Project Management Careers Q&A: Moving from Manager to Project Manager

I have what may be a unique situation. I spent over 20 years of my career managing people and projects both in a production support role and minor development. I am currently pursuing a PMP certification after completing training. My question is, what role should I target in Project Management for any new opportunities that arise? I feel I have enough experience managing people to be above project coordinator and Project Manager I level. I don’t feel confident to interview for experienced project manager and that would not be totally honest anyway. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Think about the opportunity from the hirer’s point of view – they will be looking for an experienced and qualified candidate for the position. What does this mean? They’ll be looking for evidence that someone has worked in a formal project management role before, plus they are often looking for someone with specific experience in a certain industry too. Your experience to date will be seen as informal project management – projects were most likely run not in accordance with best practice – such as those practices within the PMI Body of Knowledge.  At the moment you’re also currently without the PMP certification too. You’re at a disadvantage when you consider the competition you face for those opportunities but not all is lost.

The key thing here for you is to gain that formal project management experience (as well as the PMP certification) – it’s the first stepping stone or hurdle to overcome. If that means taking a Project Manager I level role first – a position which you feel you are more than capable of doing – do that, get your foot in the door and start doing a great job. It becomes much easier then to take the next stepping stone. Another thing to remember is make sure you build on your current experience. You may not want to pursue a project manager role in a similar environment to the one you’re working in now but your experience in the industry will most likely be the thing that swings it for you in a new opportunity. Hirers are looking for formal project management and specific industry experience – without one of those being available to you right now, you have to make the industry experience work for you.

One more thing to be aware of – not all organisations have a strong grasp on what a project manager does – and they certainly don’t make it easy by articulating different levels of project manager within their business as Level I, II and so on. Sometimes you have to try to interpret a potential opportunity the best you can with the description that’s available. A role might have a title like Project Coordinator but really it’s a Project Manager they’re asking for – and vice versa. Sometimes you just must go with an opportunity to find out more so don’t let your confidence levels hold you back. Be brave. The best thing you can do is get out and about, interviewing wherever you can, talking to other people and seeking out opportunities to try to work out which roles will ideally be suited to you as you take the first steps as a PMP certified project manager.


This Q&A originally featured in PMI’s PM Network magazine – June 2017 edition.

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