Prepping for PCAM – It’s Not Fight Club, Let’s Talk About It

October 2009, I was sitting at the site for my case study, holy moly I was actually trying to get my PCAM! In December, managers realized you can check your Community Associations Institute (CAI) profile to see if you suddenly have a new designation, prior to actually being notified by CAI. One by one, a handful of coworkers who sat in the case study with me were celebrating because they now had PCAM next to their names. It never appeared next to mine.  Jaded, I let my CMCA lapse, my AMS lapse and didn’t take another PMDP class.

Jump Start January 2019, Ursula Burgess, Esq. of Rees Broome, got on the stage as the new CAI President and spoke about literally climbing mountains, overcoming hurdles and whenever you think you’ve had enough, you keep going. For whatever reason, here we are ten years later, and in some twisted way I was sitting there thinking to myself, she’s Jedi-mind-tricking me!

Reluctantly, I gave into her powers and decided right then and there to get it all back and try again. I had to pick up my continuing ed., retake my CMCA exam, reapply for the AMS, get on committees; do whatever was needed to obtain the required points. By the grace of God, my PCAM application was approved right before the window closed for that year’s case study.  I knew if I had to wait another year, I wouldn’t do it.

Having gone through the process the first time, I knew what to expect for the second, which is honestly the biggest battle:  Not knowing and imagining the worst. Being a re-believer, I want to help others get over the hurdle of the unknown and go for that PCAM!

The Application:  Almost as daunting as the case study itself.  As soon as you have the slightest interest in getting your PCAM, look at the application to see what you need in order to obtain the required points.  Get on a committee or two – make sure you’re on the committee(s) for a full year in order for it to count. If you’ve taken any 300-level PMDP classes, they count under Attendance at other CAI headquarters educational programs.  CAI recommends saving the 300-level for after you receive your PCAM, so you can use those classes towards your redesignation, but if you already passed them, POINTS! Get an article published in Quorum! A feature article is 500-700 words, which is only a page. The committee is always looking for articles written by new authors and the themes change all the time. You can submit articles to It’s an easy 10 points on the application when you’re published, just make sure to plan accordingly because articles are due two months before the issue is published.

The Case Study: Print out the material they send you beforehand so you can reference it if you need to. Also, go through everything and write down any questions you have, so you’re ready to inquire during interviews. I can only speak to in-person, so if and when you can go back to that, dress in business casual, with comfortable shoes, as you will walk the property. Bring extra pens and a pad of paper. You will also be taking a lot of pictures, so make sure your phone memory can handle it. You’re going to meet with a handful of people while you’re there, to get a good taste from everyone who touches the association. You won’t get the questions for your case study until the tours and Q&A are over, so you need to go into this like you’re their new manager, they’ve asked you to assess the property and let them know what you think – good and bad.  Listen to the speakers very carefully as they may have specific concerns that you may be asked to address later. Ask a lot of questions because once you leave on the last day, you can’t go back, and you can’t reach out to anyone for follow-ups.

30 Days: When you get your list of questions the end of the last day, it is terrifying, and you will be overwhelmed.  You’ve reached the highest level of your continuing education, you’ve taken all required classes, you have at least five years of experience – you got this!

There is no right or wrong way to plan out how you spend the next 30 days. I know some managers who knocked out the whole paper that weekend. I took almost the entire 30 days.  Make sure you have someone who’s not a manager read over your paper, to at the very least check punctuation and grammar, as both can count against you. Don’t let the paper run your life or you’ll resent it and it’ll show in your writing. If you have other things to do, do them.  I worked on my paper after I put my kids to bed, most of the time.  The day after we were released from the site, I went to the library and answered the first two sections of questions because they were easier to answer, with little research. The first time I wrote the paper, I bounced around whenever I lost interest or got stuck on a question. The second time I stuck to a section until every question was answered. I think it kept it easy for me to read and reread and focus on the topic at hand. For the questions where I needed to do research or read through material, I gave myself an evening for the research and then I answered the questions the next evening. All those pictures you took at the site, you’ll end up using three of them, but they’re still good to reference if you need a visual for another question. After you answer a question, always ask yourself “so what?” Take yourself back to 6th grade math and show your work; think of that one board member who questions everything you do and say, and back it up with what you’ve learned.

Day 31: Turning in your paper, about 150 pounds falls off your shoulders. Congratulations – it is time for a celebratory drink!  My paper was due right before Thanksgiving and CAI updated designations for new PCAM’s December 30th. You will have one reviewer read your paper and if they don’t pass you, your paper will go to a second reviewer.  If they pass you, your paper will go to a third reviewer, where majority rules in the end.  I didn’t know it at the time, but if you fail, you can contact CAI and ask for the reviewer’s notes from your paper. I recommend doing this so you can see what you need to work on, get back on that horse and try it again.

There is no shame in failing, the case study is hard, it’s supposed to be. If you think maybe you need a little more experience, wait a year or two.

My experience at five years was homeowners associations and maybe one garden-style condo. My case study was at a high-rise condominium.  I entered that building hearing “chillers” for the first time – whoops. Ten years later exactly, I completed and passed my second case study right after I got out of the community management industry. I missed out on the benefits and opportunities I would’ve gotten had I stayed, but that’s okay, I was ready to close a chapter and it sure was easier to ride off into the sunset knowing I accomplished everything there was to accomplish. This is YOUR Jedi-mind-trick – now go be a Rockstar!

Katie Halfhill, EBP, CMCA, AMS, PCAM

Katie is an account manager at C&C Complete Services. Prior to entering into the contractor world, she spent 15 years managing community associations. Katie is also an active member on the Quorum Editorial Committee.

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