How to Become A Project Manager - with Lindsay Scott

Sep 24, 2014
9 Min Read

Recently, I interviewed six of the top project managers that were on The Fast Track's "Top 14 Project Managers to Follow on Twitter" list. One aspect that I didn't cover in the series of interviews I did with them was how to actually become a project manager. In order to learn about how to break into the project management world, I spoke to a seventh top project manager on the list, Lindsay Scott (@projectmgmt). Scott co-founded Arras People in 2002 following a career at Esso and Hewlett Packard. Following her graduation from Manchester University, Lindsay went onto work within the recruitment arm of Esso before leaving to join Hewlett Packard. At Hewlett Packard, she worked within the professional services consulting division, first as a Project Co-ordinator and then the Project Office Manager for the division.

Dan Schawbel: How does someone get a job as a project manager?

Lindsay Scott: Getting into project management for the first time can differ from person to person.

If you’ve recently left education and you’re looking to get into project management as a first job, you should be looking at the entry level positions that exist. Positions like analyst, planner, controller and co-ordinator are all roles that give you exposure to the project environment whilst building up your technical knowledge. Without previous experience in this field it is highly unlikely that you will gain a project manager position from day one, after all, how many college kids do you know that walk straight into a managerial job?

To maximise your opportunity, it stands to reason that you will have already started looking at the technical knowledge you will need to work within a project environment. Take a look at training programmes from organisations like PMI, APM, IPMA and APMG to get started.

Schawbel: What do you do if you're an employee whose looking to switch into project management?

Scott: If you are already working and have done so for a number of years but are now looking to switch your career into project management, you will also need to address your technical knowledge of project management. What tends to happen afterwards is that you will start to see your existing role in a completely new light. That’s the beauty of project management – it can be used in any job, because the tools and techniques are designed to help you manage anything, including yourself. So start using your new training and knowledge to start adapting what you currently do in a better way.

You should also look at your current organisation to see if there are any project related opportunities that could really use someone with your existing experience. For example, if you’re currently working in the finance department are there any projects currently running which could use a finance expert? The idea is that you gain some much needed hands on experience in your current organisation because these are the people who know you and know what you are capable of. If you were to resign from your job tomorrow and start looking for project management roles outside of your organisation you’ll just be yet another guy with experience in finance and none in project management.

Schawbel: How do you break into project management if you can't do it internally?

Scott: If there are no opportunities for you to pursue internally and you really are determined to break into project management through the wider marketplace, there are a number of activities for you to take a look at:

  • You will need to carry out some research to understand what industry sectors, business domains and organisations would be potentially interested in what you have to offer.
  • You need to identify what your USP is (your unique selling point)
  • You will need to do a personal stock take on your career to date and work out what it is in your experiences that would be attractive to an organisation looking to hire someone to work in a project management role.
  • You will then need to work on your CV (resume, if in the US) making the transferable skills you have clearly visible.
  • You need to carry on immersing yourself in project management – keep reading, listening and watching. Get networking and meeting people in the areas you have researched.
  • Be prepared for setbacks but make your own luck. Say yes to everything and anything that comes your way.
  • Ask questions. Talk to people in the project management field today, how did they get where they are? How could these insights help you in your plan to change careers?

You need to be resilient in your search as many organisations will have very specific requirements when hiring their project management staff.

Be ready for the inevitable objections and think about how you will respond to these in advance. You must also be prepared to take a reduction in salary as this reflects the fact that you have minimal project management experience day one.

Schawbel: What is the biggest mistake people make when trying to break into project management?

Scott: The mistake many people make when looking to get their first break in project management is making the assumption that the first role will be as a “project manager.” If you speak to any project manager working today you will quickly realise that 99.9% of them worked in different positions before becoming actually becoming a PM.

Be aware that getting into a project management role is never a straight path. There will be left and right turns, plain sailing ahead sometimes and at other times, dead ends. If the journey sounds daunting perhaps project management is not for you. If, on the other hand, you are someone who doesn’t give up easily, logically sees a plan forming and gets the resources together to make it happen, it sounds to me like you’ll be a great project manager.

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