How to start a career in project management?

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I am a 23 year old Psychology graduate who wants to embark on a career in project management. After researching about PM and talking to various people, It has been suggested that I first join a company then move into PM later.

This presents a problem for me, as although I gained a good degree, no one wants to employ someone with poor A-levels.

I have tried e-mailing various small to medium sized businesses to gain work experience or an internship but to no avail.

Does anyone have any suggestions about how to proceed, or how I can enter the profession. I would greatly appreciate any advice you could give.
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Many of us have been there. From experience, I would recommend signing up with a recruitment agency, specialising in an industry sector that interests you. Enquire along the lines of working as a project team member to gain experience from the project managers you work with. If you demonstrate drive and initiative, your time will come. Look for chances to become a team lead, and use it as a stepping stone to becoming a project manager.

You might want to think about obtaining the CAPM qualification from PMI or PRINCE2 Practitioner from APM Group Gaining a globally recognised qualification will show potential employers that you are serious about project management. This is a stepping stone to getting the PMP certification as you refine your skills and gain experience.

Best of luck in launching your PM career.

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Everyone is feeling the effects of the recession in relation to job markets and it doesn’t help that bosses are in just about the best position of choice since the mid sixties.

The fact now is that you have to be able to sell yourself more than ever and your CV and cover letter has to be top notch direct marketing (You are the product).

dhaughey has provided you with excellent advice, however, it could be a long haul from team member to project manager.

If you can afford it, what I would do is to offer to shadow a project manager for free, mainly to learn the ropes and also to network.

Lets face it, if your on benefits anyway you might as well do something with your time.

Doing this may help you get a couple of very crucial references and recommendations, also if s/he is impressed with your work they may be able to put you in contact with a firm or consultancy that is looking for someone.

Psychology is a good degree and project management is all about people skills, however, I would suggest that you get some good business books such as Organisational Behaviour, Marketing, Management, and whatever else you can lay your hands on to at least gain some understanding of business, the Harvard Business Reviews and news letters are very informative too you can sign up to them on their website.

The main thing is to set an ultimate goal for yourself, accept that its not going to happen tomorrow and focus 100% on a plan to achieve it.

Sooner or later you will get there.

The main thing is to spend some time in studying PM and Prince 2 along with at least MS Project 2010, MS @Risk and Project in a Box programmes and then getting them crucial qualifications before you start job hunting.

Finally, with this sort of experience under your belt, if all else fails, you may be able to become an independent project manager doing small to medium sized jobs.

My website Diplotechnic has some very good modules on it to help you rote learn the basic Prince 2 information. I am adding new material all the time as I progress so check it out every now and again.

Hope this helps a little.
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In relation to the previous replies to your message, I thought it might be helpful to say that the training company I work for offer PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner courses almost every week. A course like this can offer a fast route to gaining the PRINCE2 Practitioner qualification.

Another point is that there's a voluntary project management job board, through which you might find an (unpaid) position to give you useful experience and skills.

All the best,
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Amber Cane
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I agree that psychology is a good degree for PM because soft skills, like getting the most from your team and managing management, are essential.
All above are good also try reading as much as you can and following blogs. Useful links and ideas on Becoming a Project Manager on ... ct-manager. Good luck.
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I have been struggling with this dilemma for some time now. With all the very expensive low-level certificates dedicated to promoting the perspectives of individual Trade (professional) Associations that require repeated certification every few years I am wondering if joining them would actually be the right decision.

Like you I have a good quality first degree in strategic business and marketing and seriously believe that completing a three year part time course to gain a MS'c in Project Management for logistics qualification would be money better spent. All of these low level courses on average cost around £1,200, which is repeatable every three years. Whereas the three year part time MS'c using a career development loan only cost £1,950 plus books and will last a lifetime. Also students on this programme would be accredited by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, which is well worth having on your CV.

The MS'c qualification would also provide you with a fast track for promotion to a higher paid and more responsible position far quicker than the other lesser qualifications.

I suppose you could do both in order to cover all of your bases but would the accumulated expenses be justified when in fact you could buy the books and study the methodology anyway.

I have personally decided to go down the MS’c route starting next September. In the mean time I am studying all of the material for Prince2, ITIL, APM, MSP, ISEB, M_o_R and as many other Project and Risk Management books that I can find in addition to the relevant software packages.

I will probably end up having no choice but to take the trade association certificates as well, but will leave this decision to the end of the MS’c course for two reasons.

1) They may not be necessary (employer requirements)
2) If I took them now, I would have to retake them at the end of the course again because of the three-year re-qualifying rules and that may prove to be a waste of money.

The downside to that decision may prove to be the ‘previous experience’ problem that students face when seeking jobs and I know from experience that a lot of employers do not give adequate credence to experience gained through doing charity work. They seem to believe that that voluntary work is somewhat substandard and does not reflect a commercial environment.

I hope this discussion has helped you and not caused even more confusion in your decision-making.

Stephan Toth

Try to study more about project management articles from the Internet before you start your first job. Management professionals who choose careers in project management find their skills and qualifications enhanced by constant natural progression with each project completed.
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Anyone looking to start a project management career in 2011 should read this article.

How to Become a Project Manager - The Eight Skills Needed on the Path to Project Management by David Litten.

Project managers need general management skills, along with a knack for problem solving. Project managers are there to plan and manage the work - NOT to do it!

David runs through the project management skill set in this excellent article.

Good luck,
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I think everything said in here is relevant, however, I am sorry to say that I still believe that companies are looking for more than just some one to manage projects. This is borne out by the composition of most of the job adverts I have seen for project managers.

They all expect great project management skills but go onto say that they want further skills in the line of work that their business is doing.

Here are a few examples:

1) To be considered for the role of Software Development Project Manager, you must have:

- Significant experience as a project manager
- A proven track record of software development
- Experience or knowledge of programming languages, databases and web technologies


Delivery focused Structured Project Manager
Team Management Skills
Project Work stream Governance
Strong Communicator

-Experience/ Knowledge of Solvency II systems and processes
-Experience of Managing Teams
-Full Project Life Cycle experience
-Experience/ Knowledge and understanding of Sloven II/ Insurance businesses and product/ services
-Experience of identifying new business requirements, ageing priorities with IT and business stakeholders

3) Knowledge requires: - Project Manager / Oracle / EPOS / Retail

* Overall understanding of retail processes and IT is essential
* Ability to build and maintain key relationships with the business units and key project stakeholders
* Effective communicator at all levels and ability to influence at senior level
* Managing outsourced relationships
* Awareness of new and emerging technologies and business trends and seeks to use this to drive new innovative solutions.
* Positive and proactive, inspiring the team to attain goals and pursue excellence.
* Catalogue & Merchandising Systems (ERP)
* Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)

4) This will be delivered through a virtual team of key individuals across the retail bank and coordination with the divisional GRB project manager.

- Good excel and system skills
- Good knowledge of the use of databases (Cognos preferred)
- Project management experience
- Focus on accuracy
- Retail financial services performance reporting
- Qualified Accountant

So you see from the above four examples, though Prince2 and the various professional associations all say that project managers manage their projects by exception, employers seem to have a differing opinion of what they want from a project manager.

What they want are people who are firstly qualified or a professional XYZ but who are also qualified as a project manager.

So why are there such differing expectations expounded by Project Training organisations and Potential Employers.

Well from the perspective of the training organisations they want to convince as many people as possible to take up their courses. Once they have your money they don’t really care whether you get a job or not at the end of the training period.

From the employer’s perspective, they suffer from perceived indifference when it comes to projects. Yes of course they want the results, on time and on budget, but they don’t really like this idea of project managers stopping other people earning money for the company by holding endless meetings to find out every detail of a rats ass about every conceivable project activity.

What most of them want is some one who knows their game and can go away and as cheaply as possible come up with a well thought out and viable project plan.

And that dilemma presents all of us newbies with the age old chicken and the egg problem, how do we get broad ranging relevant experience if very few employers are willing to either train us in their business or allow us to work on their projects to get the necessary experience.

Now I am a fully apprentice trained decorator, I am also fully qualified in heavy goods vehicle repair and maintenance, I have a degree in strategic business and marketing, I have numerous qualifications in business administration but all of this means absolutely nothing.


Because even if I gained all of the Prince2, PMI, AMP, ISEB, MSP, AIPM, PMP, CAPM and PgMP qualifications, I would have a major problems to overcome.

The fact that not many employers screen job prospects these days. They leave the initial screening up to an employment agency who is provided with a definite list of criteria which they have very little discretion over. Even if you are a brilliant personal sales person your talent is wasted on these people because they will not allow you to speak directly to the employer. If they do decide to speak to the employers personnel department on your behalf, your well thought out sales pitch is reduced down to a few pertinent facts that are put across in an indifferent manner to another equally disinterested person who is working from the same candidate criteria.

The problem with personnel managers is the same even they do not go through an employment agency and you manage to arrange your own interview. They are working from a requirements list provided by someone else who does not want to be bothered by anyone that does not completely fulfil the requirements on the list.

You may blag an interview but will very quickly get the response, Hmmm, ' your education achievements on your C.V are very good but can you tell me how many successful projects have you run or taken part in for say, a 1.5 million pound decorating contract for local government housing estates. Or, setting up 5 million pound franchise for another burger bar chain or 150 million pound garage dealerships for a car manufacturer, or national or international marketing campaign project for a multinational company.

Then if were me, what could I do but look glumly at the interviewers and say, 'Weeeeeeellllll, I haven’t actually done any projects yet', then go on to smile and say, 'but I know all the theory'.

Hmmm says the personnel officer as s/he looks at me sympathetically and goes on to say, 'I'd love to help you, but we are looking for someone with a little more practical project experience than you have at the moment, but don’t worry we will keep your name on file and as soon as you have gained some relevant practical experience please do give us a call'.

In other words, he is thinking, idiot, we stated on the job ad exactly what we wanted in a candidate so why are you wasting our time.


So how do you overcome it, well, you could sign up to an existing project consultancy firm either as a trainee or on a commission basis, taking on small projects to start with and building up your experience.

You could volunteer for a position within a charity to gain some experience (before applying to the consultancy firm)

You may take a local or national government job starting as an AO or AA and once you have secured the position network your project management abilities in the hope that they will eventually give you an opportunity to work on a viable project, maybe as an assistant to begin with then progressing to running your own projects as you gain experience.

You may decide (and this is my favourite option) to start your own project management company, starting small with some building projects and working your way up to larger more complicated projects in the future.

Maybe you could team up with an experienced freelance project consultant who would be willing to take you under his or her wing as an assistant while you learn the trade.

The fact is that the experience gap has been the downfall of many brilliant and talented students in all areas of business because employers are not willing to finance a trainee or take the risk of a project failure.

So your first project is on yourself in gaining that very valuable initial experience.
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Are you trying to work offshore?
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