I recently figured out that thousands of people are finding this blog every month with the keywords “how to become a project manager”. I write a lot about this topic.
When I created training on this topic, it naturally structured itself into 5 primary areas. Steps 1 and 2 are very important to do first, because sometimes people find out they don’t actually want to manage projects after all! You have to know where you are starting from and where you want to go before diving in.
One thing I strongly advise against is jumping right into a certificate, certification, or even a degree unless you have taken the time to know what you’re about and what the landscape looks like. Too many people who want to be project managers spend thousands on a certificate program that they can’t use since the majority of project management roles require previous experience.
Note: You can also listen to my interview on the topic of How to Become a Project Manager.
1 – Start at the Beginning
It’s easy to do a search online and start studying for a certification or think about going back to school for a degree in project management.
Not so fast.
Before you do anything, take stock of your current starting point. What advantages and disadvantages do you currently have to deal with when trying to get into a career like this where most job postings require many years of experience? Switching careers to project management can have its ups and downs.
What are your career goals? Are they written down? How will you know when you are heading down the right path, and when you are lost?
2 – Plan Your Career Trajectory
Now that you know where you are starting from and what you want to accomplish from a 10,000-foot view, it’s time to figure out how.
Now you can start educating yourself about the various educational options, certifications, and most of all: how to gain experience.
See, project management as a discipline doesn’t have a lot of internship programs yet; and just because you have a degree or certificate doesn’t mean I want you to run a project team in my company. There are many ways to get into a project management role, and the considerations are different for each trajectory you might take.
3 – Learn From Others
My youngest brother and I are 10 years apart in age.
His favorite joke is to tell people how much he learned from me; by NOT doing what I did. Learning from others’ mistakes and successes is a powerful way to teach yourself to be successful.
Do whatever you can do learn from others who are doing or have done what you want to be doing. (Wow, that was a confusing sentance!)
4 – Build Professional Relationships
Most people are hired through professional networking. It’s true, whether you like it or not. I happen to like it, because it means decisions about hiring are made more from actual experiences with real people and less from what you read on someone’s resume or CV.
Networking is an art, and it can be learned. Sure, some people are naturally better at it than others, but it can be taught.
Reach out to people, ask them about themselves, and in general just get involved!
5 – Now Worry About the Details of Execution
How do you know what organizations would be good to grow your career in? Are you researching organizations, or jobs?
You SHOULD be researching organizations. Remember, most jobs are never posted for you to see. But what if you pursued the right organization in a way that made them come to you when a relevant positition came about? I’ve even had companies create positions for me, because they knew me and wanted me to be a part of their team. You can make that happen too.
Then there’s the resume writing, cover letters, portfolios, and the actual interview process. All of these details are important, no matter how you are going about finding positions that are a good fit for you and the organization.
So that’s my approach to helping my students with their project manager career paths.
If you are serious about getting into project management, check out my project management career coaching course.
photo by aprilzosia