How to Get Into Project Management Without Experience

how to get into project management career

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If you’re trying to become a project manager but have no experience, then this article is for you.

I’m going to take you step by step through how to get into project management, the top skills you’ll need, how much money you can expect to earn, and more.

Let’s get started…

How to Get Into Project Management: Key Skills

Succeeding in project management takes certain skills. Whether you’re looking to transfer to a project management job in your current company or apply for a position with a new company, you’ll need to convince an employer to give you the opportunity.

So to get into project management and land that first position, you need to demonstrate the abilities below during an interview, or at least convince the person interviewing you that you’re capable of learning these areas:

1. Leadership Ability

I’ve spoken with a lot of project managers over the years of working as a recruiter. One of the common challenges they talk about is leadership. It’s difficult because the people you’re overseeing don’t report directly up to you usually.

You’re responsible for guiding their efforts when they’re assigned to your project, they have a different boss that handles their performance reviews, hiring, firing, etc. For example, a software engineer might be assigned to your project but their direct manager would be an engineering manager.

It’s harder to get somebody to buy into your leadership and follow your guidance when you don’t do their year-end review.

As a project manager you’ll be responsible for project budgets, timelines, goals and milestones, and delivering the final result. That’s a lot of responsibility to have. When you factor in not being the direct boss of anybody working to help you reach these goals, leadership becomes one of the biggest challenges and one of the most important skills to have.

So if you want to know how to get into project management, start by developing a leadership style where people genuinely want to work with you. Don’t lead based on the fact that you’re higher up in an organization than somebody else. Because as a Project Manager, you won’t have this to lean on.

2. Organizational Skills

You’re responsible for a ton as a Project Manager. I hinted at a few areas above like goals, timelines and budgets. You’re also in charge of dividing up the work among your team to achieve the best results. So it becomes pretty important to stay organized.

Nobody else is going to track the milestones on your project. Nobody else will determine what the priorities are or what needs to be done next. It’s your job. People assigned to your project, and upper management in your company will look to you for these answers.

There might be multiple pieces of the project being worked on simultaneously. Each piece takes different amounts of time. Sometimes one portion has to be finished before another piece can be started. Planning all of this out takes skill and organization. Adjusting as things change unexpectedly is a skill as well (see #3 below).

So if you want to get into project management, look for ways to demonstrate your ability to stay organized. Think of some examples of times you’ve performed well with tasks like this. You can mention these in an interview. One of the best interview tips I can offer is to prepare specific facts and examples to back up these claims.

Also, try to take on more responsibility like this in your current role to prepare for a job as a Project Manager. Whatever your current job is, make it your goal to know what the priorities are as well as when different tasks need to be done. Don’t wait to be told or reminded. Find out, and prioritize your own day or week around this.

3. Flexibility

Keeping calm under pressure and staying flexible when the unexpected occurs is going to be an important skill if you want to get into project management and succeed.

Things rarely go as planned. You won’t see many projects that run from start to finish without encountering some roadblocks. So the ability to adjust and react when the situation changes is essential.

Your team will be looking to you for guidance when this happens. You may have to shift the priorities, delegate different tasks to different people, etc.

Nobody else will be able to do this for you. You’re responsible for the project.

So in a job interview for a Project Manager position, you may want to mention a time when things didn’t go according to plan but you were still able to reach a positive result by adjusting in the moment.

How to Get Into Project Management with No Experience

If you have no experience as a project manager, you can still launch a project management career if you take the right approach. Below, I’ll outline some steps to follow if you want to work in project management but don’t know how to start.

Choose an Industry

Many industries utilize project managers, from biotechnology to manufacturing to software.

So before you begin learning project management, it’s recommended that you begin to think about what sectors or industries interest you. While some of the training, courses, and certifications project managers need will apply across many or all industries, there is also some industry-specific knowledge you’ll need to pick up.

And after beginning your project management career, it’ll be easier to continue within that industry than change verticals, so it’s a good idea to think about which industry you’d like to work in before starting toward your goal of beginning this career path.

Consider Starting as an Individual Contributor

In my experience as a recruiter, it’s rare for an employer to hire an entry-level candidate or recent graduate into a project management career path. Instead, they’ll hire or promote people who already have experience.

So before you build project management skills, consider taking an individual contributor job in the industry that you’d like to work in.

I did this myself in the field of recruitment. I got hired as an entry-level recruiter, then got promoted to senior recruiter, and only once I had mastered the individual role was I promoted into a project manager job.

At this point, I was managing the projects of three other recruiters, but I wouldn’t have been effective in this role if I didn’t understand their work. And I built this understanding by doing this work myself before being promoted.

So you’re going to have an easier time of becoming a project manager if you can demonstrate to an employer that you’ve been successful as an individual contributor first. Or, seek a lower-level project management position, such as project coordinator.

Project coordinators handle smaller components of a project such as scheduling meetings, facilitating communication between people and groups, sending reminders, etc.

This role would expose you to project management work and help you demonstrate to employers that you’re ready for a project manager position next.

Enroll in a Project Management Course/Certification

When it comes to project management education, there isn’t a college degree that prepares you for this career.

However, there are plenty of online courses and certifications to help you show employers that you’re qualified to manage projects (while also helping you build up the project management skills needed to succeed in the job).

So once you’ve built up some basic knowledge of an industry and worked as an individual contributor, you can start building project management skills via job-specific trainings.

Project Management Institute provides a number of courses, such as the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) program and their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

However, these courses are best suited for those with some basic project management experience already. If you haven’t held any project management roles, even at the coordinator or associate level, then you’ll do better with an entry-level course such as PluralSight’s Beginner’s Guide to Project Management.

That course above is one of the best online certifications to get into project management. 

After becoming a project manager or project management associate/coordinator, you may want to get a CAPM certification, PMP certification, or other advanced project management certificate.

However, if you don’t have any projects under your belt and truly have no experience, then a simpler, introductory course like the beginner’s course above is a better choice.

From there, you can land your first job in the space, build up some hours of project management work, and then take a more advanced course to obtain a PMP certification or CAPM certification and advance your career further.

Network With Other Project Managers

Don’t pursue project management as a solo journey. Building a strong network can help you hear about opportunities and land job interviews, and as you talk to people, you’ll also gain insights into the types of industries and companies you’d like to work for, the skills to start focusing on building, etc.

So send LinkedIn messages to project managers and ask if they have any advice for an inspiring project manager.

Ask one simple question to start because that’s the best way to get a response, but you can ask more after building a relationship.

Topics you can ask about:

  • How they got their first project manager job
  • If they recommend pursuing a career as a project manager now that they’ve experienced it
  • Whether they recommend a specific course/certification to help you become a project manager
  • Which industries they think are best for new project managers right now

Don’t send a cold message on LinkedIn and ask for them to introduce you to a hiring manager right away. However, if you start with a simple, clear question, you’ll be able to meet project managers and build your network online.

Of course, if you have access to in-person events and meetups, take advantage of that, too. Go to talks, meetups, etc. Ask similar questions to those listed above and build relationships.

That way, once you’re ready to pursue a project manager role, you’ll be able to ask your network if they’ve heard of any opportunities.

The stronger your network, the faster you’ll be able to become a project manager.

Be Persistent

It can take time to get your first role in project management because it’s a vital role in most companies and they’re very careful about who they hire or promote into the position of project manager.

So even while following the steps above, you may find that the process takes longer than you expected. You’ll need to be patient and persistent in order to achieve this goal. You may need to overcome certain obstacles and rejections, too.

Maybe you need to pivot to a slightly different industry to find a company that will give you a shot as a project manager. Maybe you need to continue working in a different role while job searching on the side.

If project management is the career path you want, then don’t give up on pursuing it. If you network and talk to other project managers and you ask them how long they worked before landing a role in project management, you’ll find that many people spend years before landing their first project manager role. The wait is worth it, so don’t stop trying.

Is Project Management a Good Career?

Project management is a great career for people who enjoy interacting with others, working in an important role, and earning a high income. Project management is also an excellent career choice because it gives you the ability to work in a range of industries and transfer industries if needed.

Here are some key reasons you might want to consider a career in Project Management:

  • Ability to take ownership of large projects from start to finish
  • Interact with many groups/areas in your company
  • Ability to earn 6 figures, often with just a Bachelor’s degree (and experience of course)
  • Variety of work and challenges, unlikely to be boring
  • High visibility in your organization

Average Project Manager Pay

The average project manager earns between $56,000 and $77,000, according to top salary websites including Payscale.com and Salary.com, with the most experienced project managers and/or project managers in top-paying industries earning as much as $170,000 per year.

So while it can take time to become a project manager and land your first role, especially without prior project management experience, you can expect to earn great money once you get into project management.

You’ll have great options for promotions and career growth beyond your first project manager role, too. In most organizations, you’ll be able to step up to a Senior Project Manager role, or someone who manages other project managers and project coordinators instead of managing projects yourself.

Conclusion: How to Become a Project Manager

If you follow the steps above, you’ll be on your way to obtaining your first project management role. Project management is a high-paying, rewarding career, but takes time to get into.

The typical person starting their project manager career has taken time to learn an industry, perform work as an individual contributor, and only then became a project manager. This is the path I recommend following to get started in a project management career.