I am an international student recently completed an MA in International Business and Management. I have studied an introductory module in project management and am preparing to gain PRINCE2 certification. What advice would you offer to help kick off a career in project management in the UK or abroad?
Project management is increasingly becoming a career of ‘first choice’ – meaning that people are looking to get into a project management role without much works experience whereas previously project management was a second career choice.
Go back a few years, decades, and you’ll find that people had an original career first, let’s say as an engineer, and then they moved into project management. The opportunity to move into a project management role was probably out of necessity – meaning the organisation suddenly had special work that needed doing that was different from people’s day jobs and who better to give that work to than someone who just seems to get the job done. Before the engineer knew it, he was the organisation’s first Project Manager.
Today project management is everywhere. There’s the jobs actually working in projects, programmes and portfolios – then there’s the jobs that use project management skills to get work completed. Two very different things.
Our advice here at Arras for people looking to get into project management when they’ve graduated is to first of all, understand why you’re looking to get into project management.
This is about really understanding what it is about project management that has attracted you. Is it the desire to lead projects as a project manager? Or is it to work in a project environment, of which there are many different types of positions to be found? There are more things to think about and you can take a look at those in our graduates advice pages.
It’s difficult to get into project management but here you are at the beginning of your career, hopefully armed with a good degree, ready to explore the graduate based opportunities. That’s the first and obvious option. Which organisations are running graduate programmes which include project management positions? You can also check out the apprenticeships too.
You can also start to look at any of the supporting roles in project management too – do your research on roles like Project Co-ordinator, Project Support Officer, Data Analyst, even Business Analyst. Any role that is working in a supporting capacity in a project environment is going to be a good first step for your career. You’ll need to research hard to find the ones that are taking on graduates with minimal experience ( some organisations prefer to train you up in their mould).
If you’re finding it tough to get started, any position in an organisation that introduces you to the world of work is a good first step on the ladder. Consider any type of position that will see you working with teams; working with complex documentation and spreadsheets; working to deadlines; being self-directed – any work based skills which see you becoming an effective and efficient employee. Even better if you’re able to start working in an organisation that does have a project department because you’ll be in a good place to apply for internal positions when they come up.
What I often say to people when they’re trying to get into project management is to think of it as a series of stepping-stones. It’s difficult to gain a role first time in project management, mainly because there is already a lot of competition – even for the entry-level roles. So your first step as a graduate is to gain a role – any role that sees you working in a business (office?) environment that enables you to build up transferable, and employable skills. At the moment as a graduate that should be your first priority – your first step.
When you’ve taken that first step, you’ll start to see the second step as something different to what you think it is now. That’s because opportunities start to open up – opportunities that you don’t even know exist right now.
Just one more thing, you mention that you’ve taken a module in project management and getting ready to gain the PRINCE2 certification. Make sure you take a look at the Getting Qualified section of the website – you might find that PRINCE2 is not the option you should be looking at right now.
Good luck with the next part of your journey!
Find out more about the advice we have for graduates looking to get into a project management role. You can also ask a question yourself and see your answer here on the blog too.
Find out more about which project management qualifications might be the best ones for you.