Starting Your Project Management Career

Getting started in project management can be tough. When starting out, there are many questions and challenges to face, and they are different based on your particular background and situation.

People who struggle with this come from various backgrounds:

Project Newbies – You might be a recent graduate or switching careers. If you have no experience whatsoever with working on or managing projects, it can seem almost impossible to get your foot in the door.

Technical Gurus – You have been on project teams and been “in the trenches” getting things done. Now it seems that managing these projects is your calling, but you have to go through a paradigm shift and learn new skills to make the transition.

People Managers – You have been managing people and are good at it. Now you want to expand your horizons and switch from the day-to-day management of functional teams to the dynamic environment of delivering unique projects.

You might be trying to break into project management, or you may be an “Accidental Project Manager” who looked up one day and asked, “What have I gotten myself into?” A project fell in your lap somehow. How do you get good at managing it?

The questions I get most from these groups center around expanding knowledge, gaining experience, and planning your career path. Answers change based on individual circumstances. Your personality attributes and background play heavily into the path forward.

Hard and Soft Skills

Natural aptitudes vary from person to person, but you can acquire a level of competency for nearly all project management skills through education and experience.

Hard Skills refer to competency with the tools and techniques of formal project management. If you are analytical by nature, hard skills are relatively easy for you to acquire and master.

Soft Skills or “people skills” include competency in communication and relationships with other people. Outgoing “people persons” have a natural aptitude to be comfortable in this arena, but can also engage in many ineffective approaches when lacking in knowledge and experience. Do not confuse personal attributes with soft skills. I cannot influence personal attributes and aptitudes, but I can teach soft skills.

Building Knowledge

Regardless of which group you belong to, you will need to expand your knowledge base.

Technical Gurus will likely pick up the hard skills quickly, but many of the soft skills practices of managing people effectively and politics may be somewhat new. People Managers will find soft skill nuances in project environments and many of the hard skills will be new territory. Project Newbies may be familiar with some of the theories in project management, but are going to need a lot of real-world knowledge, experience, and coaching to land that first job and formulate their project manager career path.

Some great sources of real-world project management education include:

* Blogs/Podcasts – Use sites like http://blogsearch.google.com to find them

* Books – Focus on the basics first, follow the cutting edge later

* Join PM Organizations – Local PMI Chapters are a great example

* Training – Focus on gaining useful knowledge, certifications come later!

Finding a Mentor and Gaining Experience

A mentor is a huge boon to you if you can find one. You can find mentors by networking locally or online, but be sure you approach them in the right way and offer benefit to them in exchange for their wisdom. Your goal should be to offer valuable assistance to potential mentors, with the hope (but not expectation) they will reciprocate by sharing their lessons learned.

Do not just ask to “shadow” them. What value are you offering them? Ask if there are tasks (mundane as they may be) that you could do for them, to free their time up. If you are a project team member, ask if you can help compile the status report or take meeting minutes during project meetings.

Donate your time; this is in addition to your current responsibilities. Whether volunteering for another organization or within your own company, this is a great way to gain experience. Within your own organization you should let it be known you are interested in project management; not just through words but by your daily actions.

What You Need To Grow

Is the organization you work for now a good environment for your desired career path?

Does your company make money by delivering successful projects, and/or do they respect Project Management as a formal discipline worth investing in? If so, you will likely see opportunities for entry-level positions in project management that provide specialization such as:

* Project Controller

* Project Coordinator

* Project Assistant

* Project Analyst

* Project Scheduler

* Junior Project Manager

* Assistant Project Manager

Other organizations may have a progression of technical or management roles through which you can pass and eventually start managing your own projects. Whatever your situation, put yourself into the best environment possible, and plan out your career path ahead of time so you have a roadmap with goals to follow.

Oh, and when you get there, be a mentor for someone else!

Career Advice – Career Change Over 40 – Is it Too Late?

Is it too late to make a career change over 40? There was a time when this might have been true and anyone giving career advice would have told you to stay where you were. But when it comes to jobs, things have changed dramatically for everyone and although some employers are a bit slow to catch on, the smart ones are employing older people.

Why is so much changing? You already know about the economy and the effect that is having on jobs. Another important factor is the changing population. More people are living longer and many people are having fewer children. So this means that in the majority of western countries, the population is aging. And, significantly, there aren’t as many young people to take their place in the labor market.

So what does this mean for you? If you are 40 or over, the first thing you need to realize is that your working life is likely to be a bit longer than you expected. But you had probably already figured that one out! You know you won’t be retiring any time soon.

With plenty of people living to 100 these days, that means around 35 or 40 years of life past the usual retirement age. And unless you have a private income, a huge pension fund or your children become incredibly wealthy, that means you will have to support yourself for all those extra years.

This information enables you to view career change in an entirely new light. If you are 40 now and are going to have to work until you are 80, you have what used to be an entire working life still ahead of you.

There are plenty of positive things about changing career in midlife. For one thing, you have around 20 years of work experience, which has taught you plenty. You have skills which can be used in many different work situations and you know what you are good at and what you enjoy doing.

So it will be easier for you to choose a new career based on interests and aptitudes. When you were in your twenties, a certain career may have held an appeal for you, but you didn’t have the experience to back up your choice. Now you do. There are also challenges involved in changing career at 40 or over.

You may need to go back to college which can be expensive and if you have been away from studying for a long time, you might wonder how you will cope. And of course you could find yourself in a classroom with a bunch of 18 year olds. But you probably won’t be the only mature student in the class and you will find that colleges are well equipped for dealing with students who have been away from education for some time.