How I Fast-Tracked to a Career in Project Management
Monday Jul 31st, 2017
Let’s face reality – it is so difficult to get a job these days without relevant work experience, and Project Management is one of those professions – we all know this.
As a young Project Manager, I have always been asked how I managed to obtain the type of work experience to get hired as a Project Manager at companies with high stakes projects. So I thought to share some honest and realistic advice for young and aspiring project management professionals here. These 4 pointers are not exhaustive, but I hope it can help spark some ideas of creative ways to get some relevant experience to break into the profession.
1. Go beyond academics while in University
In a Data Mining and Business Intelligence course during MBA, our professor told us that our final project would be to pick a problem of our choice and use data mining tools to gain intelligence on that problem. While most students picked academic or hypothetical problems, my project partner and I approached a pharmaceutical company with a proposal to asses any problem and provide them with some insights to solve it and that we would do this for them for free. The company obliged but required that we put strict timelines in place, engage their stakeholders, present regular status to executives and perform a whole series of other project management activities. Yes, this was a lot of work but not only did we perform data mining, we gained excelled project management skills and got some great professional references post the project!
2. Rise above your job description and create the job you want
In my personal experience, sticking to your job description and relying solely on your boss telling you what to do is not the best idea early in your career. At this stage, you need to make sure that you get the experience you need to somehow get to your final career goal. I knew I wanted to be a Project Manager, so even when I started out as a Business Analyst at a manufacturing company, I made sure that after I completed my Analyst responsibilities, I also performed Project Management duties.
How did I get the permission to do this, you ask? Simple. I spoke to senior project managers and asked them if they would let me shadow them and execute a small phase of their project. While some project managers were hesitant to give away a portion of their work to an amateur, one agreed...and the rest is history.
3. Create a professional network and keep it alive
I know you have been told to network several times, yet I still cannot emphasize the importance of this enough - you NEED to NETWORK.
When it comes to networking, many envision those awkward University alumni wine and cheese events, where everyone is on a mission to end up with the largest pile of business cards so that they can later contact their 'network' for a job. But networking is not this opportunistic. Networking is a consistent, mutually beneficial relationship, where both individuals trust each other. To build a network, you must create friendships in your professional circle and must offer that individual something to enrich themselves, grow and support them in their endeavours. This is how you build trust and demonstrate integrity and this is often developed over several years. Once you establish such a network, people will not hesitate to recommend you to any opportunity. In my short career thus far, I have been very fortunate to receive great jobs because I was referred to the opportunity by someone in my network who trusted me. I have shown my gratitude by paying it forward and connecting others in my network to any opportunities I may find.
4. Better and effective communication is critical to your success
Keep striving to improve your communication skills so that you can connect with and engage people at all levels in your organization. Yes, the secret to being a good project manager is to manage the triple constraint, lead teams and execute within budget and schedule (among other things!). But what makes a GREAT project manager is someone with strong communication skills. How you articulate your ideas and the conviction with how you present them, is what will increase the engagement of your team and executives. Strong communication skills will lead to success during important negotiations, which you will find yourself doing a LOT of as a Project Manager.
But no one suddenly becomes a charismatic communicator overnight. It took me several years and many projects later to be able to articulate my ideas clearly and present with confidence. It really comes down to practice and putting yourself outside your comfort zone. If you currently don't have project management opportunities to challenge your communication skills, don't worry. Consider joining your local Toastmaster's chapter or look-up other speaking and presentation clubs in your area and give that a try.