Breaking into the project profession can be tough. In a world with geopolitical uncertainty and a sea of high-quality candidates, competition for entry-level jobs has never been more fierce. But the good news is that there are numerous pathways to help you enter the project profession, whether you’re a student, military leaver, career changer or workplace returner.
In September, with the support of Allianz Insurance, APM hosted a ‘Starting Your Journey in Project Management’ event, where attendees shared their experiences and advice for getting started in project management.
This article summarises our nine top tips from that event for those looking to enter, settle into and make their mark in the project profession.
Landing your first role:
- When applying for entry-level roles, focus on presenting a mix of soft skills, technical skills, and practical experience. Given the project profession is so people-focused, soft skills such as communication and teamwork, are just as important as technical skills such as budgeting and planning, if not more so. Make sure you present a rounded profile. When it comes to experience, you’re not expected to have run multi-million pound projects, so draw from non-work examples where you may have run events, organised teams, or volunteered with charities.
- Remember that the project profession is made up of a range of different roles, not just project managers. Roles such as Project Assistant, PMO Analyst, and Project Administrator are great ways to take the first step in your project career, so don’t be afraid to apply for different things.
- There are many pathways into the project profession that offer dedicated support, training, and development. Alongside applying for entry-level positions, explore supported routes such as apprenticeships, graduate schemes, or ex-military programmes. Not only do these programmes offered a clear pathway, but they’re great for meeting other early-career project professionals to share your journey with.
Settling into your first role:
- Once you’re through the door, remember that the hardest part of your career is the beginning. As well as learning your individual project, you’re also trying to learn the project management craft. APM is here to support you on this learning journey with resources like the APM Learning.
- Lean on the expertise around you. Everyone has different strengths, so use those to your advantage. Network with other entry-level colleagues, observe senior professionals in action and attend events on new and upcoming industry topics. Finding a mentor is a fantastic way to achieve this, either locally within your organisation or by signing up to APM’s mentoring programme.
- As you grow into your role, remember to prioritise your emotional intelligence and people management skills. You’ll quickly learn that project management is a people-focused profession, so focus on building strong relationships and understanding what makes your stakeholders and team members tick.
Kicking on and delivering your first project:
- Even as you find your feet, remember that it’s always good to ask questions. Delivering your first project will be daunting and there will undoubtedly be questions as you go. Leaning on the project team and other stakeholders will allow you to understand the world around you and therefore feel more comfortable as you hit your first milestones.
- There’s no such thing as a perfect project – you’re going to make mistakes and that’s ok. During the life of any project, it’s much easier to make mistakes, own up to them and fix them than it is to try and brush them under the carpet. As a leader, promote a culture of honest failure within the team, and work with your line manager, sponsor and mentors to plan ways to correct mistakes as and when they happen.
- As you move forward in your career, don’t be afraid to continually ask for feedback – after all, it’s the best way to grow. Make that both during and after your projects (particularly your first one) you ask stakeholders for feedback to what can be improved for the next project. As you mature into your role, the APM Competence Framework is a great tool for assessing not only where you can improve, but also how far you’ve already come.
Getting started in the project profession can, at times, feel like there’s a mountain to climb. But the good news is that there are various routes into the profession, whether that’s straight into the role of a project manager or through any number of project support roles.
Once you’re in, remember to give yourself time to find your feet. Lean on the expertise of those around you, gain knowledge through mentorship, and dive into any and all opportunities to learn new skills.
This blog was co-written by James Elliot, Daniel McCoach and Shannon Burgess
Daniel McCoach is a Project Manage at Allianz UK. Dan joined the Allianz UK IT Graduate Scheme in 2011 rotating through 4 placements as both a Project Manager and a Business Analyst. Following the Graduate Scheme, and choosing the PM path, Dan’s worked as an IT Project Manager for the last 8 years, delivering a wide range of projects from the development of mobile apps to transforming Allianz’s office estate. Dan’s most significant achievement was leading the IT workstream of a 3 year multi integrational Claims project (worth £3.5m) which won him the APM’s Transformation Project of the Year award in 2020.
Shannon Burgess is a Project Manage at Shared Services Connected Ltd. Shannon joined the Sopra Steria graduate scheme in September 2019, working in various roles within consulting, business development and project management. Shannon then moved to SSCL as a full time Project Manager, working on a number of projects in the technology and HR transformation space, including implementation of a Digital Assistant and a business reporting solution. Shannon is currently leading the technology projects portfolio as part of an £100m transformation programme, combining her consulting and project management skills to deliver real change in the technology space. Shannon is passionate about diversity and is part of the Women’s Inclusive Network (W.I.N) committee within Sopra Steria, working with companies to host events and form strategic partnerships, to support and encourage women’s careers.