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?
Please comment. I would love to hear your story.