Back in May a Professor of Project Management (that’s right, a Professor), Geoff Crane approached me about getting involved in an interesting project.
Geoff’s brief was:
I teach project management at Durham College in Ontario. My first batch of students will graduate next month and I’m looking at putting together an ebook for them. It’s to be called “Tips to Break Into Project Management”. This is a burning issue for most of them, they’re really looking for advice.The Papercut Project Manager, Geoff Crane
Although over a decade now, I still remember how challenging it was to find a job when leaving university, let alone working out how to actually do that job! Thus I was more than happy to get involved with this, as were 51 other experienced Project Managers from 12 different countries.
The result I think blew all of my fellow contributors away. Geoff published an amazingly high-quality eBook, with sections on finding your Job, Project, Skills and Yourself. The eBook is now available to download for free on Geoff’s site.
For any aspiring, new or even experienced Digital Project Managers, I highly recommend giving this a read.
Below is my own contribution to this great project. Thank you to Geoff for inviting me to a part of this :)
On my very first day of university one of the lecturers explained to the students that over the next three years we would gain foundational knowledge in many areas, enough to get an idea of which areas we could specialize in but not enough to be an expert in any on completion of the course – she was right, but naturally, over the three years completely I forgot that.
Thus when I graduated I assumed I would walk into a job, but that’s not what happened. What transpired was around sixty job applications and only a handful of interviews. I was aiming too high.
I expected to get a job as a project manager, instead I slowly realised this was unlikely to happen with zero commercial experience and instead I took a job in a digital agency in a content entry role, the lowest of the low. But by this point I’d realised that sometimes this was how it has to be done and that ‘getting your foot in the door’ was the very first critical step when fresh out of school.
Once in a professional environment I quickly realised, despite my recent graduation and good grades, just how out of my depth I was and how little I actually knew. So, I sat, worked hard and professionally, but most importantly of all, I watched and listened to absolutely everything the experienced people did and said.
I sat and watched until, slowly but surely, I began to feel part of the team and able to make suggestions on certain processes. Over time I was able to implement some small tweaks to processes that had positive results, this earned me a small amount of trust. With that trust I found that I had a little bit more freedom and confidence to get involved in other areas of the business, helping out anyone I could where possible and always trying to improve things – I saw even more trust come my way, along with a little bit of respect.
From that point it was a snowball effect.
Be humble, be honest, work hard and you’ll get the trust, respect and confidence to step up a level. No matter how high you climb in an organization, always follow this cycle and you will do just fine.
I came across your website tonight and have found it very interesting. I’ve started a new job search and after 10 years working in sales as an account manager I decided I wanted to get away from sales and into Project Management by gaining my PRINCE2 Practitioner certification (although I’m not sure that’s really helped all that much!) and quite interested in getting into digital PM role eventually. Obviously, with no experience in a digital agency, this is quite impossible. Like you mentioned, sometimes you just need to get a foot in the door with an entry level job but what happens when an entry level role is paying too low for my current living (mortgage and bills to pay!), but you’d think that having extensive professional experience, transferable skills and a PRINCE2 qualification might be able to open some doors, but when most agencies ask for 1-2 years experience within an agency, what happens then? Any suggestions or advice for people looking to make a career change into this field?? Any response would be much appreciated! :)
@Leng, firstly, thanks for the kind words about the blog and article, it’s really appreciated!
Your PRINCE2 qualification is worth it as it shows a few things… that you’re interested enough to do this off your own back, you have the ability to learn and that ultimately, you’re a qualified Project Manager.
As far as getting a foot in the door but that conflicting with what you need to pay the bulls etc. this is a tricky one indeed, but with a decade of commercial experience behind you it should be easier than someone straight our of uni.
I would make sure your CV is tailored to get across a very strong message that you have been managing projects and people for ten years, just not with the specific job title of Project Manager.
The “1-2 years experience” requirements are usually to make sure the candidate has SOME experience and walking into a digital agency won’t be a complete shock to the system, so don’t worry too much about that.
As well as tailoring your CV to show relevant experience, also get more on there that demonstrates a passion for digital project management (or whatever field you’re going for) e.g. list digital project management blogs you often read, go to some local meet-ups, offer to write a guest blog post or two on a known site, attend any bigger events (DPM Summit in the US / DPM:UK in the UK), list books you’ve read etc.
Put yourself in the position of the hiring person. If they read a bog standard account management / sales CV the most likely reaction is “not a Digital Project Manager”
However, what you want them to think is “A decade working and bags of commercial experience with clients. Clearly a smart person and now wants to move into digital project management given the enthusiasm and passion in this CV, might be worth seeing.”
You could also look at smaller companies rather than medium-large ones. Often the medium and large will split out digital project management and account management, but smaller places often combine both, thus a Digital Project Manager at a 10-20 person agency will also be the Account Manager (and more) in their role.
I hope this advice helps!