I get many questions from people who want to enter into project management as a profession. After all, this is pmStudent. One of the most common questions is “how do I get started”? I received an email from a reader today with this question, and so I would like to share some thoughts with everyone else, too.
Let me start off by saying that there are many, many ways that very successful project managers got their start. There could be plenty of PMs out there who began by earning a business degree online and others who earned better degrees. I can tell you about my personal experiences and share some pointers. This is all just my opinion, (just like the rest of everything I write!) so take it with some skepticism.
Experience First, Education Second
If you have to choose between formal project management education or real-world experience, go with the experience. In reality, this is not an either-or choice however. Go with both but always emphasize your opportunities to gain real-world experience. The optimal in my humble opinion is if you can be in a position where your projects are small enough that you have the flexibility to try out new concepts you are learning in real time. Volunteer efforts are wonderful for this type of flexibility.
- Volunteer at work, school, and non-profit organizations you may not even belong to yet
- As you learn, apply the concepts
- Seek a project management mentor by asking questions of project managers. Take them out to coffee or lunch as a way to tap into their experience and build professional relationships.
- If you are already part of a project team, start paying attention to what the project manager does. Offer to assist them in any way, even if you find it menial, and ask lots of questions.
Education is Very Important