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How to stand out as a newly qualified project professional

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There are plenty of good reasons to pursue a project management career. The finances alone are compelling. The latest APM Salary and Market Trends Survey showed an average salary of £47,500, despite the double impact of a global pandemic and Brexit. Forty-nine percent of project professionals now earn over £50,000.

Earning a project management qualification is a highly recommended first step in that journey. It provides you with vital project management skills, while making you more valuable in the job market. But once you’re certified, how do you stand out from others who, on paper, may appear just as well qualified as you?

Here are five tips on how to shine bright once you’ve got those crucial credentials.

1. Show what you’re capable of

Hirers love to meet self-motivated candidates with real-world experience, as well as qualifications. Even if you’ve never held a formal project manager job role, you’ve likely honed relevant project management skills in other positions. Say, for example, you’ve organised or managed a team, solved problems or ensured others deliver work to a deadline.

Keep a record of all relevant work you’ve done and what it entailed. This information can help bring a CV to life, become a compelling response in an interview, or be dropped into conversation when you’re chatting at an event to someone who can unlock doors for you.

2. Run your own projects

Project management can be a chicken-and-egg conundrum. As companies want to hire people with real project experience, if you haven’t already got it, you may feel stuck.

If you’re already employed, it may be wise to stay in your current role long enough to be given a low-stakes project to run. You can kick-start this process by suggesting project ideas to your line manager. Try to think of areas where success is measurable, such as a new process to save your department time or money, or to make your colleagues’ working lives easier.

If you’re able to dig down into the root of the problem, and show how you can improve it, you’re building project management skills you can shout about later.

3. Volunteer your time

Voluntary work is a great way to express motivation and to flesh out what you’re learning in your day job. APM provides a range of volunteer roles. For example, you can give time to APM branches, which provide networking and learning opportunities helping to organise events for our members.

Or you could volunteer with the Inspiring the Future service, going into schools and colleges to talk about how you got into your career. It doesn’t matter if you’re still starting out, seeing someone who’s early in their journey, or at a crossroads, can be inspiring to teenagers. You can tell them what work is really like and walk them through the next steps they may need to take. And you get to practise key communication and presentation skills in a new environment.

4. Know what you’re about

As project management is such a broad discipline, it’s worth examining why you’re seeking a career in the field in the first place. Make sure you can articulate that. The same goes for why you like your favourite project management books, blogs and podcasts. This will all help you define what type of industry or organisation you should be seeking work in, while demonstrating what motivates you and what you’ll bring to the table.

5. Join a Specific Interest Group (SIG)

APM’s SIGs serve as forums to discuss various aspects of project, programme and portfolio management – including risk, benefits management and the role of women in the field. They’re a gathering of everyone from beginners to experts, specialists to generalists from all sectors, designed to further the understanding and practice of relevant tools and techniques.

As such, it’s the perfect place to network and share ideas, to get involved with projects beyond your day-to-day and to develop new skills such as organising conferences and seminars and providing input into guides and white papers, while meeting peers from across the country and all sectors – plus, it shows you’re committed. Focus on an area you’re particularly passionate about and see where it takes you.

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