Project Management Institute

Ask PMI Anything: How do I get started in a project management career path?

man with brown hair dressed in suit at the corner of a busy street in a city

Photo by Saulo Mohana on Unsplash

23 July 2020

COVID-19 may have turned our world upside down, but this is still a great time to pursue a career in project management. In this “Ask PMI Anything” post, Mike DePrisco shares tips on how you can launch your career as a project management professional.

At PMI, we like to say that project management skills are valuable whether you’re 5 or 75—that they’re as useful to a young person planning a Scouting project as they are to a seasoned professional wrapping up a major work assignment. 

But how do you acquire these valuable skills—particularly if you’re interested in pursuing a career in project management? That’s a question I’m often asked, especially by young people just starting their work lives. They want to be able to take the project management life skills they’ve learned and convert them into professional skills that will help them launch or turbocharge their careers.  

Pursuing a future in project management makes great business sense these days. A recent PMI analysis shows that global employers will need to add more than 2 million new project management positions annually through 2027. And that’s not taking into account the increased need for project managers to help organizations recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Demand for project management professionals cuts across industries and geographies. Want to contribute to the rise of “Silicon Savannah” in Kenya? Drive adoption of renewable energy in the Middle East? Land a human on Mars? Project managers are on the front lines of all these projects. Indeed, you’ll find project managers wherever there’s a need to get things done or make ideas a reality. 

So, how do you go about acquiring the skills you’ll need to take on these challenges? Here are three recommendations for getting a jump start on a career in project management. 

Take on project management responsibilities in your existing job 

There’s no better teacher than on-the-job experience, so look for projects you can lead within your office or place of work. Nearly all jobs involve some aspect of project management, whether it’s planning, budgeting, scheduling, or stakeholder management. So, there are likely a wealth of opportunities to develop and hone your professional skills right where you are. 

Think about the skills you need to develop in three buckets: technical capabilities, leadership capabilities and strategic and business management capabilities. We call this the Talent Triangle and recommend you look for opportunities to strengthen all three areas. And don’t neglect what we call “power skills”—like collaboration, empathy and innovativeness. These are sometimes referred to as “soft skills,” but our research shows they are among the most highly sought-after capabilities in the business world—especially as many of us continue to work remotely. Indeed, “collaborative leadership” and “empathy for the voice of the customer” were the two most valued team skills in the most recent annual PMI “Pulse of the Profession®” survey.  

By volunteering to take on projects and by approaching them in a purposeful and professional manner, you’ll not only gain valuable experience, you’ll also earn a reputation for accomplishment—as someone who gets things done. That, in itself, opens doors to bigger and better opportunities. 

Get training 

While on-the-job experience is invaluable, you’ll also want to obtain formal training and, ideally, become certified in the practice of project management. Your company may be able to help. Sixty-one percent of Pulse respondents report their organizations provide project management training, and 47 percent have a defined career path for project professionals. 

We at PMI are also here to help. We offer a wide range of on-line training programs and materials, and our standards and our certifications are recognized all around the world. In fact, the gold standard of certifications in the field is the PMP®Project Management Professional—which requires at least three years of project management experience. However, if you’re new to project management, you should consider CAPM® certification.  

CAPM stands for certified associate in project management, and it’s specifically designed for individuals just starting their careers. It tells employers that you understand the basics of project management and are familiar with the most important project management tools and ways of working.  

To sit for the CAPM certification exam—which, in the COVID era, are proctored on-line—you’ll need a high school diploma or associate degree and have 23 hours of project management education. You can obtain the latter by taking an exam prep course, using a self-study guide or joining a CAPM-prep study group.  

CAPM certification will give you a more extensive set of tools to work with and allow you to operate in a wider variety of roles. It will also check an important box for employers, who increasingly look for project managers who carry professional certifications. Indeed, our Pulse data show that more than half (51 percent) of organizations require project professionals to hold some type of certification in their role.   

Commit to life-long learning and community involvement 

Ideally, CAPM certification is just the first of many steps in your project management career. Our field is constantly evolving—with new ideas and new ways of working emerging as project managers adapt to a changing business and societal landscape.  

That’s why it’s so important to commit to life-long learning. PMI offers a range of in-person and on-line education resources—many of them offered by trusted partners that are approved to offer professional development units or PDUs, which count toward education requirements and which are necessary to maintain your certification in good standing.

It’s important to note that you don’t have to do any of this in isolation. In addition to education, PMI also offers community. We have hundreds of local chapters around the world where you’ll find like-minded individuals who share your passion for project management. They can be a tremendous source of motivation, support and mentorship as you advance in your career. Local chapters also offer valuable events and conferences, certification study groups and opportunities for volunteering. And they’re a great way to build your network of contacts in the field. 

Despite the turmoil caused by the COVID crisis, this is a brilliant time to pursue a career in project management. The world is becoming “projectified”—while organizations still value specialist knowledge, they’re increasingly turning to projects as the principal way of creating value. That’s why project managers are in such demand today and why certified PMPs report earning up to 25 percent more than non-certified professionals. We’re truly living in The Project Economy, and at PMI, we’re here to help you navigate and thrive in this dynamic world.