This week Ask a Project Manager with Patrice Embry covers how to get started as a project manager.
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Issue #41

Ask a Project Manager: Getting Started in PM

Happy Friday, folks! It's been a minute since the last DPMish issue—and this week we're bringing back Ask a Project Manager with Patrice Embry. Today, Patrice gives us her advice on how to get started in the project management field and navigating the wide range of skillsets that project management covers.

A reader writes:
I am thinking of becoming a project manager, mostly because of the ways I can apply project management to a range of projects - from work, like developing a product, to at home, to fix up my house. That being said, I'm really struggling with where to even begin. All of my research points to either two areas - technology that can help me plan and organize, or articles that seem to expect me to have five years of experience already. Is there some kind of intuition that I'm missing? How do I even get started?

Patrice answers:
It’s funny, I get asked all the time about how I got started as a project manager, as do many of my peers. Most of us say the same type of thing: we were an ____, and then we (or someone we worked with) realized that we had great project management skills, and so we were moved into a PM role. Project management seems like a total accidental career for a lot of people.  

Some practical advice for becoming a project manager is to look for jobs like “project coordinator” or “associate project manager”, as they typically are more entry-level and don’t require direct PM experience. (Or see if your current employer has a PM role or could benefit from one, and pitch yourself there. Take a look at Louder Than Ten’s apprentice program!)

But if you’re not trying to start from the bottom and have a job history already, you can still use the experience you have to construct a PM-focused resume. Keep your resume in its usual format, but downplay (ie, not bold, not larger type, etc) your job titles, and frontload everything with as much PM-focused information as possible. Did you manage any initiatives? Organize information? Interact with stakeholders on a project? Take a look at a PM job listing and see if you can find things you’ve done that speak to the things they’re looking for.

After you land your interviews with your stellar PM-focused resume, be transparent (but confident!) about your experience. The last thing you want is to get a job that you’re not really ready for. Focus on how the things you do know how to do will help the company, and stress how you will train up - mention any PM classes you’re taking (ps:  take some) and talk about your rationale for wanting to be a PM, and your ability to learn quickly. And if they don’t pick you this time, that’s okay - there’s someone out there who will. Hell, I once interviewed for a project manager position after not having that exact title elsewhere, and in the interview, I kept referring to it as “product manager” and they still hired me. Sometimes hiring is more about potential than it is about previous experience, though I do recommend not getting the job title wrong.

Good luck!

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