Getting a Project Management job is something of a ‘chicken and egg’ problem…
On the one hand, it’s hard to get a Project Management job without experience. On the other hand, how can you get experience, without a Project Management job?
Break the Cycle
Let’s assume that you have decided that a Project Management career is the right thing for you…
(By the way, if you aren’t sure, check out our article: ‘Why a Project Management Career?‘)
The first step in getting a Project Management job is to break the ‘chicken and egg’ cycle, by either getting:
- experience without getting a Project Management job, or
- getting a Project Management job, without experience
‘That sounds clever’, you say; ‘but how do I do that?’
We’ll take a look at three routes: easy, easier, and easiest.
To kick-start a career in anything, you need to invest. One of the soundest investments you can make is getting experience. This is why people are prepared to pay for internships. (Let’s not get into the ethics of paid-for, un-paid, and paid internships).
Look out for opportunities to volunteer for any role that will give you valuable experience for a future Project Management job. This may be a volunteering role in a charitable, social, sporting, or community setting. You may find a chance to volunteer to play a part in a work-place project. The best ones are often the roles other people don’t want. There’s little glory to be had from taking on something other people want to take on, because they think there is a success to be had. The glory comes from taking on something nobody else wants to do… and succeeding anyway.
Sometimes we find ourselves working with a team that is struggling. Yet you, as a potential project manager, probably have some useful skills. You almost certainly have some of the attitudes and character traits that can help. These are things like being organized, disciplined, and able to work under pressure.
Here is your chance to help out a struggling manager, and practice some of those skills. Help them with planning, risk identification, status gathering or any other aspect of project management where you know a simple technique that can make a real difference. This is where it pays to be prepared with a little learning in advance (and one of the reasons we built our core course programs). And if you are wondering whether you are ready for a Project management course, we have just the article for you: ‘Are You Ready for a Project Management Course?‘
The easiest thing of all is to turn your current job into a Project Management job. Set it up as a project. Use project management tools and techniques to get things done. And, crucially, talk about it as a project. Don’t over-play your hand, though. Others may see what you are doing as a simple initiative, but if you apply appropriate Project Management disciplines and use the right tools, it will be a great asset to your CV, and a stepping stone to something bigger.The easiest route to a #Project Management job: turn your current job into a PM job Click To Tweet
The Two Ways to Get Your First Project Management Job
At its simplest, there are two ways to get your first Project Management job. But do note that it unusual for your first job to be as a Project manager. More typically, you take your Project Management experience from your first job roles and trade them up to your first Project Manager role.
The two ways into your first Project Management job are internal and external.
An Internal First Project Management Job
That is; an appointment, assignment, transfer or promotion within your current organization. If you have taken my advice above for breaking the ‘chicken and egg’ cycle, you will have a head start. Often, internal opportunities offer you the best chance of ‘breaking in’ to the Project Management world.
But in many organizations, there is fierce competition for ProjectManagement jobs. So be prepared for a series of disappointments before you succeed. This is particularly important because one of the things we look for in appointing Project Managers is resilience – the ability to bounce back from set-back and keep going.
Here are my Top Tactics for Finding and Harnessing Internal Opportunities
- Get to know people
Build an internal network, so you can both know what’s going on, and be known by the people who may be in a position to help.
- Speak with Senior Managers
Let people know what your interests are and, crucially, what you are doing to prepare yourself. An easy start is your Personnel or HR department. They will often hear of opportunities and want to be helpful to senior managers by finding enthusiastic people to work on them.
- Start to think of yourself as a Project professional
In the way you speak and think, start to adopt a Project mindset. This way, people will start to see you as a Project management resource.
- Prepare a Pitch
Be ready to have an answer to the question ‘why should I use you?’ whenever it comes. You don’t want to get an opportunity, then fluff it.
- Constantly buff up your CV
Cast what you do in Project Management terms and update your CV frequently. Ask a trusted senior colleague to give you feedback on how you have written and presented it. Keep working at it to make it better.
Going Outside: Applying for an External First Project Management Job
Okay, so you are serious. And you’ve also concluded that internal roles are either not available, or not right for you. So start your search, while you are successful and secure in your current role so that you can:
- avoid feeling (and appearing) desperate
- take your time to find the right role
- invest resources in your search without feeling it’s too risky
You will, of course, need to have even stronger answers to questions about ‘why project management?’ as well as ‘why leave your current employer?’ Be prepared for the possibility of a long job search, with ups and downs. You may want to meet with a couple of specialist Project Management recruitment agencies. Not only can they jump-start your job search, but they will have lots of sound advice about where to start, what t do, and what the market is looking for in your area.
Or, you can search for a job on adzuna.com, which has a unique feature unavailable on other job sites. On Adzuna, you can upload your resume, and the site will determine how much your skills are worth. This can give you an idea if you have the required experience or skills to land a project management job.
Here are my Top Tactics for Getting that Project Management Job
- Build an Answer Bank
A job interview for a new role is always going to be challenging – there will be different questions and some of them will be very challenging. We’ll be publishing our list of Project Management interview questions soon. Set aside plenty of time to prepare for every question you can reasonably anticipate. Think about why those questions come up, and what the interviewer is really trying to find out.
- Start small
Look for a few small opportunities that you don’t want too much to start with. This will give you valuable interview experience. With that said, you should seek interviews from employers who know what they’re doing. Check out employer reviews sites, like Glassdoor and other alternatives to Glassdoor, to see if you’d benefit from the experience.
- Aim for the best fit
You are trying to do something different, so target organizations where there is as much overlap with your genuine experience as possible, so that you are more likely to be a good fit with as many of their requirements as possible. This will be the best way to reduce the impact of not fitting any Project Management requirements as well as other candidates. Competitors or organizations in the same value chain as yours are obvious candidates.
- Let your passion show
Don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm for Project management. If you need to convince an interviewer to take a chance on your inexperience, they have to believe you will work hard to build experience quickly.
- Ask for feedback
You are in new territory for you. So always ask for feedback after each interview. Listen hard, take notes, and discuss it with someone you trust, that has relevant experience. Make changes based on consistent feedback that you receive.
Six Ways to Start your Project Management Career
Let’s finish our giant guide to getting a Project Management job, with six scenarios. Project Managers love scenarios, so pick the one that’s closest to you and use that as a starter for planning your own Project Management job campaign.
The New Graduate, Alice
Alice is bright, enthusiastic, and about to graduate with a decent degree. She wants to make a career in Project Management.
There are some jobs out there that may be perfect for Alice, but they are few and far between. Her best option is to find a graduate role in an organization that, does Projects, values Project Management, and trains Project Managers. She needs work experience and maybe some Project Management training, so she should be upfront about her career aims, but show enthusiasm for stepping-stone roles that may not initially offer her the ideal opportunities. If Alice does spot a graduate-level Project Management job, then investing ahead in some basic Project Management training may be a wise move.
Alice needs to view her first job as the start of a long journey, not as a make-or-break choice.
The Recent Graduate, Bahir
Bahir has been in his job for nearly four years and has done well. But he has learned that this role is not right for him. Speaking with colleagues and friends, he has concluded that a Project management job would suit him far better.
As I described above, Bahir’s first step will be to explore internal opportunities. But this should not preclude him looking outside his organization at the same time. A small employer may be very interested in first-mover with a good track record and an enthusiasm to learn. He should back up that assertion by doing some research and learning on his own, to show he knows what he will be getting into, and will be able to get started straight away. Our first or second-tier Core Course Programs are ideal for Bahir.
Bahir is no doubt ambitious. But he needs to view this next step as a strategic career move, and not as a way of increasing his salary. This may be hard for him and test his resolve, because some of his peers will also be making their first job move, but they will be trading up their experience for the next rung up the career ladder, and a higher salary. Bahir may or may not get a pay bump – he may even need to take a small dip. He must view this as a long-term choice or risk feeling frustrated.
The Ambitious but Unqualified Clara
Clara has been working hard since she left school. Although she did not attend university or other high education, she intelligent and could easily have managed the academic demands. Now she has a wealth of work experience – possibly including some Project work – and wants to move into Project Management.
Clara is going to find it easiest to make her move to a Project Management job within her current organization, where people know her. They will already value her experience and recognize her intelligence, without being misled by her lack of formal higher or professional education. If the opportunities she needs aren’t there, however, Clara should consider getting some structured project management training, and seriously contemplate seeking a recognized Project Management qualification. This will be easier to sell to new employers. Another tactic that will help her is to look for Project Management jobs that support a Project Manager, and need skills that Clara an already demonstrate vividly from her work-place experience.
Clara needs to view her next move as the first stage in re-framing her professional persona.
The Experienced Engineer, Darshan
Darshan has spent 14 years gaining a reputation as a highly qualified and able software engineer. Now, though, he is not finding the role challenging enough and is enjoying the supervisory aspects of his job more than the technical parts. He believes he is a logical thinker, with good people management skills, and wants to step into a Project Management job.
Darshan recognizes that his best bet will be to move into technical Project Management in a field where he already has expertise and credibility. His first move needs to be to speak with senior colleagues to let them know about his aspirations, ask about opportunities, and take their advice on how best to position himself internally. The next step for Darshan is likely to be as a Workstream Leader in a sizeable project, or maybe as a Deputy Project Manager. That said, there may be opportunities to lead small projects. He would be well-advised to ensure he understands the fundamentals of project management in his domain, which is likely to be a mix of traditional and Agile practices. If his employer cannot offer classroom-based training, Darshan should consider self-study options such as reading or online courses.
Darshan needs to lay the groundwork and keep his eyes open, so he can take the opportunities that arise.
The Experienced Team Member, Edmund
Edmund has been in a number of project teams with both general and expert roles. His own professional expertise makes him a valuable contributor, but now he’d like to step up to managing a whole project.
Edmund should start by discussing this with his current and recent project managers. They will be able to give him their frank assessment of his abilities, as well as tell him how they moved into Project Management jobs. Their advice may be very helpful. He should also speak with senior managers who typically appoint Project Managers, so they will know he is looking for a role. They too may have good advice. If Edmund fancies stepping outside his current organization, he’ll need to work on his CV, identify good referees, and think carefully about increasing his formal project management training. Depending on what sector he works in and the level and scale of projects he wants to lead, Edmund may want a basic Project Management training course or may need an accredited course with a specific certification or qualification as the outcome.
The Experienced Manager, Fenfang
Fenfang has been supervising and managing people for many years. She is organized and likable, well-able to get the best from her team. Like many managers, she has led her share of small business projects, usually very effectively, despite having no Project management training. Increasingly, she’s finding the operational aspects of her role a little dull, and she prefers the pressure and challenge of her projects. She’d like to do more, and maybe switch to a Project Management job role.
Fenfang’s first move, like Darshan and Edmund, needs to be to speak to senior colleagues. She needs to make sure they are aware of her preferences and can start looking out for opportunities to use her skills. She should also look out for the sort of project that can help re-cast perceptions of her from manager to Project Manager. These are likely to be organizational change projects where her reputation and experience as an operational manager can give her deep credibility and can ground her, but where her enthusiasm for a project challenge can find a robust outlet. There are likely to be a few senior managers with whom Fenfang can usefully align herself. In the mean-time, she should look for opportunities to get some structured training – either within her organization or by investing in herself. Our Core Course Programs may well meet her needs.
Fenfang needs to view this as a logical next step and be prepared to invest time in learning, and maybe also in taking on a role with longer, more stressful work patterns than her operational role.
If you are in the UK, a great Project and Program Management recruitment business is Arras People. Whether or not you are in the UK, if you are just thinking about getting a Project Management job, their site is full of tips and advice. But better yet, their blog, ‘How to Manage a Camel‘ has a long track record of being one of the best-written PM blogs and it focuses on practical advice for people in the PM job market.
Do you know of (or run) an equally good business in your country? If you do, let us know in the comments section and if the content of the site is good enough, I’ll add it here.
One place we recommend you look for Project Management Jobs is on Jooble. Jooble allows you to search for Project Management jobs in 71 countries.
Get a Project Management Job Infographic
We all love infographics, don’t we? Click on the thumbnail below to see our infographic summary of this article.
What if You Need to go to an Interview?
Ah, interviews… They are a whole other thing, aren’t they?
Often an interview is a necessary step in getting your desired Project Management job. So if you have to have one, you will need to prepare thoroughly. Luckily, we have you covered, with one of our favorite articles: How to Prepare for Your Project Management Interview. Why not check it out?
If you have been through this process, or are on this journey, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below.