What do you want to do? A question we rarely get asked once we’ve left school or university. But a question we should often ask ourselves, no matter where we are in life. Changing careers and stepping into the project profession can be daunting, but we’re here to help. We spoke to different project professionals from a range of backgrounds for advice on how to get started on your journey:
1. Do your research
One of the most important things when changing careers into project management is finding out what projects are. George Edwards, Defence Project Manager, highlights that ‘project’ often just translates to something that ‘needs doing’, with the assigned person referred to as a ‘project manager’ by default. This can unfortunately lead to misconceptions about the role. In essence, project management is a discipline relying on the careful application of methods, knowledge and skill to deliver a final product within a set time span.
George says: “There is often a vast difference between delivering a piece of work and managing a project within an established project or programme environment. Speaking with someone of the right level of qualification and experience is crucial in gaining an insight as to whether project management is right for you!”
Mark Wemyss-Holden, Project Manager, echoes this: “I would absolutely encourage anyone to consider such a career switch, just with the caveat that it is that – a career switch! Project management can be thrown around loosely as a catch-all job description, which can confuse any budding project manager and undervalue the profession. Treat it as a career path, view it as such and look to build specific knowledge and skills that will help make sense of the world you’re joining!”
2. Prepare yourself for the change and challenge
“Don’t underestimate the change, but don’t let that put you off. There are heaps of transferrable skills that will relate to project management, you just need to realise what those skills are and use them to your advantage, while working on any areas you’re not too confident in,” adds Wemyss-Holden.
“There is a wealth of resources out there to help any aspiring project manager learn the ropes. First and foremost, APM, whose resources are a fundamental starting point to absorb some of the key terminology and concepts that go along with project management.”
3. Consider staying in the same sector
Hannah Taylor-Hemingway, Director – Project Management, recommends changing to project management within a sector you already know, “that way you already know the sector, abbreviations and processes, you just have to learn the core skills to be a project manager. I was mid-30s when I made the decision to change careers, which was a leap of faith, but did so with the safety net of moving teams within the same organisation. I knew my new team well because I had worked with them previously and they knew that, whilst I had the potential to manage a project, I still needed to learn how to be a project manager. With their help, support, and encouragement I was quickly able to fill in the gaps of what I didn’t know”.
4. Plan your entry and route
“Starting out as a project manager is appealing, but it’s also a lot of pressure and responsibility,” reminds Edwards. Success in project management relies on knowledge as well as experience. Think about how you want to begin you journey, “as project managers, we rarely act alone and are often supported by a team; roles such as an assistant project manager, or business analyst, or those based within a project management office. These offer a great first step into the project environment because they’ll build your knowledge and experience of how projects are managed before you elect to manage one yourself.”
5. Complete a qualification to validate your experience
Knowledge is key when it comes to managing projects with success so find one that’s suited to your needs. “APM has three key qualifications pitched at different levels. I completed the APM Project Management Qualification (PMQ) course after a few years of managing projects,” says Edwards. “It cemented my experience, providing me with a frame of reference for things I’d done, and training within aspects of project management I hadn’t yet explored. If you’re new to project management, the APM Project Fundamentals Qualification (PFQ) course is an ideal starting point to build that foundational knowledge.”
6. Just go for it!
Sometimes, you have to take a leap, says Natalie Williamson, Project Manager: “You will honestly never look back! There’s so much more to project management that you don’t even realise until you’re working in the profession. There are a variety of skillsets required and such a range of different methodologies and tools that you can adapt to each project you’re working on. It’s such a rewarding profession where you’ll continuously be learning and improving with each project you complete.”