Breaking into Project Management Career Next Steps

Paul Naybour

So you are thinking about a career in project management? Is it a good move? It is right career for you? What are your next steps? In this blog post we set out the step for anyone wanting to move into project management at a professional career.

Is it the right career for me?

In project management you are only as good as your last project. When you go for an interview with a future employer they will primarily be interested in how successful your last project was. They won’t expect all projects to be an outstanding success because some are the equivalent of mission impossible, but they will expect you to describe how you applied a systematic approach to overcome the challenges you faced. This is very important because anyone can have a lucky project but good project managers have a consistent and systematic approach. Research shows that successful project are delivered by

  1. Effective understanding of risk management across the team to ensure that everyone is working to the same process and risk are highlighted early enough for action to be taken
  2. The quality of risk ownership in the project team so that individuals within the team take responsibility for managing the risk within their own work package.
  3. The adequacy of a visible risk register which has good quality risk descriptions and realistic assessments of probability and impact so that is drive the correct decisions.
  4. The quality of understanding and acceptance of roles and responsibilities on the project so that members of the team are committed to the delivery of their work packages.
  5. Allowing changes only through a mature scope control process to minimise the unnecessary changes which may be imposed on the project without proper evaluation of the impact.
  6. Maintaining the integrity of the performance management baseline plan so that everyone is clear what has to be delivered when, for how much cost and to what standard.

Adapted from research by Terry Cooke-Davies at
Ensuring these are in place within your project needs both good leadership and a good understanding of how project management works.

What makes a good project manager?

Being a successful project manager is a real challenge you need to be able to
1.    Total honesty in all communications efforts even when bad news leads to conflict, anger and frustration.
2.    Focus on the delivery of the project objectives and not being diverted by emerging demands from differed stakeholder groups.
3.    Organized and detail-oriented with an ability to spot the possible areas of risk and how these can be effectively managed.
4.    A positive attitude even when the project is going through difficult times. It is easy to be a good project manager when things are going well, but much more challenging when the “going gets tough”.
5.    Self confidence and high self esteem so that you can motivate others and value your own contribution to the success of the project.
6.    An even temperament which comes from the ability to detach yourself from the day to day cut and thrust of the project and understand the overall strategic picture.
7.    Extremely customer-focused yet at the same time manage the expectations of the customer and minimise the level of change introduced to the project.
This combination of high self esteem and the ability for drill into the detail at the same time is a real differentiator for successful project managers. You need to be comfortable with strategic leadership and detailed tactics to see a project through to completion. You can use these criteria to evaluate if you are going to be a successful project manager. Are you organised, good at detail, passionate and yet determined to see things through to the end even if it is difficult and a bit stressful. Do you like working with other people, being responsible for motivation and leadership. If you can answer yes to these questions then project management might the right career for you.

What are the next steps

So you have decided you want to be a project manager what are your next steps?

Get a track record of successful projects?

The most important question you will be asked in you interview is “how successful were you at delivering your last project?”, closely followed by “what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?”. So you will need some experience leading a project work package or similar to answer these questions. You don’t need to be the project manager you just need to be able to describe how you have managed part of a project or a work package. Most people get this experience by successfully delivering a sub-package in a project as part of a project.
If you are not working on in a project environment then you can often get this experience in the voluntary sector. One of my colleagues is a volunteer Governor at the local school and he is supervising building project for them on a part time, experience like this is invaluable when it comes to finding a project management post. Many voluntary organising are looking for people to get involved in either as interns or part time volunteers a website called  has plenty of opportunities for people to get involved in local volunteer projects.

Plan your professional development?

Nowadays it’s very common for employers to want to see a formal project management qualification before you get the interview. This is a bit regrettable because it can stop many experienced project managers from getting to the interview panel. There are three main types of qualification that you can go for PMP, PRINCE2 or APM. As far as interview goes they normally ask for either. Which you do depends on your market sector. PMP is very strong with multi-nationals and overseas, PRINCE2 is very strong for UK government sector projects and IT projects, although it is growing fast overseas. APM is more is widely recognised in transportation, energy and defence sectors in the UK.

Get the contacts?

So you have decided project management is for you how do you go about getting your first project management job. Well first try your contacts, social networking can be a very powerful way to find new opportunities, specialist recruiters like Arras People are always willing to help with advice and guidance for good candidates.

2 thoughts on “Breaking into Project Management Career Next Steps”

  1. Paul,,
    How areu be u today? From my previous discussion and also emails I would seek your advice as a professional on the best steps I should take to make a career in project management as a starter or new candidate. And also of what help can you be pursuing the interest. Which is the best approach and guide as a novice who would in time also would want to acquire primavera p6 skills as well. Thanks and God blx

  2. Avatar for KENDRA AKWUNWA

    Dear Paul,
    I followed your comments on the project mgt forum and i am convinced that i will get the best of advice from you. I am relocating to canada by september and hope to get certified as a PM before leaving the UK. i have an MSc. Industrial Environmental Mgt and hope to go into consultancy in the future. Could you kindly advice me on the PM certification to get as most people say to do the PMI certifications – CAPM and PMP, are more recognised in canada while the PRINCE2 is basically a UK certification and will be of no use to me in canada?
    Can i getting CAPM certification before arriving canada enhance my chances of getting a good junior PM job as CAPM is just like the foundation step to PMP? Would a PRINCE2 foundation and practitioner be of any advantage to me in canada? can i do the prince2 since it is actually cheaper and is currently just started gaining recognition in canada? Please, advise me. Thanks a lot.

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