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What Is CAPM Good For?

by Josh

What Is CAPM Good For?

Hi Josh,

I’m a college student majoring in Project Management. I have been involved in a few projects in my lifetime, but never in any lead positions, so I don’t have experience in actual project management. This article was excellent. I find that I share characteristics with more than one of your PM examples.

I am changing fields and I also am a graduating student with no experience. I followed reading your article with a navigation of the PMI site and came across CAPM. I know that you don’t recommend going after certifications coming out of the gate, but considering the economic conditions, how do you propose that new entrants distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack?

For example, I’m coming out of college in Nov with a double major, Project Management and Organizational Management, I have the opportunity to also obtain a LSS/ GB before I graduate, and I am planning on getting it.

However, I am also considering going after CAPM to compensate for my lack of experience. How would you suggest that I move forward?

Sincerely,
Ryan

Thank you for the great email Ryan!  I’ll address your questions now, especially the ones I’ve bolded from your email to discuss.

Before those specific points, I want to stress something I always focus on when I’m coaching people for their careers.

Target Specific Organizations

These questions about what you can do now to further your career path require context.

What I teach is to begin by:

  1. Getting crystal clear about your starting point
  2. Getting crystal clear about your goals, short-term and long term
  3. Plotting potential career trajectories for yourself which includes all of these great questions you are asking, in combination with identifying target organizations.

See, you may find out that the Green Belt or CAPM are not only not known, but actually looked down upon by a company you would really love to work for.  (It happens)

You can find these things out ahead of time, before you invest your time and effort into these activities.

Distinguishing Yourself With The CAPM

In my experience, the CAPM does little to distinguish you from other candidates.  But there are some good reasons to get it as well:

Pros

  • Getting a certification shows you have some initiative and are self-motivated.
  • A few organizations value the CAPM because they strongly identify with the PMI standard/framework and have it woven into their processes.  So if you have the CAPM, you can speak the same language.
  • You WILL learn lots of great things, not least of which may be to think about project management as a formal discipline.
  • If you plan to take the PMP at a later time, getting immersed in “PMI-think” is going to help down the line.

Cons

  • In general, the CAPM is not well recognized.
  • The ‘piece of paper’ isn’t worth much in my (not so humble) opinion
  • If it’s a choice between volunteering to gain experience OR spending time and money on the CAPM, I’d rather see you gain experience.

Tip: If you do decide to pursue the CAPM, quality PMP training (the one I used and recommend) will serve dual-duty and prepare you for the CAPM as well. 

Lean Six Sigma Green Belt

The Six Sigma Green Belt certification is better known and recognized than the CAPM, at least in the USA.  Depending on what organizations you are targeting and what kind of domains you wish to work in, it can be a good move.  All education is good of course; but it’s the cost-benefit of the alternative use of your time and money that should also be taken into consideration.

Again, I’d rather see you gain experience managing projects, even if it’s in a volunteer role and devote time there.  If you can do both, great.

As a hiring manager, if I had to choose between two candidates:

A – Degree, CAPM, Green Belt, no experience managing projects

B – Degree, a year of experience managing projects in volunteer roles, within the school, etc.

With all other things being equal, I’m going to go with B every time. Both candidates show they are self-motivated and have gone above and beyond the standard degree. But in most management professions including project management, experience rules.

I can have a discussion in the interview with B about their projects – the challenges they faced, how they dealt with them, what they loved and hated about them, etc.  If it was organizing a fund-raising event for a charity or who knows what else, great!  I’m looking for interactions with stakeholders and team members, the planning process and how things were executed, lessons learned, etc.

With A, this is all still theoretical.  Those certifications are great, but I’m going to be much less comfortable giving A a project team to run with.

To Ryan and everyone else with these questions, I hope you enjoyed this!

Do you have more questions?  Do you disagree with me?  Let’s discuss, leave a comment!

Leave a Comment

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill July 20, 2011 at 8:35 am

I agree with your opinion on the CAPM cert, PMI should put more structure into it and make it valuable. There are a lot of people doing project management work but can’t qualify for the PMP exam yet. I was one for 3 years. At that time I know I did not know about or follow PMI best practices. I thought WBS was just the sequence in the schedule.

One issue I found trying to get work as a project manager is that companies will uses existing employees to work a project as a “development opportunity”. The employee struggles and may or may not be successful on the project because they have not developed project management skills and knowledge. It is difficult for a outsider project manager (even with a PMP) to compete against the existing employee for the project unless the position justifies the salary of a seasoned PM. Then the skills and experience may be more than the young PMP can qualify.

This is where I see the CAPM coming into play. It needs to be more than a piece of paper. It should have some meat behind it in the way of knowledge and skill. This way the pm can have confidence and develop into the PMP.

Reply

Josh July 20, 2011 at 6:52 pm

That’s a great observation Bill; and very true. Employers would rather give a small project to a known commodity – someone they know and trust the quality of their work – and let them learn the ropes rather than hire someone brand new who they don’t know from the outside.

It’s a testament to how important relationship building is, and referrals from people the hiring managers know and trust.

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Thomas Kennedy July 20, 2011 at 8:40 am

I agree, experience is by far more important than certifications. But if you want a measure of certification value, try searching the job sites for the certification and see how many jobs result. For example, searching Dice.com for CAPM will result in 49 jobs. Searching for “Six Sigma” produces almost 1000. However, searching for PMP produces over 2000 job opportunities! That should be a pretty clear indication of the value of the CAPM (or lack there of).

Thoughts?

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Josh July 20, 2011 at 11:49 am

That’s a good way to get a sense for how explicit employers are about a certification in their postings for sure. Job boards can be a good research tool, even if my approach doesn’t include using them to actually apply for positions.

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Colin Bartlett July 20, 2011 at 9:54 am

I have to agree with your synopsis, Josh.
In our organisation, paper qualifications for us are only an indication that the candidate has demonstrated a certain standard. Ability and experience count for more.

Regards,
Colin

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Josh July 20, 2011 at 11:51 am

That’s a realistic view of what a certification is. Valuable and perhaps even necessary, but not sufficient.

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Sean July 20, 2011 at 11:23 am

I agree as well.

I do think gaining a certification show that you are serious in your career path. The problem that I have with my CAPM certification is that I have limited experience in PM. Even though I have my CAPM I don’t have the number of years of experience most job postings require.

Experience is the name of the game. You must be able to have it on your resume. I am currently updating my resume to highlight the limited number of projects that I have done in my last couple of jobs. I am also a member of my local PMI chapter for networking and gain experience with possible volunteer work.

Hopefully soon I will land a postion in PM.

Sean

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Josh July 20, 2011 at 11:50 am

Thanks for the comment Sean, and I hope you have success very soon on creating volunteer opportunities for yourself and landing roles that will propel your career path forward!

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Jeff July 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Josh – I have a bunch of small projects under my belt and my company is sponsoring my Six Sigma Black Belt (I have “Lean Green” already). Most of the projects are quite short, don’t involve a ton of hours, and don’t involve me managing a budget. Definitely some teamwork, brainstorming, iterations, etc. Trying to convert some projects into an Agile-type arrangement and that shouldn’t be hard.

All this said, I don’t have a PMP, nor the experience. Should I go full speed on the Black Belt and put the CAPM on hold? I get a little PM experience each day around here, though nothing huge, but a little certification might not kill me. Just looking for some focus…

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Josh July 20, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Thanks Jeff. For sure, focus on one thing at a time.

If you plan to stay with your organization (it sounds like a good one to me) then ask around…what is more important? The value of these certifications is very organization and industry-dependent.

Take a look at people who are currently in roles that you would like to be in. Ask them what certifications they would suggest, and use it as an opportunity to build those relationships. You never know, 6 months from now one of them could get promoted and hiring for their backfill…and if you have shown the passion for project management and sought them out as an expert and valued their advice, they are likely to consider you more highly than if you were just ‘some guy.’

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Rahilla July 20, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I did my CAPM and am now getting PM experience through volunteering at a PMI chapter.

I agree with what you’re saying Josh that experience is the real test of ability. However, the CAPM gave me a good overview of terminology and processes — a checklist a newbie like me can refer to — it ensures I haven’t missed anything important. In that sense, I think it was valuable for me to get that certification. I feel more “prepared” to talk experienced managers now.

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Josh July 20, 2011 at 7:01 pm

That’s a great point Rahilla. Learning the PMI terminology and framework will be very helpful knowledge for you to have, regardless.

I feel the same way about my PMP actually. It was valuable to me primarily because of the value I received from studying for it and learning the PMI framework.

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Manish July 21, 2011 at 1:24 am

Hello,

I have similar experience over (India) here, where I worked. And seen that new resources joining in the organization who are certified PMP, etc.. are paid high, but If i see in a simple language to say that they lack behind and after a year or so they start hunting or get strang’nent. And then they join the same old group of PM since they become more use to the environment and culture. Here in the above my comment may seem very unusual, but made to make a long story in short. Also i think that management must give new engagement to the known commodity like who knows much better and the new workmate should / must work for a while with him in order to have th trust of customer and subsequently he will have or gan knowledge on managing.
I have seen a person who cannot manage the projects in good shape and other experienced higher management were trying to retain the trust, quality of deliveries, relationship with customer stakes and resources. Employer had taken no action as you know how the org politics works within the account.. The resources appraisal went in bad shape, lastly the team out of 15, 10 resources had put their papers on the same day. In India this is a common scenario and more often such PM use jargons to impress and tries show off the leadership hardly due to lack of management experience. For such people there should be some initiative by the employers.
Note: This organization is CMM level company ?

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Josh July 21, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Thanks for the comment Manish. It’s showmanship versus results.

Showmanship may get you ahead in the short term, but not for long. At some point the true colors will show.

The ability to deliver results may get overlooked in the short term, but when you gain a reputation as someone who can get things done you will be sought after.

If you have both, awesome.

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grace July 21, 2011 at 6:38 pm

The information above is very interesting as a college student currently studying business administration it is helpful to read any information on how to become a PM and to get on the path to getting that dream job. I do have a question though you said experience is key into becoming a better PM but thats the trick…how do you convince a company or anyone for that matter to give you a chance to show them what you have learned and putting it into play?

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Josh July 21, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Thanks Grace. It’s about demonstrating your potential and networking.

It’s really tough to land a job managing projects right out of college. Really tough. Instead, you can plan your career path in such a way that your goal of being a project manager can be realized 2-5 years down the line. Companies who value project management as a discipline have entry-level positions working on projects and supporting projects that lend themselves nicely to the start of a career path towards project management.

Targeting the right organizations, proving yourself over time, and making sure you do good work and help other people so you build raving fans. These are the ways that opportunities to advance open up over time.

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Anmol July 24, 2011 at 5:03 am

Hi Josh,

I have a question. When I was evaluating my PMP application criteria, I am not eligible for PMP w.r.t. Project Hours. I left with a choice of opting CAPM. Now question is, whether I should wait to get required no. of Project Hours and go for PMP or should I continue with Pursuing CAPM. (My total work -experience is 6 years).

Regards
Anmol Agarwal
Bangalore, India.

Reply

Josh July 24, 2011 at 11:22 am

If you are within a year of meeting the requirements for the PMP exam, I’d just aim for that a year from now. You can start studying now though. That’s what I’d do if I were in your shoes. If you have a few years left and the CAPM is recognized by your target organizations as being valuable, go for it.

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Jason July 31, 2011 at 7:49 am

CAPM isn’t designed to get you a PM role straight up. Everyone please go and find out what the acronym CAPM stands for. Though, the CAPM prep course with skillsoft is exactly the same as the PMP. So, in a few years when you’ve done enough hours to qualify for the PMP? Easy done.

Experienced people always seem to bang on about certifications meaning nothing. I’d like to know the percentage of these people that actually have certifications. If they don’t have them, their words are generally as worthless as they perceive the certification to be.

You have to put your PM experience into context. I’ve successfully led projects for a web agency with a team of 6 developers over a two-year period. This is NOT experience that you can take into managing massive projects for example for a large financial institution or a construction site. I certainly did not need nor use the 42 processes or 7 knowledge areas learned in the CAPM to achieve success in the web agency. Though, this experience coupled with a CAPM is IMO definitely a step in the right direction to getting into some large, well structured project teams and going from there.

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Vince July 11, 2012 at 9:43 am

Hi Josh,

This is a very good article which I am looking for! I had the answer for me, already after reading the article and comments, and a little bit more outside your site. I chose to pursue PMP! However, the thing is I have nearly 1 more year and a half to apply for PMP. Should I start reading, cramping and enjoying materials, guidelines,… from now till I take the test? I just think I should spend time several months before the test… I am confused now. Is it worth starting to jump into the pool of materials?

Many thanks!
Vince.

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Vince July 11, 2012 at 9:44 am

Sorry but my last question means: Should I start to study materials now?

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Josh July 12, 2012 at 11:23 am

It’s not a bad idea to start getting knowledgeable about the exam and the PMI standard. You can probably wait to purchase any training materials until about 6 months or so before you will plan to take the exam.

In the meantime, you can join my free email newsletter to learn all about the exam.

http://pmstudent.com/pmp-exam-study-advice-that-works/pmp-study-process/

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Michelle Thomas December 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm

How can you validate project management experience in a school setting. For instance I was co-chair of the Golf tournment committe and I was responsible for fundraising, and creating documents for the tournment. How would I document this? Also I have been PTO fundraiser chair, which was many years ago, and now I am on the board of a cancer foundation, where I do have some input, do these qualify as project management?

for about a year I worked closely with a PM on a major renovation project, where I was responsible for documenting the financial information and presentations, does this qualify?

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Josh December 10, 2012 at 5:22 pm

In the PMP handbook it cites the experience must be “leading and directing the project”.

http://pmstudent.com/pmp-handbook

I don’t decide what qualifies, if you have questions after reading the handbook I suggest you contact PMI customer service. Volunteer experience could qualify if you were managing projects.

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Rahul December 28, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Hi Josh,

I am a technical person working in IT industry for almost 2 years so just wanted to know whether this CAPM cert will be helpful for my career or not?

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Josh December 31, 2012 at 2:51 pm

It depends. Search this site for ‘targeting organizations’ and you’ll see what I mean.

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Jennifer February 21, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Hi, I’ve been researching CAPM and PMP. First I have been advised to go for CAPM certification. However I do not have a college degree. I know I’m fully capable of doing the job. However, can I get a job with a CAPM, no degree, and experience in customer service, marketing, sales, and restaurant? Please help me out!

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Doug July 1, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Hi Josh,

I just discovered your site and am enjoying every post. At this point in my life I find myself in a rather unconventional career situation and I was hoping you could shed some light on it for me. I am 35 and have two master’s degrees in history and liberal arts and ten years of experience teaching history and political science at the university level, often including courses that I designed myself from scratch and offered to adult learners. Now I am entering my second year in a PhD program in political science focusing on public administration and comparative economic development, and I’ve recently come across “project management” as a fascinating subject and hopefully even a viable second career. I entered the PhD program knowing that I wanted to do consulting / development work when it was all said and done rather than stay in academia, but I didn’t know anything about PM in particular. Now I am actually preparing for my CAPM because as you said it seems like a good way to learn the lingo and concepts behind PM (or at least PMI), and because I figured it would be a stretch to claim my teaching experience as project management experience in pursuit of the PMP. Do you think I’m seeing this clearly, or am I missing something? Given my age, I feel like I must get some practical experience in PM while I am back in grad school, so that maybe in two years I can get a job as a project assistant and work my way up from there. In that vein the PMP seems a long way off, which is another reason for me to stick with the low-hanging fruit of the CAPM, for whatever it’s worth.

Also, I will be taking a class in PM from the MBA program at my university in the fall where I will learn Microsoft Project and other good entry-level skillsets, but I don’t have a technical background and was wondering if you had any advice on how to leverage social science with PM – or are are we looking at apples and oranges here?

Thanks, Josh. Your advice is much appreciated.

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Asad July 9, 2013 at 11:05 pm

it’s great to read your article. Very interesting and educating. However I am in similar situation. Did lead jobs and never been a project manager. Where I can gain experience, specially in India. Your guidance is highly appreciated. Thank you.

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Kayleigh September 6, 2013 at 9:33 am

I have been working as an Associate Digital Project Manager for the last 2 years. I fell into the role as the small company I work for needed someone to take charge and oversee our developers for a website redesign. In that capacity I took 1 Media Bistro seminar on the topic and gained a very basic understanding but I feel I lack the terminology & fundamental knowledge to go out and get a different PM job.

I thought the next natural move for me would be to get the CAPM so that I force myself to learn the technical background of what I have experience in (and have the more formal training that would provide).

Would you recommend that I pursue the full PMP instead of the CAPM? Or, neither?

Thank you!!!

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