Ask PMI Anything: How Do I Get Started in a Project Management Career Path?

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, Michael DePrisco shares tips on how you can launch your career as a project management professional.

Written by Michael DePrisco • 3 February 2022


Photo by Artem Malsav on Unsplash

Updated on 3 February 2022 | Originally published on 23 July 2020

At PMI, we like to say that project management skills are valuable regardless of age—that they’re as useful to a young person planning a small community 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 2.3 million new project management positions annually through 2030.

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 PMI 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 a recent 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 online 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 have two options: Kickoff or Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) Certification.

Kickoff is a free, 45-minute course and tool kit that teaches the basics of project management. It’s intended for “informal project managers”—a marketing specialist, say, or a product leader who manages projects every day but doesn’t have prior experience or training. Kickoff equips these individuals with basic project management skills and actionable templates so they can manage their projects and teams with confidence.

Those needing deeper project management skills should consider CAPM. 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, you’ll need to have 23 hours of project management education and a high school diploma or associate degree. You can obtain the former 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 online 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 16 percent more than non-certified professionals. We’re truly living in a world where work is increasingly centered around projects, and at PMI, we’re here to help you navigate and thrive in this dynamic world.

Jumpstart your career in project management with Kickoff

Project Manager may not be your job title. But you'll still be asked to manage projects throughout your career. Kickoff will show you how.

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Mike DePrisco headshot

Michael DePrisco
Chief Operating Officer | PMI

As Chief Operating Officer (COO), Michael (Mike) DePrisco provides executive leadership to the Global Operations Group, supporting more than 1.4M active certification holders, 680,000 members, and 300 chapters from over 200 countries. He is responsible for the Product Portfolio, EPMO, Culture & Change Management, Digital Group, and Customer Care teams. His team's focus is on excellence in the execution of all major change initiatives at the Institute, digital product delivery and customer support, and optimization of ways of working, culture and change management.

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