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ITIL vs. PMP: Which Certification Is Right for You?

When it comes to project management, professional certifications are even more important than traditional degrees in the job market today.

PMP and ITIL are the two most famous project management credentials. But since the ITIL and PMP are both unique in their own way, and most people may not have the time to get both, they’re often faced with the question of which one is right for them.

The short answer is that it depends on the nature of their work. Since there are some overlapping and similarities between the two, however, figuring out which one will help further your career can still be a bit tricky. In this article, we compare the two certificates in depth to help you decide which option is better for you.

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What’s ITIL?

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) certification is a globally-recognized standardized set of best practices in Information Technology Service Management (ITSM). It was first introduced by the United Kingdom’s Cabinet Office in the 1980s. It’s mainly aimed at those in the IT service management sector.

Its original aim was to standardize the procedures for good IT management in order to help businesses deliver the best quality services possible and avoid the most common pitfalls. Later, it was revised and expanded to offer a comprehensive framework for managing the delivery of IT services in different industries and markets.

What’s PMP?

The Project Management Professional Certification, or the PMP certification, is an industry-recognized certification for project managers administered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). The PMP certificate is aimed at candidates who already possess substantial project management experience. 

It’s designed to help project managers learn the cornerstones of project management and the procedures embodied in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). It would be beneficial for those looking to lead larger and more complex projects but need the certification to prove their proficiency and support their professional practice.

What do They Have in Common?

Before delving into the many differences between the ITIL and PMP, let’s first explore what the two have in common.

Both credentials rely heavily on a complex set of processes and tools to ensure a proficient and consistent execution of tasks resulting in a project-wide or even organization-wide boost in efficiency.

A project manager can get the best of both worlds by taking advantage of the two frameworks by utilizing their resources for the success of the project. This is made easy by the fact that there are many ITIL and PMP processes that overlap or complement each other.

While ITIL wasn’t originally developed as a project management framework, it still includes valuable project management ideas that can be implemented to boost efficiency. 

ITIL vs. PMP: How do They Compare?

Now that we’ve established the similarities, let’s look at how each certificate is different from the other so you can tell which one suits the career path you currently have in mind.

Focus And Career Prospects 

The ITIL is more focused on enterprise IT service management and, therefore, it’s less versatile. The majority of focus in an ITIL Expert’s job will pertain to back-end processing of IT Operations and cost-reduction.

However, the narrow focus of the ITIL could make it difficult for you to break into non-IT senior management and other leadership roles in your organization.

By contrast, a PMP Certification focuses on managing the entire scope of a project or a set of projects within an organization. A Project Management Professional’s job would usually include making sure that someone on the team is following the ITIL standards.

PMP offers more versatility as it serves as a guide for the fundamental principles and best practices for project managers regardless of the industry or the type of project they’re working on. 

In addition to the nature of work, you should also consider job security. Most ITIL Expert jobs are offered on a short-term contract basis, whereas with PMP credentials, you have higher chances of having a long-term career as a project manager.

Keep in mind that different industries favor one certification over the other. Make sure to do your research first by looking at job adverts for your chosen career path to see what accreditation, knowledge, and skills. Your geographical location may also play a role as certain credentials may be more needed in certain regions.

Prerequisites

When it comes to ITIL 4, it has four levels in total: Foundation, Managing Professional, Strategic Leader, and Master. Those interested in taking the ITIL Foundation exam don’t need to meet any prerequisites.

However, since the ITIL certification has a tiered structure, candidates who wish to advance to the higher ITIL levels must first pass the ITIL Foundation exam. Ultimately, to achieve the ITIL Master certification, the professionals must have five years of proven experience working in leadership or higher management advisory positions.

As for the PMP, professionals have to meet some minimum criteria before they can apply for the certification. The applicants must have a relevant four-year degree in addition to 36 months of project management experience as well as 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM Certification.

Alternatively, if they only have a high school diploma or an associate’s degree, they must have 60 months of experience in project leadership in addition to the 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM Certification.

Exam Structure 

The entry-level ITIL Foundation exam is composed of 40 multiple choice questions, and you can pass the exam by scoring at least 65% (26 correct questions or more).

The questions are to be answered in a total allowed time of 1 hour, but candidates who take the exam in a different language from their native or working language can be given 25% extra time.  

The ITIL Foundation exam questions test the candidate’s general knowledge of ITIL concepts, terminology, and key elements of the service value system and service value chain.

By contrast, the PMP exam is generally much longer. It lasts 4 hours with no scheduled break. It consists of 200 multiple-choice questions. However, only 175 of them will be counted towards the final score.

The remaining 25 are pretest questions that are placed to test the validity of the question for future exams. However, they are randomly placed throughout the exam, so you won’t be able to know which questions aren’t scorable.

The questions of the PMP exam test the five project phases, which are initiating, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling, and closing, as well as the additional domain of professional conduct and code of ethics.

Credential Renewal

Your ITIL Foundation certificate will not expire. Once you have it, you can put it in your CV for the rest of your life. That said, the version of ITIL will change, and you may need to retake the newer version in order to stay current. However, older qualifications would remain valid even after a new version has been released.

Previously, there used to be “bridge courses” designed to help ITIL Foundation certificate holders upgrade their certification from an older version to a newer one. However, for the newest version, the ITIL 4 Foundation Certificate, there’s no official bridging program. This means that certificate holders will need to retake the new ITIL 4 Foundation exam if they want to have the most recent credential.

Moreover, ITIL’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme offers digital badges that certificate holders can obtain if they join their membership program. Afterward, members are required to obtain 20 CPD points in order for the badge to be extended for the next 12 months.

Unlike the ITIL, the PMP certification must be renewed every three years. In order not to get their PMP certification revoked by PMI, certificate holders must prove that their professional skills are still sharp and relevant to current business demands.

They can do so by earning 60 PDUs (Professional Development Units) during each 3-year certification cycle. PDUs are one-hour blocks that can be broken into two categories: Education and Giving Back To the Profession. 

More specifically, certificate holders must obtain a minimum of 35 Education PDUs and a maximum of 25 Giving Back PDUs by the end of the cycle. If they do not earn the specified amount of PDUs, there will be a one-year suspension of their certification, after which it will no longer be valid.

Final Thoughts

Despite the overlapping between the ITIL and PMP, they both focus on different aspects and will, therefore, lead to different career options. So when it comes to the question of ITIL vs PMP, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. You’re the only one who can answer this question depending on where you want to take your career.

Generally speaking, though, if you would like to specialize in IT service management, then you should pick the ITIL. However, if you’d like to focus more on project management with more freedom when it comes to the type of project or the industry, then PMP would be a better option for you.

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