also ask your customers or even peers to endorse your work.


Think Broadly

The seven professional certifications including PfMP, PgMP, PMP, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMI-RMP, and PMI-SP all require highly relevant experience related to the core subject area of the certification. These experiences are fairly obvious. For example, if you are interested in the PMI-RMP, you must have relevant risk management experience. For the Project Management Professional (PMP), it is important that you have played strong project leadership roles, not just being a team member.  

However, since your job title may not be readily relevant to the respective certification, it is important that you carefully document your relevant experiences.  The table below is a simplified template that can help you gather your experiences. This example is created for the PMP certification, but you can replace the row with one of the other seven professional certification names.



Experience 1

Experience 2

Dates (From/To)

Jun 94 – Apr 96

May 96 – June 98

Company Name

International Technical Development

International Technical Development

Title / Role Name

Technical Writing, Lead

Project Lead

Summary of Project-Related Experiences

Created a series of the operational manual for a client’s manufacturing plants

Conducted training through the 20 plants in North and South America

Project Leadership Experiences (for PMP application)

Direct a team of technical writers, engineers, and operational staffs to document the processes. Managed the project from inception to completion

Managed a team of trainers and technical specialists to train over 2,000 workers across 20 plants in the Americas


John Smith, Jennifer Kee

Jane O'Malley

# of Direct Reports



# of People on Team



Relevant Experience (hrs)



Remember to look beyond the titles and the superficial job descriptions. Examine closely for work related to the requirements of the specific application. For the Project Management Professional, it is important to focus on leadership experiences that include, but not necessarily limited to the following:

  • Leading people and teams

  • Analyzing project data, gather insights, and use the intelligence on project implementation

  • Making difficult decisions, especially in a high-stakes environment

  • Creating and/or approving important project artifacts, such as the project charter and the project management plan

  • Developing and executing communication plans

  • Engaging stakeholders, especially executives


By creating a detailed account of your experience, you will likely be surprised how quickly you can add up to the required number of hours required for certifications.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Since you are pursuing a PMI application, it is important to understand how PMI thinks and understands the profession.  Some may claim this to be unfair. After all, you may have ten years of program management experiences, but PMI defines the concept “program management” differently.  That unfairness may indeed be true, but on the other hand, you are pursuing a “PMI certification,” not some credentials from some other body. Thus, it is truly important to understand how PMI views this profession.  Here are three reading recommendations before you even start completing the application.

First, read the relevant standard.  PMI has a bunch of global standards, practice guides, and other publications. To the extent reasonable, these publications are internally aligned and consistent. This means that for the most parts, words and concepts mean the same things.  Thus, if you are interested in pursuing the PgMP credential, you must read the Standard for Program Management to understand how PMI views concepts like program roadmap or benefits realization.

Second, read the relevant Examination Content Outline (ECO). Personally, I find this guide to be the most useful as it clearly layout the activities that professionals actually perform.  This is also important because the examination is based on this document. The added benefit of reading this document is that you may gain new insights into your own experiences and revert to the earlier step of adding more relevant experiences.

Third, read the relevant Handbook.  The Handbook contains the basic information on the application of the credential and the examination process. This article derives much of the information from the handbook. It will provide an important source of information as you proceed.

Finally, review your experiences that were created earlier and update the vocabulary and concepts to reflect your understanding of the relevant PMI standard.

Find References

As you reflect on our experiences, think about the managers and supervisors who can confirm your work experiences.  Make sure you have their current contact information. Ideally, give them a call and ask them for permission to use them as references for your PMI applications.

For the seven professional certifications, PMI audits a portion of the applications. The exact number is unknown, and I suspect it differs across the various applications. If you are involved in an audit, having the contacts with up to date information will surely expedite the process. I have a friend who completed the audit in just three days, and that is because he performed his homework upfront.

By properly preparing the applications, you are far more likely to create a quality application and also pass the audits (and in the case of PgMP and PfMP, the panel reviews).

In the next article, we will discuss how to best complete the “essay questions” on some of the PMI certification application.


Scope of Success - The Podcast

Business Life Lessons to help you advance your career one interview at a time.Hosted by Brian Wagner and James Kittle, PMI Long Island, advocates for issues at hand.