New Grads: Consider Becoming Project Managers

The prospects for new graduates entering the job market may seem bleak at the moment, but all is not lost. Why not pursue a career as a project manager, a field that is expected to create 22 million new jobs by 2027 and is experiencing a shortage of workers?

Even better, many of the skills are learnable with relative ease, and the Project Management Institute (PMI) recently made several entry-level training courses available for free. The median project manager salary is $80,280, according to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country; that rises with skills and experience, of course.

However, as good as all this sounds, you’ll need to demonstrate an understanding of what the job entails, aptitude, and a thirst for knowledge to convince a hiring manager to give you a shot.

Here’s a look at the essential skills and characteristics that correlate to success in project management and the best ways to sell yourself to a hiring manager.

The Project Manager Talent Triangle

Demonstrating familiarity, talent and potential in three major areas (technical knowledge, leadership and business acumen), along with a host of critical sub-skills, are table stakes to be considered a player in the project manager job market. Here’s the Burning Glass breakdown of which project manager skills most often pop up in job postings:

The most common technical skills that are used to deliver projects on time and on budget, such as the decision-making framework methodology, earned value and cost management, are the easiest to learn, noted Mike DePrisco, VP of Global Experience & Solutions for PMI.

Consequently, focusing on power leadership skills that signify maturity and lead to effectiveness in the role—such as curiosity, creative problem-solving, communication and collaboration—can set you apart from other entry-level candidates, DePrisco added. 

Advance beyond novice status by establishing yourself as someone with a deep understanding of business strategy, and more specifically, what the organization is trying to accomplish. Raise the bar even higher by expressing an interest in leading projects that really move the proverbial needle in terms of delivering change to the organization and value to customers.

In today’s fast-changing business landscape (or what PMI calls the project economy), flexibility is key, noted Russ Harley, director of Project Management at Xcel Agency and developer of PMOs.

To grab a hiring manager’s attention, provide examples of your ability to change directions or thought processes in your résumé and online profiles, he recommended. 

The skills can come from anywhere: summer jobs, internships, hobbies, volunteer opportunities or life experiences. For instance, perhaps you changed majors after discovering your strengths or learning how to build a website; all those things count.

How do you recognize when change is necessary? How do you deal with change? These are the types of questions a hiring manager will expect you and other aspiring PMs to answer during an interview.

Also, because you will be learning on the job and working with more experienced colleagues, an employer will analyze your current skills, initiative and ability to learn new ones. Completing online courses, taking steps to earn a CAPM certification, and building a network that can provide guidance, support and ideas shows a commitment to education and professional development.

Finally, a successful project manager must be a great communicator. In fact, PMI suggests that project managers spend as much as 90 percent of their time communicating, and that one out of five projects is unsuccessful due to ineffective communications.

But being able to communicate verbally isn’t enough. Good writing skills let project managers communicate with clarity, document and avoid misunderstandings. “Prove that you have excellent written communication skills by providing samples of things you’ve written,” Harley said. “They don’t have to be fancy, a link to a blog, newsletter or paper– anything you wrote in college will do.”

Demonstrate Fit for the Role

Before you start applying for project manager jobs, you should know that it’s not the right career for everyone. 

To reduce the high cost of turnover, a hiring manager will want to make sure that you have considered the frequent causes of frustration among PMs and can perform some unpleasant tasks, such as reporting an underperforming team member who isn’t a direct report.

“As a project manager you don’t own the project, you’re the organizer,” Harley pointed out. 

The unique structure of the job can be especially challenging for people with Type A personalities who are uncomfortable ceding control. To convince a hiring manager that you have the right emotional make-up, display patience coupled with the ability to set realistic goals and take criticism seriously, not personally.

Ever job has negative features. There’s no doubt that project management offers a bright future to new graduates seeking a challenging, high-impact opportunity.