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5 Steps to Becoming a Project Management Professional

The project management professional: something every company needs

Despite common misconceptions, becoming a project management professional requires more than taking a popular exam. In fact, that mindset is leading to a widening skills gap that puts $22.5 billion in GDP at risk. Instead, project management hopefuls need to be smarter about how to prepare. Here’s how to get there:

1. Take a Long, Hard Look in the Mirror

Here’s the bitter reality: Not everyone makes a good project management professional. It’s just not for everybody. The first step toward becoming a project management leader is looking inward at your qualities and values. Here are the qualities you must have to succeed at the highest level:

    • Optimism
    • High emotional intelligence
    • Grit
    • The ability to articulate
    • Assertiveness (being a self-starter)

Alongside those qualities, you need to understand that leaders change things; they inspire everyone around them. Most importantly, leaders get sh*t done. We’ve found these values to be fundamental to realizing that purpose:

    • You have to care about people.
    • You need a founder’s mentality and should be achievement-focused.
    • You should value and invest in your team.
    • You need to know how to use service to lead.
    • You must be a voracious learner.

Before pursuing a role as a project management leader, make sure your qualities and values are in line with what the position. Otherwise, you’re going to find yourself in a job you worked hard to get, but are unhappy performing.

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2. Do Your Homework on Project Management Professional Training

Listen carefully, because this is where most people drop the ball. If you want to be successful, you cannot pick a training program based solely on its popularity. It needs to be rooted in experiential training. And it should reach beyond training and move you directly into a high-level job.

A few weeks ago, I got a thank-you note from a former student named Mike. When we met he was the assistant manager at a Northface retail store in Beverly Hills. And, though he was successful in that role, he wanted to make a career change into IT Project Management. He already had his PMP, and a certificate of Project Management from UCLA, but was struggling to find someone that would give him a shot at Project Management. He knew no matter how hard he worked, he wasn’t going to become a Project Management Professional without real-world experience in project execution. It was a problem that memorizing frameworks, terms, and project leadership vernacular would never solve.

Instead, Mike did his research and dove into a training program that focused on how-to - Project Management Training and real leadership. The training program he took was developed and delivered by a firm that provides large IT Transformational Project Management services, in addition to training. Six weeks after he finished training, he stepped directly into a role as a project manager with Kaiser Permanente, and he has been there ever since.

Mike told me that the big differentiator was two things. During the interview the recruiter shared the reason Mike had been contacted was because his resume listed a training program that focused on Leadership and how-to Project Management, as opposed to the thousands of candidates they had encountered that had completed theoretical training programs. The second reason was because that training allowed Mike to answer all of the recruiter’s how-to questions. Mike was able to use his past anecdotal experiences in relationship to the techniques he had been taught in class to satisfy the recruiter’s need to ensure Mike could do the job!

The lesson? Do your homework and pick a training program that actually opens up career opportunities and advancement. It should go beyond memorizing theories, and it should teach you exactly how to tackle projects, step by step. It’s the only way to learn to lead and get sh*t done.

3. Learn to Build Networks Online

In addition to the right training program, Mike knew he still needed to connect with other professionals and hiring managers to land a position. The field of Project Management is so competitive there was little to no chance Mike was going to get selected by submitting his resume online cold. So he needed to learn how to network more effectively online. Here’s how:

  1. Start by building out a killer LinkedIn profile and then connect with everyone in your field. Connect with other PM’s, hiring managers and don’t forget to connect with recruiters.
  2. Research content in your industry that is relevant and would create value for those that you are adding to your LinkedIn network. Good examples are Harvard Business Review or Forbes articles on Project Management.
  3. Post, like, comment, and share DAILY! Posting valuable content, and making intelligent comments to the online community is invaluable to your job search. Your comments allow recruiters and hiring managers to get a sense of your thought process, and your daily posts demonstrate grit and a self-starter attitude.

Your goal with online connections shouldn’t be to show off your knowledge. Instead, it’s a chance to show you’re able to communicate, articulate your thoughts, and add value as a thought leader.

4. Skip PM Meet-Ups, Dive into Industry Experience

Think about it; When you go to project manager meet-ups, who are you interacting with 99 percent of the time? Other people trying to break into the Project Management world or out-of-work project managers. They can’t help you!

Instead, skip the project manager meet-ups and immerse yourself in the industry that has your interest. If you’re interested in IT leadership, dive into tech meet-ups. If you want to go into marketing, attend marketing seminars. Go to conferences and rub elbows with project managers who are working in the industry. Latch onto subject-matter experts and pay attention to where the field is moving.

Every conversation is a chance to learn more. You’ll pull insider information from people who are actively doing what you want to do. As you engage with industry leaders, you’ll be siphoning insider knowledge and making friends within the spaces you’re passionate about.

5. Network More Effectively in Person, Today

When’s the worst time to start networking? When you have to. If you start networking when you need a job, it’s too late.

When you’re doing it the right way, networking should be natural and enjoyable. In essence, it’s the same concept as making friends. You should be pursuing your interests and connecting with people who share those interests. That’s networking.

Don’t show up and be the fly on the wall; engage with others! As you interact with people, make new friends, listen actively, and respond genuinely. Again, this will come naturally when you’re sincerely interested in what people around you are saying and you’re passionate about the industry.

What not to do…Don’t engage with a self-serving agenda. You are not a secret service agent looking to develop assets that can be converted to help you build your career. People that network that way lack genuine interest and turn people off. The goal of networking is to learn, make friends, and have fun!

Finally, network relentlessly. It should be a consistent part of your life. That way, when you actually need to network, you’ll already have a web of support to jump into.

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