To be a successful project manager, you'll need to be a team leader, co-worker and supervisor ― all at the same time. This dynamic position requires a very particular skill set. Project managers need to be impeccably organized, take initiative and communicate clearly. Their ability to map out workflows and anticipate bottlenecks help keep project teams on track and ensure someone is watching how the system is working.
Your resume and cover letter are particularly important when applying for a project manager job. You will need to highlight specific experiences and examples from your past that clearly demonstrate your ability to handle the pressures and responsibilities of the role you're seeking.
You can find project managers in many industries and sectors—there is no single path to this career. We'll explore what it means to be a project manager and share strategies to maximize your chances of finding an entry-level project manager role.
What does a project manager do?
A project manager's job is often vital to the organization's success. These professionals oversee tasks like:
- Defining the parameters of a project to make sure it is realistic and achievable
- Building a team and managing the members
- Creating and adhering to timelines
- Budgeting and monitoring scope creep
Your job will likely require you to oversee multiple people, ensuring that each person completes their tasks on time to meet deadlines and keep the project running smoothly. Fulfilling your responsibilities may require you to "manage up," meaning you'll have to ensure senior leaders stay on task — which isn't always easy.
If project management sounds challenging and exciting, you might be an excellent candidate. Here are a few ways you can build toward a successful future as a project manager.
Grow your network
Many project managers find their first PM role through their professional network. Consider yours: Are you plugged into a fraternity, club or campus organization where you can meet professionals in your prospective industry? Don't be shy about reaching out for help. It may feel awkward to reach out to someone you barely know, but experienced professionals understand how networking works. Most of them are happy to share how they got their start, and they may have helpful advice for your job hunt.
If you don't already have a strong network, then it's time to build one. Join a local chapter of a project management association such as the International Project Management Association (IPMA) or Project Management Institute (PMI). These organizations offer many ways to network with other professionals and build valuable contacts who can help you get started. In addition to networking opportunities, membership to PMI includes discounts on certification testing and online course offerings. If you're currently employed, it's worth joining to meet other project managers within your industry.
Work toward project management certifications
At some point in your project management career, you'll probably need to get your PMP certification. However, that certification requires 4,500 hours of work experience, so it's still down the road for most recent graduates. There are other certifications you can obtain to help you build credentials for your resume and stand out from other applicants.
Entry-level project managers may require the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification. This certification is open to anyone, even without demonstrated experience in project management. If you're a member of PMI, you can take the CAPM test. The test has only two prerequisites: 1) a high school diploma 2) 23 hours of project management education, which you can fulfill by taking a course offered online through PMI.
Build professional experience
Many professionals become project managers by accident. While working in other roles, they begin taking on project management duties, eventually carving out a niche at their company or using the skills they've built as a stepping stone to a new position. If you're having a difficult time finding an entry-level project manager role, look for ways to informally exercise project management skills in another role while you search for a PM role.
"I didn't exactly set out to become a project manager," said James Bartels, a project manager who works in corporate banking. "I actually spent a few years working in different roles, like recruiting and even technical support, before this opportunity came up."
When the door opened, Bartels had demonstrated skills that transferred directly into project management.
"While I was in those roles, I naturally fell into the role of keeping the project on track, even though it wasn't my title," he recalls. "Later, a good friend of mine needed a project manager in his company and encouraged me to apply."
While you build your network and work toward your CAPM, step up and take the lead when you see an opportunity. Learn to keep people on track while building relationships; this means being able to keep people on track without coming across as a micromanager. Later, you'll be able to describe these experiences in a cover letter and resume for a PM role you're more qualified for.
In addition to these steps, you'll need to put together application materials that set you apart from the competition. Even the most qualified candidates lose out on opportunities by having poorly written cover letters and boring resumes that blend in. LiveCareer offers a free Cover Letter Builder and Resume Builder that can assist with everything from style and overall presentation to industry-specific terminology — details that are sure to make you stand out as a qualified project manager candidate.