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Should I take CAPM or PRINCE2?

Should I take CAPM or PRINCE2?

Post updated 27 January 2015.

Recently I was contacted by someone who wanted advice about which project management certification scheme to pursue. She asked whether she should take CAPM or the PRINCE2 Foundation. Is it possible to take CAPM and then PRINCE2 Practitioner or are the standards different, she asked? And are PMP and PRINCE2 seen as equivalent by employers in the UK?

I think these are quite common queries, and I’ve certainly been asked these questions a number of times.

Here’s my take on whether CAPM or PRINCE2 is the best route forward for an aspiring project manager.

The difference is experience…

The main difference between CAPM/PMP and PRINCE2 Foundation/Practitioner is project experience. Having said that, it’s not compulsory to have project management experience under your belt for CAPM, as long as you can demonstrate 23 hours of formal project training instead. There are no pre-requisites for applying for the PRINCE2 exams (although it will be certainly easier to understand the concepts if you have spent at least some time working on projects).

Because PMI requires pre-requisites either in the form of training or work experience and PRINCE2 doesn’t, I don’t think they are seen as equivalent (or competing, for that matter).

…and your training route

The route to achieve PRINCE2 Practitioner is through the Foundation qualification. Typically a five-day training course, the Foundation exam is normally on the Wednesday afternoon. If you pass, you continue the course and take the Practitioner exam on the Friday.

The majority of people who consider the PMI credentials go straight for PMP. There’s no obligation to apply for CAPM beforehand. If you can wait, and feel you will acquire the relevant training and experience hours, you can skip CAPM completely and go straight for PMP. However, if you’d like a qualification under your belt while you clock up the hours required to apply for PMP, CAPM could be the answer.

The standards are different

One of the downsides with project management as a profession is that we haven’t yet standardised the jargon or agreed on one set of best practices. Project management bodies across the world have their own take on it, and while none of them seem radically different, they are all different enough to mean you need to learn their way before taking their exams.

So, you could take CAPM and then follow it up with the PRINCE2 Practitioner but the standards are different, with different jargon and you’d have to learn a whole different set of methods for the Practitioner exam. Equally you could do PRINCE2 Foundation and then go on to apply for PMP but again the terminology and processes are different enough for that to be a confusing route.

I don’t think that is worth trying to cover both bases in the early days of your career, especially if you don’t yet have a job roleĀ  with ‘project’ in the title – pick one set or the other.

CAPM in the UK

PMI has a relatively low, but growing, penetration in the UK. I think the project management in schools programme and the excellent Synergy events are really helping to raise the profile of PMI here, even though the Chapter has been around since 1995. The 2015 PMI EMEA Global Congress is being held in London and will also massively engage the project management community in the UK.

Employers may not know about CAPM, even though it was introduced in 2003 and there are 26,711 CAPM credential holders worldwide*. This is especially true if you are applying to firms where project management is relatively new to them or their project management department is small.

However, PRINCE2 has had a foothold as the standard certificate in the UK for years due to its background in civil service projects and being the de facto standard for all government initiatives. In May 2013 there were around 365,000 Foundation certificate holders and 215,000 Practitioners in the UK alone**. Axelos no longer publishes the number of certificate holders but they do share numbers of exams taken.

Between January and September 2014 (the latest figures), there were 131,003 PRINCE2 exams taken worldwide. The data (which you can access here) doesn’t say how many are resits from candidates who failed the first time or split it by Foundation and Practitioner.

This makes it really difficult to compare penetration in the market as we aren’t comparing numbers of credential holders.

Given the prevalence of PRINCE2 (and the fact it is easier to get as there are no pre-requisites for application) I would personally opt for that as a UK-based project manager right now and then look at moving on to experience-based qualifications once you have had a project management job for a bit. These will show that you have practical project management experience as well as theoretical knowledge.

The APM route

There’s another popular and growing choice for project managers, and that’s the APM suite of qualifications. The Introductory Certificate has no pre-requisites. The APMP reflects a candidate’s breadth of knowledge across many competency areas, and is a good reflection on your ability to apply knowledge in a practical situation.

Study the job market

One of the best ways to find out what recruiters are looking for is to talk to agencies. Arras People and Wellington are two specialist UK project management recruitment firms so you could check their websites to see what job ads ask for in your sector. Make sure that you are spending time bolstering your CV with the right things.

Look at what sort of experience employers are asking for so you can build your CV to reflect what will make you employable. You will find many employers who won’t care what credential you have as long as you have one, but some employers and industries will give preference to candidates with particular qualifications. I have noticed, for example, a preference amongst US-owned corporations for project managers to have PMP, even if they have offices in the UK.

The certificate decision

Lots of people end up with multiple certificates from multiple bodies over time, so don’t think that you are taking a decision now that will stop you going for other credentials later in your career.

If you do opt for PRINCE2, then do the Practitioner as well if you can afford the extra twodays and the cost. The first three days of the Practitioner and Foundation courses are identical. Everyone takes the Foundation exam on Day 3, then the Foundation candidates go home. Then the others do exam practice for a day and take the Practitioner exam on Day 5. You really don’t learn anything new except exam techniques, and you do get a extra day of revision. It is worth doing the extra two days and attempting the Practitioner exam if you can.

Inside PRINCE2 ebookWhatever route you choose, you have to make the decision based on what you feel employers in your sector will be looking for, what you can afford and what experience you currently have. Getting a qualification is rarely the ‘wrong’ choice, as any project management training will increase your confidence and show employers that you are serious about making this your career.

Good luck with your choices!

Get my free PRINCE2 ebook here.

* Figure from PMI Today, January 2015. When this article was first written it was 20,933, a figure which was sent to me in an email from PMI Customer Care on 31 May 2013.

** Figures from APMG International in an email to me, 28 May 2013. More up-to-date figures have been requested (23/1/15) and I’ll update the article again when I have them.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.


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