Starting a project management career: Free ebook
Project management is a popular profession for people from all backgrounds, regardless of education or experience. It is a rewarding, challenging career with a high level of job satisfaction and a good salary. Read on to discover how to kick-start an exciting career in the world of project management!
Have you ever thought how a project management certification might aid your project management career? Or what do employers often look for when hiring a project manager? Or can project support work be considered as a career in itself? This article and ebook will answer all of these burning questions, and more.
Whether you are taking tentative first steps into the industry, looking for the next challenge in an established project management career, or actively seeking an employment opportunity that involves working on projects, read on to help improve your chance of success!
What is a project manager?
Projects happen in all industries
Project managers are found amongst all industries, and they are the people responsible for planning and delivering a project on time and within budget. They need to predict what is coming next and understand the value of what they are doing, whilst knowing when to focus on each.
As they will be working within a team, project managers will certainly need ‘soft skills’ to communicate and build trust with their colleagues and stakeholders. Other skills commonly associated with project managers include planning, budgeting, risk analysis and reporting.
Project management is a popular career choice, and it is becoming ever more important due to the pressures faced by organizations in an increasingly globalized world.
Projects enable organizations to change and succeed in the face of these pressures, and you will find opportunities to be a project manager in every sector worldwide. It’s a fast-growing profession too.
According to the American-based Project Management Institute (PMI) between 2017 and 2017, over 20 million new project management roles will be created globally across seven project-intensive industries. That means there are huge opportunities for people with the right skills to move into project management.
What makes a great project manager?
A great project manager is a charismatic team-player and leader, capable of getting the most out of team members yet without being overbearing. Top project managers possess a talent for making people sit up and want to work with them. Encouraging enthusiasm and co-operation amongst team members or maintaining a sense of camaraderie throughout a project isn’t always an easy task, even for the most socially adept of individuals.
If the idea of motivating your colleagues while steering a project to its successful conclusion is rather daunting, soft skills courses such as management skills team leading and managing conflict, could prove invaluable.
If a project manager fails to demonstrate good interpersonal skills, his or her lack of clear communication and openness to others could undermine the confidence of the whole team, ultimately jeopardizing the project’s progress.
A high level of adaptability is required from a project manager, and never more so than if he or she is brought in from outside the company launching the project. In this case, the employer is likely to consider whether each candidate for the project manager role fits into the culture of the organisation. Employers often view the importance of candidates’ personal qualities as equal to that of their professional background when deciding who is best suited to managing a particular project.
It’s also important to remember that project stakeholders will come from a range of departments, each possessing its own operational style, in addition to being subject to existing chains of command.
Project managers also need to gain the trust and confidence of senior managers in an organization, in order to help deliver the changes required.
Unsurprisingly, effective, efficient communication is imperative, and it is also placed first on our list of top five qualities demonstrated by great project managers:
- Communication – always be as ‘specific’ as possible when requesting information from project team members, particularly when working across departments.
- Leadership – managing projects inevitably involves an element of leading people.
- Organisation – an efficient, structured method of working, in addition to considerable attention to detail, are required as a project manager. This can help balance the many demands made on your time.
- Confidence – it cannot be denied that a project manager assumes considerable responsibility, but being comfortable with what it is you’re actually doing is often the key to building ‘credibility’ in the eyes of those with whom you work.
- Decisiveness – judging when to act in order to keep a project on time, on budget, and on schedule is crucial.
While numerous traits and talents can be advantageous when managing projects, we believe that the above are absolutely essential to success in this career path. That’s leaving aside the skills more commonly associated with project management such as planning and budgeting which are often taught as part of project management courses.
Changing career to project management
This interactive scenario is a multimedia experience which takes you through Susan’s journey as she decides to change career and move into a project management role.
Find out how she moves from her frustrating current role into an exciting new project management role, even though she doesn’t have any obvious project management experience. With a little help from her friends and colleagues, some project management training and certification, she passes the job interview and starts an exciting new career in project management.
Career change video tutorial
Starting your project management career
The current economic climate is to a great extent ‘dictating’ the decisions businesses make about whether to undertake projects, especially given their attendant risks and financial commitments. Consequently, employment opportunities in the field of project management are highly competitive. It is vital for an individual hoping to succeed in this challenging industry to demonstrate a firm grasp of the ways projects can be efficiently managed.
Getting project management experience
To land any job usually requires experience. But if you don’t have any already, how do you land your dream project manager job? Opportunities to gain experience are all around you. Do you do voluntary work? If so, consider whether you can ask the charity if you can take on small projects to manage.
For example, set up a new local food bank, or run a fund-raising event or campaign. Start small, and once you have been trusted to manage a small project, ask to take on something more challenging. One- or two-years’ worth of voluntary project management work experience can really give you a step up when it comes to applying for real jobs.
Alternatively, you can try to build up your project management experience at work. Try asking your line manager whether they would consider you to manage a small project. Not only will this build your experience, but it will also build you inter-personal and communication skills, vital for a successful project manager role.
When embarking on a project management career, think carefully about your strengths and achievements in both personal and professional life – any relevant experience can be made to work in your favour (a careers advice service will show you how).
There are many aspects of everyday life you can draw on for project management. It sounds clichéd, but excellent communication skills and the ability to lead others are the foundations on which a career as a project manager can be built. Remember that report your manager asked you to research and write? Its completion is evidence of some of these kinds of skills.
If you have coped well in situations in which you assumed considerable responsibility or coordinated a series of complex activities, this can also prove advantageous. In addition, you should consider the possibility of attending training, to help complement experience gained in the workplace.
While project management courses are not intended to be alternatives to first-hand experience, they consolidate your knowledge and equip you with a structured way of working. They boost your confidence and help you to avoid a skills gap further on down the line as your career progresses.
Professional qualifications help
Having the relevant soft skills is one thing, but for actual proof of project management knowledge it is advisable to attend a training course.
Gaining professional certification shows potential employers you have project management knowledge, which is important because many organisations now adopt project management methodologies such as PRINCE2.
Types of project management qualifications
Project management qualifications fit into two categories:
- Knowledge-based: these require candidates to show their knowledge by passing exams.
- Competency-based: these require candidates to display a range of project management knowledge and are usually assessed by interviews with a panel of assessors and/or observation of the candidate working in a group.
Knowledge-based qualifications are ideal for those people trying to get into the project management world, whilst competency-based qualifications are better suited to people already working as project managers who want to benchmark their skills against others in the profession.
In today’s competitive jobs-market, many candidates often have the same qualifications e.g. PRINCE2 in the UK and PMP in the USA. Candidates with more than one qualification (PRINCE2 and PMP) will stand out in the race for the best jobs, due to the fact the two complement each other in terms of the topics covered.
PRINCE2 is great at describing what needs to be done on a project, by whom and when, whereas qualifications based upon project management bodies of knowledge (e.g. the CAPM and PMP in the USA and the APM PFQ and APM PMQ in the UK) are much better at describing the how. Therefore, having PRINCE2 and one of the APM ones gives project managers the tools they need to manage complex projects.
Other project management roles
There are many roles that fall under the project management umbrella, besides working as a project manager. We advise inexperienced individuals to cut their teeth on projects, without shouldering the burden of managing them, by working in project support positions. Experience gained as project administrator, project coordinator, or project support officer, for example, will set the foundations for a future role as project manager.
To assist your move into a project manager role, entry-level qualifications such as PRINCE2 Foundation or APM PFQ are popular in the UK, whilst the PMI’s Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM ®) is popular in the USA. All of these are readily available as either a 2 or 3 day course with exam, or as online courses. They help candidates gain a basic knowledge of project management.
Retraining for project management
When approached for advice by individuals interested in retraining to work in project management, we always begin by asking exactly why they want to become involved in the industry. The purpose of this question is twofold: it allows us to ensure that our students’ perceptions of project management are accurate, as well as helping to determine the kind of positions in which they would be best suited to work.
If you intend to find a job in project management, the first step is to see where you can pitch yourself. With specific roles in mind, you could consider the ways in which project management training courses may be beneficial.
Whatever position(s) you decide to pursue, it must be emphasized that you have to be a very determined individual to get along in the project environment. While relatively good salaries (a project manager’s typical starting salary will be in the region of £20-25k) and an interesting, varied workload attract many people to project management, involvement in the industry is also extremely competitive and frequently stressful.
If the best aspect of working in project management is that no one day is the same as another, the worst is the high pressure that characterizes people’s workloads. Project managers need to develop extremely thick skins and must be effective communicators with a wide range of different stakeholders within an organization.
Opportunities for women
Nevertheless, some individuals thrive within the pressured project environment. Project management also presents excellent employment opportunities for both sexes; while women used to find themselves largely confined to project support positions the industry has seen that change significantly over the past few years.
Today there are many women employed as project managers in very senior positions. Furthermore, gender isn’t a significant factor when selecting an individual for a senior role in project management; the choice made ultimately comes down to experience.
Numerous people receive some project management exposure, in their roles within the business sphere. We have noticed that during the recent economic turmoil, a greater number of course attendees than usual are choosing to build on this exposure by retraining as project managers.
When considering why this might be the case, it is important to note that key project management skills are transferable from other sectors, so project work can provide an outlet for individuals struggling to find employment opportunities in other areas. Involvement with projects could offer a way forward in your career, particularly in the current financial climate when many industries are suffering.
Those businesses employing effective project managers will stand a better chance of weathering the economic storms. Ultimately, effective project management is at the forefront of moving businesses away from the worst effects of recession.
An alternative to studying a short certification course is to take a postgraduate qualification, such as Masters degrees. For graduates really seeking to excel in project management, a postgraduate certificate can really help you progress.
During a challenging project, knowing which management strategies to use under given circumstances is crucial. As projects all have varying elements (scope, team and budget, for example), they also come with their own set of unique problems. That’s why being equipped with the theory to mitigate any potential risks and handle a broad range of project possibilities is essential to being a valuable project manager.
Developing your project management career
While the scope for project management career development is vast, the level of your achievements ultimately depends on how you drive your career. Many organisations have implemented policies concerning Continuing Professional Development (CPD) that can benefit employees hoping to develop new skills or enhance their CVs. Even if you work for a company that lacks policies of this kind, by paying careful attention to your professional development needs, you should be well placed to take advantage of opportunities to boost your career in project management.
You must be proactive when considering the ways in which you can improve your skills and gain useful experience. You could ask your employer whether there are any courses that might be relevant at this stage in your career or research the options available to you before discussing your needs with your manager.
If you would like to attend training funded by the organisation at which you work, be prepared to talk about the ways in which both you and your employer could derive benefit from the course in question. Attending a project management course is likely not only to improve your ability to work as a project professional, but also attests to the fact that, as someone who is prepared to devote time and effort to career advancement, you’re serious about your professional life.
Talk about why your projects failed
When gaining project management experience, it is possible that a project with which you are involved fails. When hoping to move beyond project failure, you should concentrate on the lessons learned from the process that led to the project’s demise. Describe an unsuccessful project on your CV or at a job interview by stating the facts, while emphasizing what was achieved and how later projects did, or could have been, better by applying those lessons.
By discussing the project lifecycle, you can draw out elements of the project that were completed satisfactorily, in addition to generating ideas about what actions could be undertaken next time, in the hope of reaching a more successful outcome.
Write a winning CV
Jobs web sites
The best source of project management job vacancies is the internet. It is worthwhile browsing relevant employment opportunities advertised on popular job search websites such as Monster, Reed, and Total Jobs. If a vacancy catches your eye, familiarizing yourself with the experiences, skills, and qualifications demanded by the role will help you to create an effective application.
An excellent networking tool to use when making contacts in the project management industry is LinkedIn. It features numerous profiles of professionals, and by spreading your network and maintaining an active online presence, you should improve your chances of hearing about employment opportunities that may not be widely advertised.
The question of how to produce a winning CV is often debated on project management discussion forums. While there is no set formula for the perfect CV, always remember that a good CV contextualizes project experiences, foregrounding the key details about budgets, scope, and so on. Always proofread your CV several times, particularly if it contains complex information: spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are unlikely to impress employers!
CV review service
When applying for your first project management position, you may wish to take advantage of a CV review service. For an experienced project professional concerned about career advancement, this kind of service may be beneficial, providing a fresh viewpoint on his or her CV. Bear in mind that the key to creating an outstanding job application is to present the most relevant information in the best possible light, bringing out the experience required to secure that next role in project management.
Finally, if you wish to move beyond the management of single projects and would prefer to orchestrate multiple projects at the same time, programme management training courses could help to prepare you for your next career challenge. Good luck!
 Project Management Institute. (2017). Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017 & 2027. Available: https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/job-growth-report.pdf. Last accessed 27 Nov 2018.