Taking steps to career success
As project management becomes more and more popular, we are seeing increased frustration from people wanting to break into it.
Like all good project managers know, it requires planning and dedication to make the transition into a project management position.
A popular way to try and kick start a career has been to take a PRINCE2 course and hope for the best.
But before you dive straight into enrolling on a project management training course, you will have a much better chance of breaking into project management if you follow these steps. And once you know how to go about it, it will be much easier to get that first break.
1. Be clear on what you are looking for or want to become
Many of the people I speak to on a regular basis trying to get into project management don’t actually seem to know much about the role, what is required or what role would suit them best.
There is nothing worse than a conversation that starts: “So tell me more about why you want to get into project management?” and ends with the same generic answers: “Well I’ve done a bit of it in my current role” or “Someone said I would be good at it” or even worse: “Because I’ve just done my PRINCE2.”
The answer to the question needs to show me that you have done your homework – that you have given this serious thought and have some insights into how project management works in various sectors or companies.
If you’re serious about breaking into project management – show me that you’re serious. I want to know which type of project management role will suit you and why, what career aspirations you have in project management and an idea about how you plan to get into the profession.
There is an expectation that just by showing an interest in a profession, people will help you into it – not so.
The drive, proactivity and enthusiasm you have needs converting into a statement of intent that packs a punch.
2. Learn everything you can about project management and the role
Immerse yourself in project management – read and devour everything you can. Don’t be caught out in conversations when people ask about certain elements of project management and you don’t have a clue.
Read books, whitepapers and blogs. Attend webinars, seminars and conferences. Speak to people in and around the profession.
When I talk to people who are keen to move into a project management role, I want to find out if they really are up for the challenge.
I’m looking for people who have already made the first steps towards increasing their knowledge, to see what project management means across industries.
Imagine a conversation that starts, “…you know, a role in a PMO might be a good place for you to start…” and ends, “….er what’s a PMO??” Don’t be the person that doesn’t have a clue.
3. Bring informal project management into everything you do
Chances are from all that reading and talking to people about project management, you’ll be more than aware that PRINCE2 doesn’t equal all things project management. In fact, you’ll probably be wondering what all the hype is.
It’s common knowledge that project management is just about a set of techniques – technical or otherwise – that help you get the job done.
You will most likely be doing ‘informal’ project management in your day job today. But just because the communications you carry out with people who have a vested interest in your work isn’t known as ’stakeholder management’, doesn’t mean you can’t get better at it by using some of the principles you’ve read about it in project management texts.
Keep adding new things into your daily work routine that you’ve learnt from project management and you’ll be ready for the next step in no time at all.
4. Now you’re ready to pick your training
By this point, you’ve already been using the principles of project management to help you do your current role better. Now is the time to think about the next step – gaining some formal project management training.
With all the work you have done in the first three steps, you should now have a better idea about which core elements of project management you need to learn.
Do you need to understand estimating or scheduling better? Or is writing business cases and gaining approval more important? Perhaps it’s your softer skills like team management or conflict management that needs focus?
Once you’ve really immersed yourself in the world of project management, you will realise just how small the part about learning the methodology is.
Training that focuses on the key competencies of project management will ensure that your investment won’t be wasted.
5. Make the case – and make it happen
By this point you are probably still working in your non-project management role that uses informal project management to do it better.
The next step is to start making the case that you’re ready to either move on to a project-centric role in your current organisation, or leave and find an opportunity elsewhere.
You will be able to write and talk about your current experiences now in a project-centric way – using common project terminology.
You will have a clearer idea about the competencies required to make it as a project professional, yet be realistic as to where you are today.
You’ve also invested in training to make it happen – a clear statement of your motivation and intent.
When trying to break into project management there needs to be recognition that it is a popular career choice for many people. To stand out from the thousands of PRINCE2 qualified newbies, you have to take a different approach.
You can start today, regardless of the job you are currently performing, by adopting the principles and basic techniques of project management in your everyday work.
Bolster this approach with formal project management training – being careful to select training which will support what you are trying to achieve rather than just giving you an accreditation.
The next steps are bringing those two together. Create a strong CV and talk to the network you’ve been building up throughout these steps.
Start applying for positions within your current industry that need someone with a more project-centric way of working. After all, why would you opt for two career changes? Moving into project management is plenty at this point
Stick to the plan, have patience and be ready.
Finally, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities everywhere. Project management opportunities do come in the least expected places.
Lindsay Scott is Director of Arras People, the programme and project management recruitment specialists and co-editor of Handbook of People in PM.
Find her on Twitter @projectmgmt