A Head Start

Recent university graduates shouldn’t let unemployment figures discourage them. By honing the right skills, project management opportunities await.

20 August 2013

A stellar academic transcript and extracurricular track record aren’t enough for young talent entering today’s competitive job market. This year, global unemployment for professionals under 25 has returned to 12.6 percent, matching the level hit in 2009 amid the recession, according to the International Labour Organization.

Yet for recent college graduates with the right skills, project management opportunities abound. Around the world, 1.57 million project positions will be created annually until 2020, according to the Project Management Talent Gap Report, a 2012 study by PMI and Anderson Economic Group.

Here are three indispensable project management skills, and how graduates with little experience can hone them.

The Skill: Basic project management know-how

Why Employers Crave It: Employers expect applicants to know a common baseline, says Cheri Essner, PMP, director, training firm KoreBuilders, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

How to Develop It: Join professional project organizations, such as a local PMI chapter. Attending lectures and networking with those already in the profession help you learn project-specific lingo and topics.

Volunteer to work on actual projects, too. PMI’s volunteer portal is a start. These experiences not only give you practical knowledge of project management, but also nicely complement your existing résumé. “It shows you have real-life experiences that are transferable to a paying position,” says Ms. Essner.

The Skill: A strategy-first mentality  

Why Employers Crave It: Project practitioners must ensure projects align with business strategy — or they risk the project’s untimely death, says Neelesh Pandey, PMP, project manager, IT services company Aptech Ltd., Mumbai, India.

How to Develop It: Often, college grads must take on smaller roles such as a team member or an associate project manager before moving up to a project manager position, says Kevin Clark, PMP, program leader, energy equipment organization Valerus, Houston, Texas.

Even in these roles, ask your manager about the organization’s business objectives, advises Mr. Clark. Then, propose a small- to no-budget project that supports an objective — and ask to manage it. “If you go looking for a project, you will find one and can start connecting projects to business needs,” says Mr. Clark.

The Skill: Good communications

Why Employers Crave It: Organizations don’t want applicants who only manage projects; they want project managers who can lead projects. But no one can follow a project leader they don’t understand, says Mr. Clark.

How to Develop It: Leadership starts with interpersonal communication skills. Mr. Clark says he’s seen plenty of young talent with a mastery of digital communication. But it’s the young graduates with stellar in-person communication skills who really stand out.

To determine the best oral communicators, Mr. Clark looks for public-speaking experience on the résumés of new graduates. Public speaking requires a person to engage with audiences and gain their trust — two traits a team leader needs.

Numbers can be deceiving. Even with little to no project experience, college graduates can carve out a career in the profession.

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