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Career Path For The Entry-Level Project Manager

Graduating from school or just trying to break into a career in project management?

There are many questions you should be asking yourself right now.  Chief among them is what your career path should look like.  In this article my goal is to arm you with the perspective to figure it out.

In general, once a minimum requirement of formal education has been satisfied, work experience is the most important for advancing your project management career.  Certifications and advanced degrees can wait and many must, due to the experience eligibility requirements.

Entry-level roles come in many forms.  They vary widely across organizations and industries and include but are not limited to the following.

●     Project Coordinator

●     Assistant Project Manager

●     Junior Project Manager

●     Project Analyst

●     Work Manager

●     Project Lead

●     Project Manager

Depending on your background, you may be interested in these disciplines as well.  They can be careers themselves, or a good stepping stone into project management.

●     Project Scheduler

●     Project Controller

●     Business Analyst

Now, let’s get into some examples you can probably identify with.

Sarah, The Newly Graduated

It’s graduation time, and Sarah has worked hard to earn her 4-year degree.  What she lacks in work experience, she makes up for in self-motivation and smarts.  Now she’s faced with a difficult decision.

Does she stay in school and go for a Master’s degree, or does she go get a job now?

Advice For The Newly Graduated

For most entry-level and mid-level project management roles, a 4-year degree (in just about anything) is going to be a requirement.  Post-graduate degrees are not usually looked for.  The best thing for Sarah now is to land an entry-level position at an organization who values project management and start gaining some work experience.  Later on, she can start looking into certifications and post-graduate education if they make sense for her chosen industry and long-term career goals.

Sarah lands a role at an organization as a Junior Project Manager.  She selected a handful of organizations to target in her job search because in her research, she found a progression of job titles that clearly indicated acknowledgement of project management as a discipline and a clear project management career path within those companies.

Ben, The Techie

Ben is a software developer who has a 4-year degree in Computer Science.  He’s been working on project teams for several years now, and although he enjoys software engineering, he has become very interested in the role of the project manager.

He wants to lead project teams towards a common goal.  He loves working with people and values strong communication skills, which he has begun to continuously improve in himself.

How does Ben make the transition from Software Engineer to Project Manager?

Advice For The Techie

Ben has an advantage in that he wants to stick with the type of work he is already experienced with.  The most important thing Ben can do is let it be known that he wants to pursue a project management career path.

Volunteering internally to help out project managers he works with, even on his own time, is a great way to give his future peers first-hand knowledge about his abilities and ambition.  At the same time Ben is studying project management as a formal discipline for the first time, perhaps with self-study online using blogs and other content or in a classroom setting (online or offline).

Over time, Ben gains a reputation as an up-and-coming project manager.  When a new spot opens up for a project manager to lead a new software development project, everyone already knows Ben and his potential.

Emily, The Manager

Having managed teams for years, Emily is well steeped in running a group of people for day-to-day operations.

She has started to reflect on her career and noticed something interesting.  Those little side projects she leads her team in are really cool.  She loves the feeling of planning a project, managing it’s execution, and in the end delivering something brand new.

Emily is what most of us think of as an “accidental project manager” who has now decided to get serious about it.

Advice For The Manager

Emily knows how to coach team members.  She knows how to manage stakeholders and upper management.  It’s really the details of how to manage projects in a disciplined way she wants to learn and get better at.

If her previous “accidental” projects make up enough experience to pursue something like the PMP Certification, that is an option she may choose to pursue.  The best benefit will be familiarity with a formal framework and standard for project management.

She already has a 4-year degree in Business Administration. While gaining experience may be best, another alternative is to pursue a Master’s in Project Management as another way to learn formal project management practices.

Emily likely has the opportunity to propose new projects for the organization or even authorize them herself for her team to carry out.  Applying the lessons from formal project methodologies will be a wonderful learning experience.  As she becomes known in the organization as someone who volunteers for projects and leads them successfully, she will be very visible when a specific project management role comes up.

Alternatively, Emily has likely gained enough experience to pursue a project management role at another organization, preferably one who values project management as a discipline.

John, The Industry-Jumper

John has been working as a carpenter for 20 years.  Over the past few years, he has worked with many construction project managers and gotten to know what their roles are like.  It’s something he wants to pursue as well.

Advice For The Industry-Jumper

Having apprenticed as a carpenter after high school and military service, John did not pursue a 4-year degree.  He never had cause to until now.

Landing a role in project management is going to be difficult without that 4-year degree.  The best thing for John now is going to be finding a 4-year degree program where he can pursue a related degree in construction management, project management, or business administration.  Very likely, the best option is going to include night school so John can continue to support himself and his family with his day job.

At the same time while going to school, there are several entry-level positions related to construction management John should pursue (after targeting the right companies first).  Specific titles for this industry include Assistant Project Representative, Assistant Construction Manager, and Assistant Project Manager.

Make It Happen

As you have seen, project management is a diverse and exciting discipline.  There are many ways to point your career towards project management depending on your target industry and professional background.

In the end, it’s up to you.  Formulate a solid plan for yourself and execute on that plan.  It’s what all good project managers do.

About the author:  Josh Nankivel, BSc PM, PMP is an experienced program manager who also coaches new and aspiring project managers at

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