15 Ways to Hook a Gig as a Project Manager

FifteenMike Clayton recently responded to a question he receives often from his audience, “how do I get into project management?”

I really liked what Mike had to say, and so this is my evil riff on his ideas.

1.  Seize opportunities – any opportunities. Take any chance you can to get involved in a project and then look for a chance to take more responsibility

Absolutely Mike.  I was recently coaching someone through this process, and you can see what happened and the actions they took in this project management career case study.  It’s baby steps toward taking over the world.

2.  At the end of every project, reflect on what you have learned

Definitely.  A lessons learned file is important both professionally and personally.

3.  Keep a notebook of useful things you learn – tips, ideas, tools, insights – and keep it with you

This probably works for many people.  I’m not much of a fan of carrying around notebooks though.  For me, blogging is a key method for helping me retain important information and think through it carefully.  That, and responding to forum questions and posing my own.

4.  Get training – not just in project management, but in any business, management, communications, or personal skills – make notes about what you really learn in your notebook.

Training is so vital, and something that unfortunately, most organizations seem to undervalue.  Shim wrote a post on The Importance of Training and Coaching to Organizational Growth that I left a comment on.  Too bad most companies can’t see the need for training like the military does.

5.  Get qualifications. No amount of formal training and exams will make you a great PM, but they will do two things: they will stretch your thinking, and give you a badge that people will recognise

True.  In How and Why I Passed the PMP Exam I discuss my reasons for certification, even though I completely agree that no amount of test-taking is going to make you a good PM.

Additionally, you need to approach these certifications with the right mindset.  I answered an email from someone yesterday who was thinking about paying thousands for a CAPM training course.  NO!  This is why I hate boot camps of any kind, they only teach to you to memorize and pass a test.  If you’re OK with that, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

6.  Read insatiably. Particularly useful are Project Management magazines, like the APM’s Project, or Project Manager Today, but these days, there is a mass of comment, information, ideas, and formal learning available on websites and blogs.

Absolutely.  And besides print and online reading materials, there are YouTube channels out there dedicated to project management, podcasts, and so much more.

7.  Connect people together. By linking people up, you become a valuable team member who is able to get problems solved.

Absolutely critical Mike.  Leadership is about facilitation and bridging the gap between people to establish and maintain good communication.  It doesn’t mean you are the most important part of the system; you should be the grease that makes the system run well.

8.  Don’t be a prima donna. If there is a dull, simple task; take it on with the relish of a major challenge and do it remarkably well. Get known as someone who can and will do anything to get things done.

When looking for a mentor in your organization, go find a project manager and ask them if you can take over these dull, simple tasks of theirs for them.  They may be dull and simple for them, but you can gain a lot of experience and insight by taking these things over.

9.  Talk to people and ask their opinions. This will build your people skills and grow your store of ideas and knowledge.

This is great advice and I have found that this is one thing social media in general is really great for.  Leaving comments on blogs, interacting with people on LinkedIn, and so many other resources are out there.

10.  Observe what makes the best of the people you work with great, and what makes the worst so bad. Model yourself accordingly.

Empathy and the ability to alter your perspective and look from outside your head is so important.  Self-absorbed people who only see the world from their own myopic viewpoint never get too far from what I’ve seen.  Treat the stage of your organization as a science lab, and you are an observer.

11.  Be curious – investigate the environment you are working in and learn whatever you can.

When I started my current role I spent many hours over the weekend pouring through design documents, operations concepts, etc.  I spent a long time being a newbie and proud of it, not caring that I may be asking stupid questions.  In fact, I preface many of my questions with “let me ask you a stupid question” – just so they know it’s coming.  It brings defenses down and makes people more willing to share with you.

12.  Review your CV. A lot of what you have done has contributed to projects, so bring that aspect front and centre.

Absolutely.  Projectize your resume and enhance it even more.

13.  Volunteer for teams, task forces and working groups at work and in your social life.

Volunteer at work, in non-profit organizations, online, wherever.  Volunteer and over-deliver.

14.  Become an expert. Get known as an expert in something, no matter how detailed. Once people get in the habit of going to you for one thing, they will want your perspectives on other things.

Be careful about this one.  Choose the ‘thing’ you will be an expert in carefully.  People can tend to pigeon-hole you too, so that whatever you are recognized for can become a burden if you want to branch out.  So you may be a great programmer, but if you are only known for your technical skills there, people may not even think of your name when an opportunity for a new project manager comes around.

Instead, I advise that you are known as being interested in whatever your goal is.  If you want to be a project manger, make sure everyone and their mother knows it.

15.  Focus on quality. Present your work really well, so that it gets noticed for the right reasons. People are like moths – we are attracted to the brightest flames.

Over-deliver, over-deliver, over-deliver.

Thanks Mike, good stuff!


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