Challenge Accepted!

This is a guest post from Josh Nankivel from PM Student. If you are trying to begin your path in project management or are into it, Josh's blog is a treat. He also reached his half a million visitors this year! Congratulations.

This road sign is pretty much what the path forward looked like to me when I started my venture into formal project management.


Perhaps you can relate. Since then, I’ve combined what I’ve learned in my own journey with the things I wish I would have known to start with and try to help other people who are starting out.

These are the steps you can start taking today to de-mystify your project management career.

Step 1 - You Are Here

If you don’t know where you are starting from, it’s pretty tough to move forward.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ advice for starting or advancing your project management career. Imagine a GPS system in your car that has no knowledge of your current location. It doesn’t work, does it?

You can leverage your background, skills, and interests in different ways to get started. If you have a technical background, there are tons of strategies to use that to your advantage. The same is true if you come from a general or operational management background. Even if you are just starting out and don’t feel you have much experience or background to leverage, it’s very important to acknowledge that and use your interests and natural talents effectively.

Write it down. In the course I teach worksheets are provided to help you clearly define your ‘current location’ as a foundation from which to move forward. You can even start with a blank page and just do a SWOT analysis of your current position. Going through this process will help generate ideas about what you might be interested in pursuing and how you can parlay what makes you unique into opportunities going forward.

Step 2 - Define Your Destination And Plot The Course

Imagine that same GPS unit knows where you are currently at, but has no idea or only a vague notion of where you want to go.  Again, pretty hard to get there...

I recommend researching organizations to eventually target 3-5 companies that you would really love to work for, who have clear indicators they value project management as a discipline, are in an industry you love, and with whom you can leverage your starting point to quickly achieve your initial goals.

Aside from targeting the right organizations, this is the step where you start to examine how you should augment your tool kit with certifications, education, and above all gaining experience with projects in ways that will make you more competent and appealing to those target organizations.

Step 3 - Build Professional Relationships

Almost anything worth doing requires more than just one person.

When you get lost you want to have a circle of friends who know, like, and trust you that will help put you back on course. Networking is a scary word for most people, but I’m talking about building relationships here. And now that you have a clear set of routes planned for, you know exactly what kind of people you should focus on building strong professional relationships with.

The most important factor here is giving, giving, giving. If you want to get people to know, like, and trust you it’s all about being indispensable to them. Most people go about networking all wrong. They come across as a nuisance, expecting someone who barely knows them to spend time, effort, and social capital to fulfil a request.

You shouldn’t be requesting anything until you’ve delivered so much value to someone they feel obligated to repay all the favors you’ve done for them. Every person is going to be receptive and value different things, so you really have to know the people in your network if you want to provide them with real value. This isn’t something you can do halfway; do your homework and be specific. Set up whatever you are willing to do for them to make it so easy for them to say yes.

In fact, all they should have to do is say yes.

Here’s an example.  In September a local recruiter who is part of my network of friends reached out to me because I’ve always been willing to point him to qualified candidates, and he knows he is going to get a quality referral from me.  I have built up that trust over time by demonstrating my willingness and ability to deliver value to this recruiter.

It was a position for a Junior Project Manager position, and as it happens I knew someone else in my network who I thought would be a good fit. I made the connection between the two.  Here’s what happened:

•The recruiter gained a high-quality candidate referral.
•The candidate got a nice recommendation and referral for a position he’d love to have a chance at.
•I reinforced my status with both of them as someone who loves helping other people get what they want, without any expectations or hassle.

Voila! The virtuous circle is complete. All 3 parties here gained value. This is my style of networking and it’s a continuous process, not an event. Will I ever ‘get back’ the value I gave to these two individuals? Perhaps not. It doesn’t matter. If you do this often enough over time, you get to be known, liked, and trusted. Pay it forward, and you’ll be amazed what opportunities open up for you at some unexpected time in the future.

Step 4 - Drive With Confidence

In the last part of my course I get to the logistics of the job hunt; resumes/CVs, coverletters, portfolios, interviews, and dealing with offers and rejections. If you’ve done steps 1 and 2, and are constantly doing step 3, this is the icing on the cake.

Unfortunately, most people think this is the cake. It’s not!

(When did Josh switch from car to cake analogies? Just go with it people, I’m eccentric like that :-)

The goal of the previous steps is to never go into this phase of the process cold. You will be better prepared than the majority of candidates for whatever position you are applying. The vast majority of people do not know what I teach or actually take action to implement this stuff. They do what everyone else does instead; apply and pray.

If you’ve done your homework and put sincere effort into the process described earlier, the hiring managers will already know who you are and will be excited to interview you.  Imagine that!  

In the best cases the clear ‘vibe’ I’ve gotten when I did this well is that the whole application and interview process was just a formality; they already knew they wanted to hire me. In fact, you’ll notice I didn’t mention anything about searching the job boards online. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but if you are doing the rest of what I’ve outline well you should never have to. The goal is to hear about new positions from someone in your network who knows, likes, and trusts you... and wants you to come work with them.