Project Management Career Q&A – Working for Free

I’m trying to get into my first project management role, I’m not sure where to start or even if I should consider working for free to get started?

Getting your first break in a formal and recognised project management position can be tough; especially so if you are entering the employment market for the first time. Project management as you have probably realised sees experience as king; so how do you gain the experience in the first place?

The mistake many people make when looking to get their first break in project management is making the assumption that the first role will be as a “project manager”. If you speak to any project manager working today you will quickly realise that 99.9% of them worked in different positions before becoming actually becoming a PM.

So having set the expectation levels, it is then crucial to understand what the market means when they talk about experience. There are two types of experiences you should be interested in gaining; firstly experience associated with the industry sector or area of business you are interested in and secondly experience associated to the delivery of projects.

For example, if you are interested in working as a Project Manager in an investment bank, it stands to reason that understanding how that sector works is going to be beneficial to your future career plans. You will want to know how that business operates, what the culture is like, what expectations do they have of their PM’s and more importantly what the expectations of a PM typically are.

Your career plan starts with an entry level post that will lay the foundations for your project management career in the near future. You should concentrate on positions that will expose you to experiences that will build great project management skills. Positions such as co-ordinators, analysts, planners and controllers are great entry level roles in areas of the business such as finance, legal, compliance, strategy and planning.

To gain experience of project management work you could work for free in the voluntary or charity sector but it may not be a realistic prospect, especially after any debts you incurred whilst studying. Private sector organisations are also offering unpaid work in the form of ‘interns’. Again, this should offer good practical experience yet it is still unpaid.

My advice is, don’t look for ‘quick-fix’ unpaid positions unless they really do offer you the opportunity of a first step on a career ladder. Rather, concentrate on finding an entry level job that will give you great workplace experience. Personally I think no-one should work for free in a profit driven organisation; morally I think that entry level employees should be rewarded for their work if it is of real value to the organisation.

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  1. I agree with the above article. Get into a position and work your way into projects. You’ll have a good understanding of the company and employers like a track record.

    The other alternative (if you can think of something to do) is to start your own business and run work like projects or work packages. You’ve then got experience of setting stuff up in the right way, running a business day-to-day and dealing with clients, stakeholders, communications, etc. Not for everyone, but it is great experience.

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