Voices | CAREER Q&A



By Lindsay Scott

I’m a recent graduate looking for a project role, but it’s been a demoralizing search. How can I improve my chances?

Whether you’re a recent graduate or seeking a change in project work, competition for entry-level roles has always been fierce—and the global pandemic has only made it more challenging. But let’s take a deep breath and map out the options.

Assistant-level project manager roles exist, but other types of project roles might make better postgraduate entry positions: roles in planning, such as project planners and controllers; roles in analytics and insights, such as project and data analysts; or finance roles, such as project accountants and controllers. There are also opportunities to help with governance and oversight.

Certain industries and types of organizations are more likely to need entry-level project workers, particularly those who have a master’s degree in sectors such as aerospace, engineering, construction, financial services and management consultancies. Sometimes, you just need to cast a wide net.

Landing that first role is rarely easy. Part of the journey is showing resilience—the ability to bounce back after the many applications, tests and interviews. One way to stay both grounded and motivated is to seek out alternative employment while maintaining your search for a project role. At the very least, having any office-based role can help you build people skills and establish a reputation for getting tasks done—two desirable qualities for any project role.

The big picture? Look beyond “project manager” titles to get your foot in the door and jump-start a career.

I want to step up from project manager to a senior project manager position. How can I make it happen?

You have two options: Earn an internal promotion or look externally for a new position. Each option requires different tactics.

The key to seeking an internal promotion is knowing what opportunities exist. If there are bigger, riskier projects available, you will need to work on building the case for why you are the right person to take on the task. Yet, it’s often easier to take that step up by looking outside your current organization. You are less likely to experience job-blockers—people who have a firm grip on the position you want and don’t appear to be leaving anytime soon.

But not all external roles are equal. One organization’s idea of a senior project manager is different from another’s definition. You have to be sure of what you want that senior role to look like. Do you simply desire a bigger paycheck, while the nuances in responsibilities and expectations among possible roles don’t matter? Or are you looking to tackle bigger, higher-profile projects? Are you willing or eager to work within programs?

Having a clear idea makes it easier to refine your search and build your case. Then, update and tailor your résumé or CV to include compelling stories that highlight key experiences and demonstrate an ability to take on more responsibility. Such clarity also helps you identify professional strengths and weaknesses—an exercise that can help you develop a plan to address skills gaps or show hiring managers how you fit in a new role.

My new role requires me to take on business analysis, too. I’ve only been a project manager, so how can I add new skills quickly?

First and foremost, it’s okay to learn as you go. The person who hired you must be aware that you lack experience as a business analyst, but they likely spotted something from your background that shows—with the right support and guidance—you will excel in the role.

To build new skills, check out the PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)® certification. Among many other things, it can help you learn how to work with stakeholders to define requirements and drive intended business outcomes. You should also seek out professional networking groups devoted to business analysis.

Bottom line: Embrace the opportunity to learn. The hybrid business analyst and project manager role is becoming quite common, and it will help you build strategic insights. It’s a great opportunity that could give you a competitive advantage over other project professionals in the future. PM

Pro Tip: Tailor Your Title

Make sure the title on the personal summary area of your résumé aligns with the role you’re applying for. Otherwise, you’re signaling a mismatch. For instance, if you’re applying for a role at a construction firm but your bio says “IT project manager,” change it to “project manager” or “project leader.” Don’t overembellish: Just adapt the title accurately.

Have a career question for Lindsay Scott? Email [email protected].

img Lindsay Scott is the director of program and project management recruitment at Arras People in London, England.



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