Whew! Shortest blog post ever. Not the most helpful blog post ever, though.
Let’s break them up into “you” time and “us” time.
You’re the applicant, and it’s going to take you time to prepare your materials for submission, gather your references (if you’re applying for CSEP or ESEP), and study for the exam (if you’re applying for ASEP or CSEP). This time really varies.
Applications – An ASEP application takes less than an hour. CSEP typically takes 10 to 30 hours, depending on how many years of experience you’re documenting, whether you have updated contact info for your references, whether you have your experience described in a way similar to what we ask (not like your resume or CV), and whether you have a good understanding of the instructions. ESEP will likely take 20 to 40 hours. An example application or knowledgeable friend willing to review your application are of great help in cutting down the time you spend figuring out the requirements.
References – Your reference-providers may not put this task at the top of their priority list. Help them out by copying relevant portions of your application into the reference form. Tell them you have done that and that they only have to confirm it's true and add their own text. Keep reminding them.
Transcripts / Diplomas – We do not typically require a proof of your degree (aka diploma or qualification).
Exam Prep – ASEP and CSEP candidates will spend many hours reviewing the INCOSE SE Handbook in preparation for the knowledge exam. Some people pass the exam without studying, but most folks spend more than 40 hours preparing for the exam. Some spend more than 80 hours. The factors in this study time include how much SE you know already, how similar what you know already is to the INCOSE definitions, how efficient you are at studying, and what your target knowledge level is.
End-to-end, it typically takes an applicant (you) a month or two to gather information and prepare for the exam. Many do it slower; fewer do it faster.
Now comes “our” part. For ASEPs, it’s easy. You send us an application and payment; we send you an exam code (allow a few weeks); you schedule, take, and pass the exam; we notify you you’re certified (allow a few weeks).
For CSEPs, that process above runs in parallel to our assessment of your application package. The Certification Program Office’s biggest hold-up is waiting for your references to come in. Once we get them all, we send your files to a review team. They are volunteers, CSEPs or ESEPs, most of whom hold full-time jobs just like you. We allow them 30 days to work as a team to assess whether your application package demonstrates your satisfaction of the SEP requirements. It takes us a week or two on either side of that to handle paperwork. We aim to get certification responses out within two months of receiving your complete set of materials.
Back to the main question, it is possible to get certified within 3 months. It’s hard but do-able. It is more likely to take 4 to 7 months. We allow 12 months to complete the process, but we advise against waiting until the end. You’ll lose momentum you’d have if you pushed through early on, and there’s too much opportunity for something to get in your way and push you past the deadline.