How to Break into Project Management

Here is how you break into Project Management:

First, some unpleasant truths: Nobody hires an entry level PM or a Junior PM. These types of positions are given to internal employees who are trusted and only to lead projects that are not high visibility/high exposure. There is just too much risk for managers when they hire entry level PMs. There is always exceptions of course but I am talking about the overwhelming majority of companies.

The way to become an entry level or a Junior PM is to leverage your current job. You have to become a PM in your current position. Even if it is not a formal PM role or a full time PM role.

Every job can be turned into a project management job. In fact, if you look closely at your current position, you will notice that you work on a series of projects or on a long term project. In most jobs, you are responsible for managing yourself. If you try, you can consciously delineate between the PM activities of your job from the Individual Contributor activities in your current position. I propose that you “formalize” your PM activities. How? by following a PM methodology even if nobody asks you to. It is not for them. It is for you. So develop a mini-requirements document for your part of the work. Develop a schedule. Work with others to develop a plan. Don’t go overboard. Make it simple and easy. Use one-pagers. Initiate your work with others with a kick-off. Create statuses every week and send them to your manager (even if he/she does not ask for them). When the project is completed, do a mini-formal project closeout. For example, setup a brief “lessons learned” meeting. Capture the outcome of the meeting and sending out. Archive all the project documents and send link to your manager and the other people on the project.

Volunteer to do this for the projects where there is no PM. Volunteer to take meeting notes. Draft initial versions of a schedule, or a scope document. Don’t ask for titles or make a big deal of what your doing. be invisible as much as you can. You are not doing this to get promoted in your current company, although if it happens by chance that’s a bonus. What you are really doing is practicing your PM role and collecting evidence of PM experience and war stories, so you can make a compelling case in your next interview.

After you do this for few projects, do a number of interviews for PM positions with few companies. Start with a low risk interviews. These are interviews with companies that you are not desperate to work for. These interviews are test/dry runs to practice your pitch and PM vocabulary and to learn about the type of questions you will be asked. Because you are not desperate for a job with these companies, you are not anxious which will allow to pay attention and learn. These interviews will also help you build your confidence.

When you are ready to interview for your dream PM job, you will be ready. Most importantly, you will believe with every fiber in your being that you are a PM and as a result everyone else in the interview panel will see you in the same way.

So don’t wait to be picked or given a chance. Pick yourself: hire yourself first and others will hire you next.

If you are interested in becoming a project manager, what questions do you have about becoming a project manager?

If you are already a Project Manager, how did you break into Project Management?

Don’t miss Part 2 of How to Break into Project Management.

Please comment. I would love to hear your story.

11 Responses to How to Break into Project Management
  1. [...] Samad Aidane explains how to break into project management.  First, get a job … [...]

  2. Joe
    August 2, 2013 | 1:05 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment. Taking on responsibilities and developing a track record of success is the best way to advance in just about any career, but especially so in the project management field.

  3. Sam Dsouza
    August 15, 2013 | 12:39 pm

    The next level of Certification after PMP is Certified Project Director (CPD), The CPD certification allows experienced senior managers and executives to acquire new skills and advanced techniques in managing and controlling today’s complex project and management issues – from managing risks and quality to managing scope and budgets.

    Senior and experienced project and management executives who want to go beyond the Professional level in Project Management certification to become globally recognized can seriously consider this certification.

    The Exam is delivered across the globe via Pearson Vue Testing Centers, the link to register the exam is http://www.pearsonvue.com/gaqm

    To view a free demo for the Certified Project Director E-Course you can visit http://gaqm.org:8080/gaqm/elearn/certifiedprojectdirector

  4. Jack Clarkson
    August 30, 2013 | 2:46 pm

    Great advice for beginners in project management, Thanks!

  5. Dasha Golubeva
    November 1, 2013 | 1:00 pm

    Hi Samad, this is a very interesting topic. A quick question – what do you think of the concept of “accidental project managers”? I read that this “title” can be applied to more than 70% of employees like marketing managers, designers, etc.

    • samad_aidane
      November 2, 2013 | 1:51 pm

      Dasha,

      It is a really good question. I think that the more I think about the idea most of us become “accidental PM” the more I realize that there is nothing accidental at all about how we get there. Organizations always have a choice to hire a seasoned PM or even get temporary help from PMs who are consultants if they don’t feel they have qualified people in their organization. But when they assign someone to lead a project, they do make that decision based on who is the best qualified person to lead a project given available information at the time. So while it may appear that the assignment is accidental, there is a rational reason or a business case if you consider all the factors that went into the decision. If you look closely, you may find that the person who becomes an accidental PM actually demonstrates certain skills or characteristics that the organization deems to be important for a person to lead a project.

      It is only accidental because no preparation is made or development is provided before a person is assigned tole of PM. But this is typical because most organizations are reactive and have a short-term perspective to planning. This is not a surprise, given the fast-pace and competitive business environment that most organizations find themselves.

      So what often seems accidental may actually be intentional.

      Thank you.

      • Dasha Golubeva
        November 5, 2013 | 7:16 am

        Samad, thank you for sharing your opinion! I remembered a thread I saw on Quora – someone mentioned that a lot of work in different organizations is actually a smaller or a bigger project, even if it’s not officially named “a project” per se. In this case, it looks then quite natural that an accidental PM appears to manage this work.

  6. Bruce
    July 13, 2014 | 10:08 pm

    Samad, this post hits the nail on the head.

    Indeed, I would suggest that your recommendation: “So don’t wait to be picked or given a chance. Pick yourself: hire yourself first and others will hire you next” applies to many career situations.

    The other point I like about this article is looking for the project opportunities all around you. I have found that’s a great approach for a job that is focused on running a process (e.g. preparing a financial/accounting report each month): when you adopt the project approach, you can make a big impression!

    • samad_aidane
      July 14, 2014 | 12:11 pm

      Bruce, thank you so much for your contribution. Thank you especially for the example of type of processes that lend themselves to be projectized.

      • Bruce
        July 14, 2014 | 1:27 pm

        Samad,
        Here are a few ways that I have turned a process into a project:

        1) Start measuring results over a period of time. I have encountered some processes where there are no measures or history.

        2) Map out the process, step by step. Once I realized that certain steps (e.g. scan this paper document and then email to XYZ executive) were time-consuming, those steps became targets for elimination or automation.

        3) Write a project plan to implement areas for change described. Clear it with management and then implement.

  7. [...] How to Break into Project Management-Part 2 Written on October 18, 2014 by samad_aidane in Uncategorized 0 Comments – Leave a comment! [...]

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL http://www.guerrillaprojectmanagement.com/how-break-into-project-management/trackback