A recent email from the mailbag echoes other email collecting dust in the mailbag, so I figured I’d beat the rush and answer here.
Hello I will be graduating college in two weeks and want to more about certain careers. Project management is one of them and thought you might have some insight, based on your blog. I have a few questions that I hoped you could answer.
Signed – Mr. Student who wants a job
Here are his questions, with answers.
Q: As a graduate how do I get on the path towards project management?
For most of the industries in the world you never start out as a project manager. That’d be like getting off a bus in L.A. and becoming the director of a $200 million Hollywood film. You have to earn responsibility through experience, which makes sense. Often people who eventually become project managers start out in more junior roles and after earning credibility move into project management. Without front line experience it’s easy for the project manager to have no clue as to what she’s doing, or have no idea how insulting or destructive their decisions are to folks in specialized roles. MBA graduates who enter the workforce with little other experience beyond MBA-structured internships have similar challenges.
There are exceptions. Some schools have programs that focus on management, or even project management, and likely know of corporations that have entry level project manager roles. Microsoft does – it’s called program manager. You start with very small slice of a project and if you do well, that area of responsibility grows. If you don’t do so well, you hit the streets.
2. Are there entry-level type project management positions?
See above. They do exist, but they’re industry specific as they should be. You might need to do an internship, or work for less than you’d like, to get in the door.
3. What skills should I develop to market myself as a project manager?
This is easy: WORK ON A PROJECT. Go make something. Grab a friend, build a website, or a blog, or something. Anything. Build a house. Build a couch. Make a movie. Volunteer your PM skills wherever you can in return for a reference. The best way to market yourself is to get experience, as there is nothing more dangerous for the world than someone who wants to be a project manager but has never managed a project in their life.
If you’re already at work in a non-PM role, tell your boss about your interest to have a more leadership role, and suggest small projects you can manage that are related to your current work. If you’re willing to do it on a volunteer basis, and sell it right, often you can get PM experience without having to risk your current job at all. Then you’ll know if you like it or are good at it, before taking a bigger leap.
4. Any other advice?
If you’re still in college invest heavy in finding other people who want the same kind of work you do. The network you make in school is incredibly valuable. A year or two from now you might be looking for a new job, or still trying to find a PM role, and the number of people you know in the field will help tremendously. One of the best things I got from going to CMU was a circle of friends who went to work in the same industry as me, and could provide advice, job leads or connections I couldn’t make otherwise.