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Advice For the Entry-Level Project Manager

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This is a very exciting time for you. Being a project manager can be an extremely fulfilling career, professionally and financially. Being a strong leader comes with major benefits that touch every aspect of your life. 

Not to mention being a project manager gives you a wide range of opportunities when it comes to industries to work in and cities to live in. 

But starting anything new can be a little confusing and uneasy, and that’s completely normal. 

To get you started down the right path to becoming a successful and seasoned project manager, we’ve gathered some words of advice to take with you on your journey. 

From skills that are going to help you on a daily basis to general tips and techniques, here’s our advice for the entry-level project manager. 

What Does an Entry-Level Project Manager Do?

Right from the start of a project, the project manager is responsible for putting together a project plan, spelling out both the long-term objectives and the short-term details. Don’t worry – the team is there to help!

One of the first tasks of the project manager is to create the project charter. The project charter is a big picture overview of the entire project, from budgetary expectations to schedule plans and predictions. With help from other subject-matter experts, the project manager has to research and anticipate the needs of their team and provide the client with realistic expectations of project outcomes. In other words, the entry-level project manager is like any other PM – this person leads the team in initiating, planning, and executing the project plan.  

But, how do you start this career?  Read on.

What Is the Career Path for a Project Manager?

The path of a project manager heavily depends on you. Some project managers are focused and driven and will inevitably step up to manage larger, more complex projects. You’ll start with smaller projects to build your experience. You’ll soon begin to pick up projects with more responsibilities. Especially when you start your career,  you want to pace yourself with a growth trajectory that you can sustain. 

That last part is critical. Project management isn’t about working until you crumble. You need to know your limits and capacity and push yourself, but in a way that strengthens your skills, not diminishes them. Eventually, your skills and responsibilities will grow to the point that you’re a top-tier project manager!

The career path for a project manager tends to evolve. As the project manager gains more experience, that person receives more challenging assignments – more complex projects, larger teams, and initiatives that are more important to the organization. Some project managers grow into program or portfolio management positions, as their abilities and responsibilities expand.

How Do I Get a Project Manager Job With No Experience?

If you’ve been eyeing your first project management position, odds are you don’t have any actual experience in the role. And that’s ok because everyone starts somewhere. 

There are a few steps you’ll want to focus on to put yourself in the best position to get the job, even without prior experience: 

  • Develop Related Skills: Just because you haven’t been a project manager doesn’t mean you can’t build your management skills in other roles. Get work experience in leadership positions and show that you know how to handle the basic responsibilities of a project manager. Remember that most project managers start as team members, learn technical skills, and then are asked to lead portions of a project. Develop those skills along the way.
  • Work on Your Resume: We don’t just mean add to it. Really sharpen it up. Project managers need to be organized and streamlined workers, and your resume should reflect that if you want the job. Point out your project experiences and responsibilities in your resume. If you led portions of the project, be sure to highlight that experience.
  • Continue to Learn Tools: Again, you don’t need to be actively working as a project manager to pick up the skills you need. This applies to the tools you would be using as well. Getting a basic understanding of the day-to-day programs and duties you would need to know as a project manager will be fantastic on your resume. If you are a team member, ask your project manager to show you those tools. Ask which tools provide the most value to that PM. 
  • Pursue Higher Education: You can absolutely become a project manager with just a high school diploma, but a college education is going to get you going faster. And if you’re interested in further education, a Master’s degree may open up further career opportunities. You’ll more than likely make more money than your Bachelor’s degree friends, too.

Here are a few other quick tips:

  1. Get trained as a project manager. You can do this on the job or by taking courses. Velociteach offers self-paced, online courses that help you to develop and hone skills critical for all project managers including communications, leadership, and many of the technical skills you might still be lacking.  Velociteach also offers instructor-led training for groups on a variety of project management skills including leadership, project scheduling, risk management, and many more topics.  For the aspiring project manager, our Project Management Fundamentals course is a great way to learn the language of project management as well as the secrets of the best project managers and the factors that make them so successful.
  2. Velociteach highly recommends you get a mentor. Reach out to professors or current project managers at your organization and inform them of your ambitions. More than likely, they’ll be excited to help. We offer more tips on successful mentoring relationships in this course by Neal Whitten.
  3. While working with your mentor, find out what metrics or key performance indicators matter to them and senior management.
  4. Soak in any and all information. Follow project management podcasts, learn about the various project management tools and approaches employed in your industry, and ask for any resources your mentors or company can provide.

Project Manager Skills

Whether you’ve just graduated with your Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, or decided to start the road to project management out of high school, there’s always room for growth. 

In fact, constant improvement is one of the core tenets that all project managers share. And while there are plenty of specific skills to be strong in, we believe these are some of the most important to focus on.

Project Management Skills

Project management skills can be split up in a number of ways, but there are certain groups of skills  that are critical regardless of your experience level,  industry, or the size of your group.

Communication:

As we said, the project manager is the middleman between multiple different departments. Project managers connect the team working on the project with the client, the stakeholders, and upper management. Quoted from this highly-rated course, “until I deliver the product to the customer, communication is my deliverable.”

This means that the project manager needs a strong ability to communicate and address any topic that comes their way with clarity and a professional tone. For example, you may not speak to your client in the same manner as you would a familiar team member. 

Knowing the difference is an important skill  for a successful project manager, and being able to switch conversational gears on a dime is essential.

Leadership: 

Leadership is a skill that seems difficult to describe but easy to recognize. Every project manager has their own leadership beliefs and strengths.

There are a few specific qualities of a good leader to focus on when it comes to project management:

  • Inspiration: Be someone who can motivate the team. This could be a practice of motivational techniques that involve the whole team. Or, perhaps you lead by example and inspire those around you by being a strong and motivated individual yourself. The ability to motivate and inspire the team is a key quality of a good leader. Your hope as a project manager is that your team will look up to you and feel excited to work with you. You might be a natural cheerleader, or you might be a silent servant-leader. Both approaches can be used to inspire the team.
  • Calm Under Pressure: Sometimes things won’t go as planned, even when you’ve prepared everything as best as you can. A project manager needs to be a beacon of calmness when stress levels begin to rise. Your team will depend on you as their leader to stay focused and guide them through the storm. That’s why “Keep calm and manage this” is the mantra for the Velociteach podcast!

Organization:

The project manager is the center point of multiple team members,  departments, and external consultants all working towards the same objective. The successful project manager should be  well-organized when it comes to managing the work and deliverables coming from different groups. 

From day one, the project manager needs to create a logical means of tracking project status, contracts, requirements, important decisions, risks, issues, reports, and other key data. There are numerous tools available to help organize, store, and distribute project information. (That conversation could go on for hours!) There is no single tool, software, or service that is mandatory. The important idea is to pick what works for you, use it daily, and keep your project organized.  

How Do I Start a Career in Project Management?

A lot of project managers end up sliding into their position due to experience, knowledge of their content, and having the right personality of a leader. 

But that’s not to say that you can’t intentionally become one! If you’re looking to start a career in project management we suggest seeking out training, either in education or certification. 

Beyond developing your critical organizational, communication, and leadership skills, it’s important to be well versed in the product or industry that you’re interested in pursuing. 

Even if the experience you gain in the industry isn’t directly project management, pursue a position in the general direction you want to go. Having professional experience in the industry and environment you’re seeking out will go a long way when it comes to applying for a project management position. Get experience as a team member on projects, and you will gain a first-hand look at how projects work. 

Which Project Manager Certification to Pursue

There are two primary certifications you could pursue as a project manager – the PMP and the CAPM. 

Which is best for you depends on where you are in your education and your journey as a project manager. The PMP is a more comprehensive exam that requires applicants to have a minimum or 3 years of past project management experience. 

The CAPM is a well-respected but  less-comprehensive certification to pursue if you’re still in the starting phase of your journey. 

What is the PMP?

A Project Management Professional is a globally respected designation that is held by over 1 million project managers in the industry. Earning your PMP certification places you in their ranks. Their collective experience and network are incredibly valuable, but it doesn’t end there. 

The PMP indicates that you’re highly skilled at your job and should be valued as an employee. Most PMP certified project managers tend to make 20% more than the uncertified project managers annually. See our article to learn more about the salaries of project managers. 

What is the CAPM?

The Certified Associate in Project Management, or CAPM, is an entry-level certification that doesn’t require prior project management experience to sit for the exam. 

It’s a great first step for younger project managers or those just starting their journey. It’s also a great opportunity to pick up new skills and develop your strengths through the training.

Those with a CAPM will be able to take the PMP without the 35 hours of project management education typically required. 

Maintaining Your Certification

Both certificates require a certain amount of hours to maintain your certification. The CAPM only requires 15 hours of professional development units, or PDUs, every 3 years, whereas the PMP requires 60 hours every 3 years. 

These hours can be earned by training with Velociteach. Velociteach offers a wide variety of options when it comes to collecting PDUs over the years. Our most popular offering is called the PDU Passport, which gives you access to all our online courses by well-known authors, PMI Fellows, and industry experts.  In addition, you can earn free PDUs by listening to our podcast.

How to Prepare for the PMP Exam

The PMP certification exam is nearly four hours and 180 questions long. With the proper training and materials, we’re confident that if you set your mind to it,  you can pass on your first try. 

At Velociteach we’ve brought together the most experienced PMP professionals and high-quality study materials to create a number of different course options for anyone interested in taking (and passing) the PMP. 

Our four-day class provides students with an organized system of resources and a curriculum that will prepare them to take the PMP with confidence. We’ve been honing this content since 2002. We’ve helped hundreds of thousands of people just like you pass this exam.

You may choose to use our online courses that are available to work through at your own pace. We’ve designed the most popular courses into pre-packaged bundles, or you can build your own depending on your needs.

How to Prepare for the CAPM Exam

Similar to the PMP, the CAPM requires a decent amount of focused training. Velociteach offers a highly-rated CAPM training program taught by PMP professionals for those looking to study through a well-designed class environment with our trusted resources and expert instruction. 

If your schedule is a little tight for that type of commitment, we also have the CAPM 6th Edition Exam Prep Bundle that allows students to study at their own pace with the same quality of materials. 

Summary

Becoming an entry-level project manager is extremely exciting. The position can be very rewarding in several different ways.

Developing your personal skills is important no matter where you are in your journey. Becoming a strong leader is a daily mission, and you should always be looking for ways to grow and improve. You’ll pick up new tips and insights with every project you encounter, whether you serve as a member of the team, manage a subset of tasks, or lead the entire project. 

What matters most is that you’re good at what you do and enjoy doing it. And if you enjoy leading those around you and maintaining a successful project all the way to the finish line, then project management is going to suit you well. 

References:

What Is Leadership? | Forbes

Top 5 Highest Paying PMP Jobs | Capterra

Ways To Increase PMP Salary | Northeastern.edu

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