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How to pass the PMP application if you are self-employed?

As a self-employed individual, writing the PMP application project descriptions and passing the application process may seem daunting and possibly cause some worry about whether you'll pass. This is because, as a self-employed person, your professional work experience may not conform to the conventional standards of traditional work experience.

While the experience of managing your own company and being your own boss may be exhilarating, you might feel apprehensive about converting your self-employment experience into the project management experience that PMI is looking for on your application. Therefore, getting through the PMP application may seem like a barrier, making it seem harder to get your PMP than it truly is.

In this article, I will explain to you all the critical elements of the PMP application, common mistakes to avoid while presenting your self-employed information, and correctly positioning your skills and experience to match PMI's requirements and standards. 

PMP Application requirements 

Before we explore how to handle self-employment on the PMP application, it's crucial to understand PMI's basic requirements for the PMP certification:

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), to qualify for the PMP:

  1. You are required to demonstrate 36 months of project management experience if you hold a Bachelor's Degree or higher (such as a Master's Degree or PhD), along with completing 35 hours of project management education.


2. If you only have a High School Diploma or an Associate's Degree, then you need to show 60 months of project management experience along with 35 hours of project management education.

The project management education requirements can be fulfilled using a 35 contact hours PMP online training course or using a PMP exam prep course such as the PMP Blended programme offered by us.

The 3 or 5 years of project management experience required must have been gained within the past 8 years. For example, currently, we are in 2024, so to demonstrate experience within the last eight years, you can go as far back as 2016 and consider experience from that year onwards. Any projects completed before 2016 cannot be counted towards PMP project management experience since the PMI system will not accept them.

Common challenges faced by self-employed individuals 

Now, let's look at some of the most common challenges self-employed people face. After working with hundreds of self-employed candidates and helping them get their PMP applications approved on the first try, we've observed some recurring obstacles they generally encounter.

Lack of formal organizational structure

Many self-employed people whom we have assisted usually work independently or with small internal or external teams. This may involve collaborating with contracts or vendors and directly or indirectly managing them. However, because they've not been part of a traditional hierarchical structure, questions may arise regarding their ability to manage teams effectively, leading to challenges in demonstrating project management experience within a formal setting.

The truth is that irrespective of the organization structure and hierarchy, as long as you can demonstrate that you worked with teams and stakeholders and influenced them or directed them to perform work, PMI will consider it positively during their application review and approve your PMP application.

Various project types and durations

As a self-employed person, you may have undertaken a wide array of projects, from setting up an organization from scratch, developing products or services, improving processes within your organization and much more. These projects would also vary in scope, complexity and duration, with some being shorter than the others. Additionally,  some of these projects could also be overlapping. However, PMI's rule of considering only one project in a scenario of overlap can complicate the application process, making it overwhelming and confusing.

Limited project documentation and lack of standardized processes

Unlike traditional jobs where a person with a project manager title has distinct responsibilities that are clearly defined and project records are maintained, self-employed individuals may lack very formal project documentation of their project management activities. Further, a lack of standardized documentation or processes can lead to problems aligning the self-employed experience with PMI's criteria. 

However, rather than producing elaborate documentation, even if you maintained documentation in a slightly less formal way but embodied the project management principles and practices, you can present it strategically on your PMP application to ensure it will pass the PMI review process.

Not having a manager to verify your experience when audited

Not having a manager or an employer to back up your project management experience is another routine problem self-employed individuals face. However, firstly, you must remember that not everyone gets audited, and PMI won't audit you just because you're applying with self-employment work experience. In fact, self-employed individuals have the advantage of showing project management work that involves the management of project strategy beyond just project operations. Additionally, self-employed PMs tend to work on multiple facets of project management, and their projects span different organizational and business areas. 

Real PMP Application Examples of Self-employed Applications

Since we handle hundreds of self-employed applications as part of our PMP application review and rewrite service, I'd like to highlight some examples of actual questions about self-employed applications questions that people have asked on the internet. I've also provided some solutions to address such scenarios.

Self-employed PMP Application Question [Example 1]

PMP Application Example for Self-employed

This first example is a more straightforward case of self-employment experience. This person ran an event management company and executed events of various sizes. The individual also claims that they used project management concepts and techniques to manage these projects.  If this person can articulate and present their project information in the format, language, and structure required by PMI, they would easily qualify for the PMP certification.

Moreover, if this individual managed multiple events with a similar theme and structure, they can combine these smaller events into a single initiative and present it as one large project with a unifying theme. Using a common overarching theme for related projects is acceptable, contrary to what PMI has said in the past when they rejected applications.

Further, this person is also concerned about whether using titles such as 'Event Coordinator or Event Manager' instead of the 'Project Manager title' would put them at a disadvantage. PMI has been explicit that they do not need the title of project manager; instead, they require evidence of performing project management responsibilities and that would be acceptable to them.

Self-employed PMP Application [Example 2]

Example of a Self-Employed Question Related to PMP Application
Example Question for Self-Employed PMP Application

For instance, if you look at the question above, this person has had a history of self-employment and work experience in an organization. This person can surely show some projects from their administrative assistant experience. Besides, from a self-employment perspective, if this person spent time setting up the company, marketing their services, implementing new processes and workflows or deploying new software, some of these initiatives can be shown as projects. Obviously, the presentation of this information will hugely matter and would need to include elements such as team management or the creation of project documentation. 

For example, if you didn't have internal employees and worked with external teams or vendors while managing your business, you can show that you had some influence on them and delegated work to them. Further, you may have worked with licensing agencies or regulators who can also be included as project stakeholders. 

As long as you can present the information in the language and format that PMI expects, they should be okay with your experience as a self-employed project manager.

Tips and advice to organize self-employed experience for the PMP application

For all the issues and challenges highlighted earlier and the common questions which you might have regarding self-employment experience, we've put together some tried and tested tips that will definitely help you get your application approved on the first try.

  1. Ensure you determine properly how many months of project management experience you need to meet PMP requirements. (e.g. 36 months or 60 months).

  2. Look at the types of projects you may have done as a self-employed person, such as setting up the organization, building the website, designing your product or service portfolio, acquiring permits and licenses, and improving processes. All of these initiatives would qualify as projects.

  3. You can combine smaller tasks or sub-projects, which enables the organization to fulfill a larger goal and turn it into a larger project or a program.

  4. Learn the PMI language and terms, understand the PMBOK processes, and use similar language in your application. Doing that would allow you to translate your work duties into project management tasks and responsibilities.

  5. If you do not have a manager, sponsor or business partner who can be your project contact and vouch for your experience when audited, you can use client names or other consultants or vendors with whom you worked intimately and can vouch for your project management experience.

  6. Ensure that you explain your project in an easy-to-understand manner, i.e., the project objective should not sound vague.

  7. It doesn't matter whether you showcase agile, hybrid, or traditional projects on your application. Just ensure that you use the appropriate terminology associated with each framework.

Questions related to self-employment PMP application experience 

Can I list a personal project for my PMP application? 

This is a question that we get asked frequently by several candidates who approach us with self-employment experience questions, and in most cases, our response is: it depends. It really depends on how you define a personal project.

For example, if you undertook a project at home that solely involved your family members, then it cannot be used on your PMP application since PMI wants projects to be performed in a professional setting.  However, if you led and directed a project outside of your job, such as community-led projects or projects for a club or association, you can show them on your PMP application. In such cases, you will need to show that you performed project management roles and responsibilities and provide clear and concise explanations of the projects.

If I were self-employed and had no manager, who should I list as a contact on my PMP application?

If you were working freelance or were the only person in your company, you could provide client names or the names of external stakeholders with whom you worked closely. These can also be people with whom you shared a professional relationship, such as mentors, affiliates, strategic partners, or vendors. 

Note that even in this scenario, while documenting your PMP application project description, you may want to include how you communicated, collaborated, influenced, and managed external teams.

Lastly, if you need help with writing PMP project descriptions to meet PMI standards, you may consider using our PMP application review and rewrite service, which can ensure that your application successfully passes the PMI review stage.

You can also consider the PMP Blended Programme offered by us, which includes writing your PMP application and end-to-end help with exam resources and preparation. The Blended Programme includes personalized PMP Coaching and mentorship, text, WhatsApp, email, Zoom support from a trainer, a personalized study plan, complete help with PMP application approval, and classroom training (2-3 times a month).

Please note that we guarantee that we can get your PMP application approved as part of the PMP Blended Programme.

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