Job guides

How to get an entry-level Project Management job?

Role Basics: What is Project Management

Project managers are responsible for coordinating teams to deliver project outcomes on time at a high quality. Typically they don’t have formal authority over project team members, but they are responsible for assigning tasks, managing communication, tracking and reporting, and identifying and resolving blockers to ensure project requirements are met. 

Flavors of Project Management roles: 

You’ll find project managers in almost every industry, but we’re focused most on technical project management, because it tends to be the most lucrative and has the most career options. Project management skills are required in any function (content marketing, advertising, operations, engineering, product), and several other roles rely heavily on project management skills: 

  • Agile and Scrum are software development methodologies — essentially forms of project management for software development. The “scrum master” is the project manager who runs a process — and is often an engineering or product manager — but, in some organizations, is a technical project manager.  
  • Product or program managers often include a significant amount of project management work but are also responsible for planning prioritizing what gets done in a project as well as overseeing execution. 
  • Chiefs of staff may also function as high-level project managers, managing projects, communication and reporting for senior executives. 
  • Biz ops roles may also include significant project management responsibility, as they’re often responsible for coordinating projects cross-functionally without formal authority, though biz ops tends to be more strategic and analytical, while project management is focused on executing a given plan.  

Example projects in Project Management: 

  • Manage a software development sprint
  • Coordinate a product launch
  • Manage the process to get a compliance certification
  • Oversee organizational change management process
  • Manage the rollout of a new technology system (e.g. point of sale system for retailer chain, customer relationship management for a sales team) 
  • Manage the creation of documentation for a new product
  • Scope the time and cost of projects

Common activities in Project Management: 

  • Running team standup meetings
  • Creating and managing a Kanban board, Gantt chart, or other project tracker
  • Talking with stakeholders to understand the process and requirements for an upcoming project
  • Coordinate with project stakeholders to share status, blockers and other issues with ongoing projects
  • Follow up with project team members to ensure they deliver work on time
  • Writing project updates for management
  • Creating / configuring project dashboard
  • Talk to project stakeholders to “gather requirements” — or understand and articulate what success looks like

Project Management metrics: 

Because project managers work on discrete projects, their success is best summarized by the results of their project. Typically projects can be measured based on: 

  • Speed. Are project requirements completed on time? 
  • Quality. Do projects produce their intended results? In software, this may be adherence to requirements and code quality. In marketing, this may be the impact on user growth or acquisition cost. 

Project Management compensation: 

Compensation varies significantly between technical and non-technical project  management. Technical project managers will earn $80-120K when starting, while non-technical project managers will earn significantly less (closer to $40-80K). 

Project Management career path: 

Good. Project management skills are essential for being a good manager of people and teams, and they’re transferable to any function — you can go from a project manager to a manager in most functions. Technical project management also provides an onramp to coveted roles in product management

How accessible are Project Management jobs?

  • Time to learn. 0-3 months; technical project management can take longer. 
  • Selectivity. Non-technical roles can be relatively accessible. 
  • Ease of working remote. Moderate, depends on company culture. 

Job Requirements: What you need to be competitive for project management roles?

Key skills for project management: 

  • Agile project management / scrum understanding and certification
  • Familiar with project management tools like Trello, Jira, Asana, and Airtable
  • Familiar with excel / spreadsheets
  • For technical roles, SQL and data analysis skills are useful
  • Domain expertise in project area
  • Good written and verbal communication skills 
  • Asking questions and active listening

Professional background for project management:

You can typically get project management experience on the job by taking responsibility for leading a project or initiative that requires input from multiple other team members (over whom you likely have no formal authority). This experience and result can unlock project management roles in whatever function you’ve worked in before. 

Prior accomplishments to be competitive for project management:

You want to demonstrate your experience managing one or more project involving multiple stakeholders from start to finish over weeks or months, including: 

  • Gathering requirements
  • Scoping
  • Scheduling 
  • Managing delivery 
  • Ensuring quality 

Personal characteristics for success in project management: 

Personality profile matters a lot for a good project manager — much more so than for many roles. Great project managers ensure nothing falls through the cracks. They are: 

  • Meticulous, focused on details
  • Organized
  • Process-oriented

How to prepare for and get a job in project management? 

Projects to learn and prove yourself:

This is one of the toughest skills to “bootstrap” apart from a formal role, because (A) the job inherently involves coordinating other people and (B) companies will be wary to give an intern or part-time employee this responsibility. So your actual project management experience will need to take place in the context of a job, a company you’re starting, or a club or extracurricular where you already have significant responsibility. Projects include: 

  • Agile training or certification
  • Develop a Kanban board for your career search
  • Conduct informational interviews on a specific project type (product launch, content calendar, etc.) and create a template project Kanban board in Asana, Trello, Jira, and Airtable, and publish a medium post to share
  • Take on responsibility for managing a project at work
  • Take on responsibility for managing a project in a student organization
  • Learn basics of software development
  • Take on responsibility for managing a project as part of a non-profit fundraiser or political campaign
  • Requirements gathering and scoping exercise for a software idea (get inspiration from this post)

Key concepts and resources for project management:

By Taylor Thompson

Taylor is a co-founder at Purpose Built Ventures, where he helps launch mission-driven companies. Before Purpose Built, Taylor led growth at Almanac, strategy for Curious Learning, and product at PharmaSecure. His work helps 100,000s of people collaborate at work, 4 million children learn to read, and protects billions of medicines from counterfeiting. He has hired dozens of people, helped raise more than $50 million, and contributed to as a researcher with Clay Christensen. Taylor is an Echoing Green Fellow, and he has degrees from Dartmouth College and Harvard Business School.

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