Project Management is considered a good career, with good salary levels, and statistics have shown that companies hire new Project Managers each year. But how do you get there?
It is a common misconception that obtaining a certification (Prince 2, PMP, Agile) will instantly make you a Project Manager. This belief is mostly propagated by those who are providing training for these certifications. It’s like thinking that you could become a taxi driver the day after you got your driving licence. Technically, it’s true but I would not bet my money on you. Not having a certification may exclude you from an interview, but it won’t give you any particular advantage against a non-certified Project Manager with experience.
So, how do you set off to a successful career in Project Managemen? It depends on where your starting point is and what kind of PM you want to become.
There are mainly two kinds of Project Managers: Generalists and Specialists.
Generalists are those Project Managers that focus more on the approach and methodology than a sector. They are usually found in consulting agencies and multinational companies. In general, all companies that have a PMO office, or simply more practice in conducting project management, are mostly looking for Generalists.
On the other hand, Specialists are found in companies that are highly focused on a specific segment, like banks, IT or construction companies. An oil company will not consider a specialized Project Manager with IT background for their new extraction site.
Tip #1: If you are looking to become a Project Manager in a specific sector, first build some experience in this sector. Don’t be afraid to spend a few years as a software developer or a DBA if you plan to have a career in IT Project Management. If you already work in the sector you want to evolve in, start by asking to be assigned to a small project (both in the budget and team composition). You can then build your theoretical knowledge by getting a first level certification on your company’s preferred methodology.
Don’t fall into the “know it all” mindset just because you have field background. Thinking that there is no expertise in handling a project and that it’s just an “extra layer of administration” gets some people never to move on from “Super technicians” or, in the best case, Team leaders.
Starting off as a Technical Project Manager will not prevent you from becoming a Generalist (as I can personally testify myself based on my career).
Once you are certified and know the trade, you start looking for opportunities in other sectors and by doing so you will “lose” your specialization and become a Generalist. Keep in mind that no knowledge is ever lost, you can always bring this as an added value in the future.
But what if you want to start off as a Generalist, with a career in consulting, for example?
The best approach would be to find a company with a PMO office and try working as a PMO professional. This will allow you to see Project Management from the sidelines and build some knowledge. Companies with PMO structure will usually grow their Project Managers internally, so you just have to wait for the right moment.
Tip #3: If you are looking for a job as a PMO Professional with a first level certification, your CV will probably be considered with more attention. Of course, during your career, you may shift from Generalist to Specialist and the other way around.
Tip #4: When choosing your first certification, you must consider the market around you. Depending on the country, some certifications have more appeal than others. Some countries (like Switzerland) have their own specific certifications. Nevertheless, a certified Project Manager is always a certified Project Manager, regardless of the methodology.