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PMP or CAPM? What You Need to Know about the Differences

PMP or CAPM? What You Need to Know about the Differences

PMP® and CAPM® are two qualifications issued by the Project Management Institute (PMI®). If you have started or are considering a career in Project Management, one of these may be right for you. But which one: PMP or CAPM? In this article, we compare PMP and CAPM certifications, to give you the facts to base your decision on.

This Article…

In this article, we’ll cover:

PMP versus CAPM: The Basics

Let’s start with the headline descriptions that the PMI themselves offer.

PMP or CAPM? What You Need to Know about the Differences

PMP®

PMP stands for Project Management Professional

The PMI says about PMP:

Globally recognized and demanded, the PMP certification demonstrates to employers, clients and colleagues that a project manager possesses project management knowledge, experience and skills to bring projects to successful completion.

As the demand for skilled project managers is at a critically urgent level, practitioners who hold the PMP certification are well positioned to provide the professional skills necessary to lead project teams and achieve successful project results.

The PMP recognizes the competence of an individual to perform in the role of a project manager, specifically experience in leading and directing projects. Year after year, the PMP certification has garnered global recognition and commanded a higher salary for certified individuals over non-certified individuals.

Project Management Professional Handbook, 7 August 2020
Note that this has now been replaced by the PMI ® Certifications Handbook, 7 December 2020, which covers all of the PMI’s certification programs.

CAPM®

CAPM stands for Certified Associate in Project Management

The PMI says about CAPM:

Regardless of your career stage, the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® is an asset that will distinguish you in the job market and enhance your credibility and effectiveness working on — or with — project teams.

The CAPM certification offers recognition to practitioners who are interested in or are just starting a career in project management, as well as project team members who wish to demonstrate their project management knowledge. This certification denotes that the individual possesses the knowledge in the principles and terminology of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)which outlines generally recognized good practices in project management.

Individuals who do not have project experience but are interested in project management can benefit from this certification because it demonstrates their professional knowledge. Individuals who contribute specialized skills to a project team can benefit from this certification as well by allowing them to align their work with that of project managers. This knowledge can be applied to on-the-job experiences that help develop growing levels of competence in the practice of project management. Individuals who carry the CAPM designation after their name enjoy a high level of credibility from Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification holders, project managers, employers and peers.

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® Handbook, 24 September 2020

Summary

So, we already have a sense of how PMI views PMP versus CAPM. Clearly, PMP is the senior qualification. It marks you out as a fully-formed and capable project manager. It says you are ready to take on and lead the management of a project.

CAPM, on the other hand, is about understanding project management. It demonstrates that you have the basic that a project manager needs. But it also suggests you are not yet ready to perform the role.

PMP and CAPM: Let’s Compare the Facts

The Basics abut PMP and CAPM

CAPM®PMP®
Stands for…Certified Associate in Project ManagementProject Management Professional
What is it?Entry-level QualificationProfessional-level Qualification
What it says about you
(to people in the know)
I am committed to developing a Project Management career.

And I have a good base level of Project Management knowledge.
I am serious about my Project Management career.

I have a good base level of experience and a solid grounding in the theory and principles of Project Management.

And I am committed to continuing my professional development.
Likely impact on your careerWill open up a range of project roles.

Some employers may now consider supporting you (in time and maybe financially) to pursue your PMP qualification.

It may have a small positive effect on your reasonable salary expectations.
Will open up a wide range of Project Management roles.

Some employers set this as a requirement; others will see this as an advantage.

It is likely to raise your reasonable salary expectations.
PMP Asserts that…The median salary for PMP holders in the U.S. is 25% higher than those without PMP certification, according to PMI’s most recent Project Management Salary Survey.

Who should apply for PMP or CAPM?

CAPM®PMP®
PMI’s statementsIf you’d like to manage larger projects and gain more responsibility or add project management skills into your current role…Experienced project manager responsible for all aspects of project delivery, leading and directing cross-functional teams.

The PMP is the gold standard of project management certification.

…the PMP validates your competence to perform in the role of a project manager, leading and directing projects and teams.
Our InterpretationIt is aimed at people starting their project management careers. But is also suitable for:
– Project team members
– Project Office staff
– Returning Project Managers (who don’t meet the requirements of PMP).
Experienced Project Managers.

You must already have all the basic knowledge and experience, consolidated through formal learning and a delivery track record of at least 3 years.

Pre-requisite Requirements for PMP or CAPM

CAPM®PMP®
Educational Qualification RequirementSecondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or the global equivalent) or higher.Four-year degree.
In many countries, this is a Bachelor’s degree, which takes 3 or 4 years. Check with your local center.
Project Management Education23 hours of project management education completed by the time you sit for the exam.35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM®Certification.
Project Experience RequirementNone.36 months leading projects.

Alternative Pre-requisite Requirements for PMP

CAPM®PMP®
Educational Qualification RequirementN/AA high school diploma or an associate’s degree (or global equivalent).
Project Management EducationN/A35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM®Certification.
Project Experience RequirementN/A60 months leading projects.

The Examination: Getting and Keeping Your PMP or CAPM Qualification

CAPM®PMP®
Examination Requirement230-minute exam with 180 Questions (of which 175 will be scored)

Always consult the Exam Content Outline (ECO) for full and up-to-date details.
180-minute exam with 150 Questions

Always consult the Exam Content Outline (ECO) for full and up-to-date details.
Exam EmphasisKnowledge of the PMBOK Guide (6th Edition) Knowledge Areas.

The questions are factual.
Knowledge of Project Management and ability to apply it. It covers Predictive, Agile, and Hybrid approaches. The PMBOK Guide (6th Edition) is just one of a dozen sources.

Check out our article: 2021 PMP Exam: For Candidates – All the Facts You Need to Know
What we think you needThorough knowledge of the PMBOK Guide (6th Ed) Knowledge Areas and Process Groups.

The exam content will fall within the scope of the PMBOK Guide.
An in-depth understanding of Project Management, and how to apply it to real project situations.

The exam will take you beyond the content of the PMBOK Guide.
Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR)You must earn 60 PDUs every three years to maintain the certification.
Minimum 35 Education PDUs.

Always check the PMI’s CCR Handbook for full and up-to-date information.

Do also check out our article: PMI Education Contact Hours and PDUs: Your Essential Guide.
You must earn 15 PDUs every three years to maintain the certification.
Minimum 9 Education PDUs.

Always check the PMI’s CCR Handbook for full and up-to-date information.

Do also check out our article: PMI Education Contact Hours and PDUs: Your Essential Guide.

Costs

CAPM®PMP®
Exam Fee (PMI Members)US$225US$405
Exam Fee (Non-members)US$300US$555
PMI MembershipUS$129/year
Plus one-time US$10 application fee
US$129/year
Plus one-time US$10 application fee
Copy of the PMBOK Guide 6th EditionFree Download for PMI Members

Print edition US$99 from PMI
Print edition US$44.50 from Amazon.com – price varies often
Free Download for PMI Members

Print edition US$99 from PMI
Print edition US$44.50 from Amazon.com – price varies often
Copy of the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition
Not currently needed
Free Download for PMI Members

Print edition US$99 from PMI
Print edition US$71.24 from Amazon.com – price varies often
Range of Costs for PreparationFrom US$0 if you self-study.

Buy preparation books at prices from US$50

Online courses typically range from US$200 – US$600 depending on the content, provider, and style (pre-recorded or live Bootcamp).

Expect to pay US$1,500 – 2,500 for a classroom-based course.
From US$0 if you self-study.

Buy preparation books at prices from US$50

Online courses typically range from US$250 – US$1,400 depending on the content, provider, and style (pre-recorded or live Bootcamp).

Expect to pay US$2,500 – 4,000 for a classroom-based course.

Get the Core Documents from the PMI’s Website

CAPM®PMP®
Certification HomepageCertified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®Project Management Professional (PMP)®
Certification HandbookCAPM HandbookPMI Certification Handbook
Examination Content Outline (ECO)CAPM ECOPMP ECO
Application ChecklistPMP Application Checklist
Continuing EducationCCR HandbookCCR Handbook

Which One is Right for Me, PMP or CAPM?

From our comparison of PMP versus CAPM, you’ll see that the PMP® is definitely a higher-level qualification. It is also more prestigious within the Project Management community. It is a badge that employers value too. So, it will help you with both securing a role, and achieving higher remuneration.

We Recommend…

So, if you meet the requirements, we recommend you try for PMP Certification rather than CAPM®. These requirements cover:

  • formal education
  • project management job experience
  • project management education

We’ve listed them in the table above.

If You aren’t Ready for the PMP yet…

But if you don’t have the right experience, you may be eligible for the CAPM exam. The pre-requisites are easy to meet and, crucially, you don’t need any Project experience. This is a qualification you can seek and achieve at the very start of your career.

CAPM is also easier to do than the PMP. Because it has a far simpler syllabus and a less demanding exam.

So CAPM will boost your confidence, as a stepping stone to the PMP exam. CAPM certification will also help you get the roles you’ll need, to get the experience that the PMP requirements demand.

If I don’t yet qualify for the PMP® Exam, is CAPM® worth Getting?

Yes. ‘PMP or CAPM’ is something of a false choice. For many Project Managers, it will be ‘PMP after CAPM’.

CAPM will be a stepping stone to PMP. It can help you in many ways:

  • You can’t take the PMP exam at the very start of your career. You’ll need at least three years of project management experience before you can take it. Realistically, this can be nearer to 5 years.
  • CAPM is a valuable qualification in its own right.
  • The qualification will help you secure roles that will give you experience.
  • You’ll get a headstart in understanding the PMBOK Guide and the basic material.
  • Practice at taking the PMI exams, and therefore extra confidence.
  • Buying, trying, and owning some of the Exam prep resources.
  • You can score CAPM Contact Hours for your PMP application.

Is CAPM easier than PMP?

Yes, it is. Preparing for your CAPM exam is quite a lot easier than preparing for your PMP exam. The syllabus is shorter and confined to one book – the 6th Edition of the PMBOK Guide.

However, PMBOK 6 is a big book, with a lot of content. So, CAPM is by no means a simple exam. You’ll need to plan your preparation campaign and work hard to assimilate a lot of knowledge.

But, the upside is two-fold:

  1. At the end, you’ll have solid understanding of the basics of Project Management
  2. You’ll also have a qualification that really does ean something!

Does CAPM help with PMP?

Undoubtedly, having a CAPM certification will give you a leg-up in getting your PMP certification.

For a start, you won’t need to gain any additional hours of project management education or training. Your CAPM means you already have what you need.

But, in addition, you will have already learned a large part of the content of the PMP syllabus. This leads us to the question…

What’s the Difference in the Content and Exam for PMP or CAPM?

The BIG difference between the exam content is that the CAPM syllabus is confined to the 6th Edition of the PMBOK Guide. And, it does not have any content from the Agile Practice Guide. So, the CAPM covers only predictive project management in any detail – although PMBOK 6 does contain references to Agile, Hybrid, and tailoring.

It is also the case that the exam questions for CAPM are largely factual.

The PMP exam, on the other hand, has:

  • A syllabus drawn from a very broad array of sources and its structure does not follow the PMBOK Guide
  • A 50:50 split between traditional predictive PM and hybrid or agile PM
  • Questions that demand you interpret your knpwledge and apply it to realistic scenarios

CAPM Examination Format

The CAPM certification exam has 150 questions, and you have three hours to complete it.

PMP Examination Format

The PMP examination consists of:

  • 180 Questions (of which 175 will be scored)
  • 230 minutes’ duration, structured:
    • Two 10-minute breaks for computer-based exams
    • No scheduled breaks for paper-based exams at a center
  • 5 question types:
    • Multiple choice
    • Multiple correct
    • Drag & Drop
    • Fill in the blank
    • Hotspot questions

What Edition of the PMBOK Guide should I be Using for my PMP or CAPM Exam Preparation?

At the time of writing (September 2021), we have recently seen the publication of the 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide. Do take a look at our article, PMBOK Guide 7th Edition: Your 20 Most Important Questions Answered.

But, for CAPM, PMI is currently saying that it is the PMBOK 6th Edition that forms the basis for the exam. Recently, however, PMI updated its website page on 5 Ways to Prepare for the PMP Exam to include this statement:

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is a go-to reference book. But the exam isn’t based on it alone.

PMI website page: 5 Ways to Prepare for the PMP Exam

The link they give is for the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition!

How Important is a Certification?

We have a number of great resources to help you with this question:

Ready to Study? Here are our PMP and CAPM Study Resources

You can find links to our PMP and CAPM study resources on our page: PMI Qualifications and PDUs.

Conclusion

This is always going to be a personal career decision. For many readers, your PMP versus CAPM strategy will be obvious. But if it’s not, we hope we have given you the facts you need, to consider your choice carefully.

And, if in doubt, speak to some of the experienced Project Managers you know, or with people at your local PMI chapter.

Do you have a story to tell?

Do you have an experience that will help other project managers make their choice of PMP versus CAPM? We’d love to hear them. Please use the comments below.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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