Project Management Q&A – Will Volunteering Help Break into PM?

I’m trying to get into a project management role; should I do voluntary work? Will it help me break into project management?

There’s a lot of frustration when it comes to trying to break into project management – no experience, no job – no job, no experience – a classic chicken and egg. Trying to figure out ways of getting into project management can be difficult. It can feel that volunteering and working for free are the only options available but my advice is to exercise caution before you proceed.

You need to make sure that you’re volunteering for all the right reasons; what problem are you trying to solve by volunteering? What are you hoping the volunteering opportunity will bring to you? Gaining project management experience that is good enough so it will open doors to paid employment?

Voluntary Work Won’t Guarantee Relevant Experience

Voluntary work may not open doors for you in this way and here are a few reasons why. Voluntary work won’t necessarily mean you’re gaining good project management experience which can then be used to step into a paid position. Often voluntary work is more of the informal project management approaches to work – the kind of skills that most people use to get things done, like planning a wedding. In voluntary roles, the outcomes are more important than employing formal best practice project management to get there – robust planning techniques, risk management, stakeholder analysis and so on.

You could end up feeling more frustrated as it’s not giving you the experience that you need. What a voluntary opportunity can bring to you is the self-confidence and feelings of self-worth that are crucial when we’re looking for job opportunities. Finding the right opportunity can also be tricky. Not many voluntary opportunities are advertised – they don’t have the funds for that – so many of them will be through your own network or in your local region. I wouldn’t dismiss the idea, just be realistic about what this opportunity is going to potentially give you.

Alternative Approaches

There are two alternative approaches to getting into project management to consider. The first is to utilise the here and now. Wherever you are working today, make it your plan to increase your project management knowledge as much as you can. That can be a formal training course, like the CAPM, reading books and blogs, webinars, anything that helps you further your thinking.

You can start to adopt some project management practices into your day to day work, like planning. Scout out the opportunities that exist in your organisation today. Is there a role on a project available? Is there the chance to join that team? Can you hang round project managers in your firm until they take the hint? What that means is, you need to be 100% committed and driven to make this happen for yourself – don’t give up and make your own luck.

The second is your own network. There are lots of people in your network that know you, what you’re capable of and how you’re a great person to have around. It’s these people who have the opportunities – or friends of friends – who can make the introductions. So many people get into project management through someone they used to work for, or an old boss that’s now in a new organisation. Both of these approaches need your commitment, passion, energy and drive to make it happen, believe me when I say, this is how people today begin their careers in project management.

Have you had any experience in Project Management Volunteering yourself? Did it help gain experience? Let us know in the comments below.


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