Project Practitioners > What Everybody Ought to Know About Switching Careers to Project Management

What Everybody Ought to Know About Switching Careers to Project Management

By Josh Nankivel

I love it when people connect with me. It helps me to know that real people are out there somewhere behind the screen of my laptop.

I can't believe you all fit in there. It must be cramped. Technology is amazing.

That said, on with the show.

How to get your foot in the door - photo by phos365 via Flickr
How to get your foot in the door - photo by phos365 via Flickr


How do you break into project management when you have been running your own business for over a decade?

C. D. from New York City wrote to me recently asking about this. I'm going to jump in and out of first to third person, and I've updated this to be much more robust than my original reply via email to C. D. Stay with me now.

Here's the Skinny

C. D. has been running her own freelance business for many years, and even though it's been great and she does good work it's time for a change. Her whole life has been running projects, just not in a formal way aside from the processes that have emerged in her business. C. D. had read my post Run Away! (And Other Helpful Advice For A Career in Project Management) and is confident she possesses all of the qualities we discussed in spades.

"Although I have been managing projects for a while, and I believe I have a natural aptitude for it, I have no formal training in the field, and many of the industry terms tossed around on pmstudent.com and elsewhere are foreign to me. I've been heartened to find so much information on the Web, and yet, with so much, it's hard to know where to begin." - C. D. in New York City

Seems Like a Good Fit To Me

"It certainly sounds as if you have all of the attributes of a good PM. I completely understand where you are at, I was there about 5 years ago. I had managed a lot of projects, but with an operational mindset and without formal knowledge of project management." - Josh, from the front of the computer screen

I don't think she was pulling my leg about being suited for this kind of work either. I got a distinct sense through our communication that she is a go-getter, very intelligent, and has both the people skills and experience to go places very fast once she gets her foot in the door.

My Take

A few considerations come to mind:


Get Your Foot In The RIGHT Door

I think this is a critical thing that many job-seekers miss, regardless of your role. Look for an environment in which you can flourish first. I have a LOT of experience looking for jobs (hey, I didn't get fired OK?) due to having been laid off 5 times (so far). Things have rarely happened to me by throwing my resume out to the job boards. I stopped doing that long ago. When I started researching companies (not jobs), networking as a way of life by helping others (not just when looking for a job), and reaching out directly to people in my prospect companies, things began to happen. It's a lot of work and produces results.


There is no easy button.

1) Look for companies that are very project-oriented. Medium to large firms who's business model is geared towards completing projects for their customers are best. Several benefits here:

  • Once this kind of firm gets to a certain size, it's inevitable that they will develop solid, formal project management practices for their business. Otherwise, they die.
  • This is likely to be a mentor-rich environment.
  • You are more likely to be provided with formal PM training in a company like this.
  • You can join in a capacity you are already very comfortable with as a member of the project team; be a sponge, volunteer as much as possible for things related to project management....generate new ideas where you can volunteer even!


One Step Back Now, Two Steps Forward

2) Look for jobs that have titles like "project analyst", "project coordinator", "business analyst", etc. This is a bit hit-and-miss, because different companies call these positions by different titles. I had a job where I was an "MIS analyst" and doing development/process improvement to start out, then transitioned the % of my time spent doing project management up over time. You will be more likely to land a position like this right out of the gate than to have a significant project handed to you. This goes well with the last bullet from the previous section; make sure you are in an organization where you can volunteer to run small projects, go out of your way to assist and learn from veteran project managers, and establish a great track record in the organization.


Training

As far as training goes, I'm working on something to make getting into PM much easier than it was for me. I floundered around for a long time and ran into a lot of the same things you are describing. Right now, I'm working on training material that gets people past the "beginner" stage. The intent is for this training to be more like "look over my shoulder and see how I do it" rather than a theory-based abstract course.

Your Turn

You right there reading these words right now. Yeah, you! It's time to offer up your own advice for C. D. and others in a similar situation. Leave a comment below and let's have a conversation!

Who Is Josh Nankivel?

I am the founder of pmStudent.com, a site dedicated to helping new and aspiring project managers succeed.

Learn more about project manager careers right now with my free eBook and newsletter!



Related Links
There are ways to gain PM skills without waiting decades to accrue them. If you find PM lingo unfamiliar, consult this excerpt from the Dictionary of Project Management Terms for a few common terms (and some uncommon ones). If you're already in a mentor-rich environment, try setting up a coaching arrangement with a more experienced PM.


Comments
Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Dear CD

I only read this post today. I am from Singapore and had been managing projects for several years.
You could consider either taking up a full time or contract role with project management responsibilities.

This offers some structure in terms of project management responsibilities and you could also enjoy a better work-life balance.
Corporate projects are normally funded via formalised channels. Being full-time resources gave the management some assurance that some discipline in project management is in place.

Depends, on whether your schedule permits, you could also opt for contract roles as this allows some flexibility in the project duration. Sometimes, contract roles also offers stability and there is a fixed start and end dates.

Balancing family and other work-life considerations could be planned.

There are projects that involve some regional traveling too.


Dear CD
I wish you all the very best and hopefully you would have got a job of your choice.
I observed in your comments that you came across a lot of PM terms and jargons which is new to you. Yes, there is a lot of stuff on PM available online. PM area is ever evolving. Its an interesting and challenging profession since it deals with people and processes.
Take PMP exam and PMP certified!
If possible, volunteer for your local PMI Chapter.
This way you can keep in touch with the latest in PM world!
Once again all the very best!


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