At least a few times a month I have someone reach out to me who is looking to become a project manager or looking at how to shift their career to project management. It’s something I am always excited to help with because project management is usually a career you stumble upon so getting a clear trajectory can be tricky. It’s also hard to define exactly what a project manager does. It totally varies from type of company to type of project. There are some universal traits and skillsets across any PM. I always ask the question:
We all know that kid and now adult. It’s the person who plans weddings, parties, and trips. It’s the person who is quick to find a system of communication for large groups that’s tailored to the needs of the individuals. It’s the person who will check-in to make sure people have what they need to be the best version of themselves, whether it be direct support or removal of blockers. Where can you get started?
Read about agile, waterfall methodology, project management, and lean start-ups. Go on the Digital Project Manager and Louder Than Ten and absorb everything you can. I have also been really digging PM Happy Hour Podcast, and they have a few episodes on getting started a PM you can check-out. If you’re still enjoying yourself, that’s a really good sign.
You can be a project manager in many fields. It’s likely if you’re reading this you have an interest in a digital space. Have you started coding on Code Academy? Practiced your design skills in Figma? Made a test roadmap in Team Gantt? Find the thing that’s holding your attention and start there. You also might be looking in the position you currently have if you’re employed. Try to transition to own more project management-related duties to avoid starting cold with a new company if possible.
I highly recommend looking online for various free courses to get you comfortable with using the terms/language surrounding project management work. This can help you with your interviews as you’ll find you’ve done a ton of things that are “technically” projects (a thing with a beginning and an end). You’ll need examples of projects you’ve led to be able to speak to them fully as you look for jobs. Good examples being events you’ve worked on, training workshops you’ve led, or even some extracurriculars you’ve been a part of. If you do have the extra $$ to get a certification, you can absolutely look at Scrum Certifications (I received my CSPO from Agile Velocity and can recommend it). Usually, these types of certs are for those with some experience and you might feel a little lost starting right away with those. I usually recommend getting the job and then asking for those classes as part of your hiring contract. Udemy has great PM courses to get you started.
There are plenty of great online resources for communities includes the DPM and Bureau of Digital. Meetups are also great places to start some local connections. For instance, in Austin, we have Kickass PM, a local Austin meet-up for project managers.
Do your best to message people directly to meet for coffee (or digital coffee nowadays). Go to meetups both in-person and online, get involved with the community. This is always a “who you know” game and the more you play, the likely you are to be remembered when someone needs a junior PM for a minor project. Things build from there. Lastly, be sure to update your LinkedIn to mention you’re looking for a project management type role.
This will evolve as you look for jobs and should also be iterated when you land a job. Evaluate what makes you stand out with the following prompts:
Project managers are the people who grease the wheels of an organization. They uphold quality, ensure budgets are met, retain employees, and enable trust across all project team members and clients. In short, they allow everyone else to do their job. If you’re in it for the applause and praise, just know PMs are usually the last on the list. However, a good organization knows the value of project managers and what they bring to the table (or what can happen if they’re not there).
Project managers don’t tell people what to do. They are not coaches; they are the conductors, leading a range of musicians to produce harmony and flow. If that’s something you think you can take on, get started.