I’ve been asked this question multiple times recently so I wanted to share some guidance on how one can get started in the Project Management field. Other comments and insights welcome, so please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences or questions in the comments below.
Where Can I Start?
There’s always that bitter catch 22 that you need experience to get the job, but how can you get the job if you don’t have experience. I believe that if you want something bad enough, you can achieve it. You have to choose to make it happen. There are many opportunities to get the experience you need, but you have to be willing to put forth the effort and you may need to get a little creative.
Find an Opportunity to Get Experience at Work – Go Above and Beyond
The first step would be looking at your current role to see if there is opportunity for you to take on additional responsibility to either manage a team or if there is any project that may need to be completed. These opportunities for growth may mean that you will have to take on this new responsibility or opportunity in addition to your current job with no additional pay or incentive other than gaining the experience. A project is defined as a temporary endeavor with a specific start and end date. You will need to identify the people and resources needed to complete the work, document the goals and objectives of the project (often referred to as measures of success) and plan out how you intend to accomplish the work by the target finish date (you may identify a list of tasks necessary to complete the project), then begin execution of the work. As you lead the project, you will need to collect status from your team to track your progress and assess what work remains.
Keep it Basic
This may appear to be an overly simplified description of what managing a project entails for those that have worked on many projects in their time as there are a vast number of methodologies and approaches for Project Management and countless valuable training courses with great techniques and ways to effectively manage project work. However you have to start somewhere, so if you can find an opportunity where you can begin to gain experience running projects, breaking it down to the basics and not over complicating will give you an opportunity to gain that first ounce of experience you need to get started.
Once you have an opportunity to work on projects, talk with your current boss to see if you can lead more project teams or see if there is a Project Manager role within your current organization that you could work towards. If they have career development opportunities, you may be able to work with them to further develop your skills and begin leading more projects.
Get Involved in the Industry and in the Project Management Community
Get more involved in the Project Management community. You can join your local Project Management Institute (PMI) chapter and learn more by attending their monthly chapter meetings. You could also volunteer as a Project Manager for one of their projects to gain more Project Management experience. This would be great on your resume if you are looking at different companies or if you are looking for more experience to show your current employer.
Get Paid in Experience, not Cash
Other volunteer opportunities exist with Not for Profit groups in your area. Many groups are always looking for volunteers and people to help them with developing their organization. If you identify an area of need for a local Not for Profit group, you could volunteer to lead a project for them using a basic Project Management approach and documenting your work on that project. You can gain references from the people you work with and the organization leaders.
Read, Study, Learn
There are many resources available to learn the basics of Project Management and advance resources to take your skills to the next level as a Project Manager. You could take a training class in Project Management to help you learn the fundamentals or there are self study opportunities and webinars available online.
These learning resources can include:
- Read books
- Read articles online
- Follow and participate in discussion forums
- Take a training course
- Attend industry conferences
- Get certified
Some people question whether a certification can actually guarantee whether a person knows what they are doing. Regardless, when a certification is widely recognized by hiring managers, you may want to show that you understand the fundamentals or advance concepts in a particular field and sometimes, it can set you apart from your competition or at minimum, level the playing field if enough people have the certification that it is expected as foundational level understanding. It does demonstrate a certain level of understanding and dedication in taking the time to pursue a particular designation.
In Project Management, the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is widely accepted and often a prerequisite by hiring managers. You can prepare for this exam by studying the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). It also requires that you have a minimum number of experience hours to qualify in the application for the exam. Working on more projects at work or volunteer projects in your community will help you build this experience. There are many training preparation classes and study guides available to assist you in preparing for the exam.
Setting Goals and Taking Actionable Steps
Take a look at where you are and identify where it is that you want to be. It may seem overwhelming to try to figure out how you get from your current state to the end desired state, so this is where you should set incremental goals. Break down the large task at hand into smaller, more manageable steps that you can focus on and set target goals that are achievable. Be sure to revisit your goals and regularly re-assess your progress and next steps as some things may change or new opportunities for growth may arise.
The Value of a Mentor
It is a good idea for any endeavor that you are seriously aspiring toward that you get a coach or mentor that can guide you in achieving your goals. It helps to find someone knowledgeable and experienced in the field you are working toward that can assist in guiding you toward good actionable steps toward achieving your goal. Accountability is important in propelling yourself out of your comfort zone and taking on new challenges. Finding someone respected in the field you are working toward can be a valuable resource as you begin your journey toward acquiring those skills. Building a relationship of trust can be a good foundation for assessing where you are and getting honest feedback on what you may need to work on to become a great Project Manager.
Be Determined, Never Stop Learning
Don’t give up. Keep at it. Believe in yourself and celebrate your successes. Be patient. Not everything will happen overnight. Steadily build your portfolio, network and resume and little by little, you will begin taking great steps toward your new desired position. Find encouragement from those around you and surround yourself with others that are already in the role you are pursuing. Be open to feedback and input and don’t think you know it all. After years of leading training classes, I still find myself amazed at what I learn from my students. Be open. You can learn from your environment and from your surroundings everywhere that you go.