Top 5 Ways to Become a Project Manager Without Prior Experience

Mar 03, 2021   12 Min Read
If you've decided to give project management a try, shifting careers without having much experience can be tough. Still, there are ways to make it.

According to published data, almost one in five project managers thought of leaving their jobs in 2020, with 59% of managers running two to five projects concurrently. In addition, only 29% of projects are completed on time, with only 35% of organizations being satisfied with their project management staff. 

Being a project manager requires a lot more things than just experience, and there are many ways to obtain these traits. Some of the responsibilities typically associated with project management are:

  • Setting milestones, goals, and timeframe for project development,
  • Job delegation within the team based on skills and personalities,
  • Managing meetings and presentations for different stakeholders,
  • Writing and analyzing progress reports for upper management and clients,
  • Management of team culture, coaching, and conflict resolution,
  • Smart project tools and resources management,
  • Multitasking of multiple concurrent projects.

While alluring, the position of a project manager is a responsible one. Taking the right risks and taking advantage of opportunities that come your way is important. The more willing you are to learn, the more likely you will be to secure your dream job.

If you are wondering how to get into project management, here are some helpful tips to get you started.

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1. Have the Right Set of Skills

When trying to lead a group, it is important that you have certain skills and qualities to help you face any challenge. These might be a little different depending on the field of business you are working in, but some of them are standard for all. 

Based on recent data, over 20% of aspiring project managers expressed that their 12-month goals include gaining relevant certification, with 47% having defined career paths. This makes the development of relevant hard skills and competencies a must if you want to become a project manager without prior experience. Some of the most important skills to work on are the following:

  • Leadership—A good leader needs to be respected by the people they work with. This is an important skill as it will help you understand how a team functions. As a result, you will be more likely to acknowledge the characteristics of a good team and set clear goals and expectations for everyone. 
  • Good communication—Poor communication can seriously damage the way a team works. This is another one of the things that are up to the team leader to work on and improve. If you set a good example by being clear about your needs, expectations, and obligations, everyone will follow in your step.
  • Decision making—Making decisions can sometimes be hard when you have to decide for a group of people. A good leader should be able to weigh the pros and cons of a situation and make the necessary choices. This includes deciding what resources to use for the project, as well as which person will be in charge of which part of the project.
  • Motivation—Motivating team members is a deciding factor of a team’s success. As a project manager, you should be able to help motivate everyone to work hard and achieve their collective goals. This is something that will greatly reflect the way you work and your motivation to see the team succeed. 
  • Trust building—Building trust heavily relies on the relationships you build with your members. Being honest and hardworking can help you build trust a lot easier. Coaching and team-building activities are a major part of managing a team properly, so having these skills can greatly benefit your odds at employment.
  • Conflict management—Resolving conflicts in your team will be something you will occasionally have to do. A team is made up of different people, and they will not always get along. As the leader, you will have to ensure that everyone is able to work together well.
  • Organization—Being able to organize different tasks and the responsibilities of each member is a crucial skill for any project manager. This includes duty delegation, project segmentation, and planning in accordance with your deadline and resources.

All of these skills will help you better manage any team without many issues. You can work on improving or acquiring these skills through being a member yourself. Observe the leaders in any group you are participating in and see how they resolve situations. This will help you see what skills you lack and allow you to improve your chances of landing a manager job.

2. Get the Appropriate Online Education

Most people who want to start working as project managers don’t necessarily have the working experience that is necessary to land the job. Getting online education and potentially the certifications you need is the next best thing.

If you are wondering how to become a project manager without a degree, online courses are the thing you need. According to published reports, e-learning increases learner retention by 25-60% due to it being more engaging and flexible than traditional education.

There are many ways for you to do this online at a reasonable price. You will be able to find all kinds of different online courses based on your field of work. These will allow you to get a glimpse at what is project management experience and how you can get it. Some of the options available to you include:

  • Udemy Udemy is a lifelong-learning online platform with a vast repository of free and paid courses which you can partake in. In terms of project management, Udemy offers an assortment of courses ranging from agile project management, PMP certification, and risk management. Whether you’re a complete novice or have some insight into project management already, Udemy will most certainly help cover your professional shortcomings.
  • Coursera. While Coursera is in the same vein as Udemy, its assortment of courses is completely different. Coursera also features free and paid courses depending on your budget and can help you learn a lot about project management. Some of the topics you can pursue via Coursera include basics of project management and its principles, software and engineering project management, and negotiation strategies. 
  • Lynda. As part of LinkedIn, Lynda is arguably one of the best choices for a project management learning platform. Lynda offers a free trial, after which a premium subscription is required for further learning. However, Lynda stands in a category of its own, offering significantly more professional and engaging content for the price of admission. You can learn about everything from project management ethics and scheduling to stakeholder management and prototyping via its comprehensive courses.
  • EdX. If you’re looking for project management courses that will cover all of the major industry pain points quickly, look no further than edX. The platform will smoothly introduce you to the world of project management through its lineup of agile, IT management, and project planning. The value of edX lies in the fact that the platform serves as a proxy between you and major universities and companies offering the courses. Meaning, you will gain insight and certification from experts with practical knowledge of how moment-to-moment project management works.

These will allow you to learn a lot of important information on how to run a team and be a good manager. Many companies will take online certificates seriously and give you the chance to start your career. Just make sure that you are clear about where you got your certification from and provide the necessary documents.

3. Know How to Use Helpful Tools and Applications

Along with the soft skills necessary for the job, there are also certain hard skills that a project manager should have. A set of tools such as Microsoft Office and similar time and goal management tools are essential in this field. In addition, knowing how to use different email services and team tracking tools is always a plus. Some of the tools you should be familiar with to compensate for your lack of prior project management experience include: 

  • Google Workspace(formerly G Suite) In terms of general document and cloud data management, Google Workspace is a comprehensive enough suite of tools to get you started. It offers a variety of apps and tools for creating documents, presentations, tables, as well as allowing you to share said data with your team. Its cross-platform functionality and reliance on templates will speed up your workflow and enable you to manage your team more efficiently.
  • Infinity—Managing your team’s workflow is much easier with a professional collaboration platform available to everyone. As such, Infinity can provide you with a detailed platform for project planning, delegation, and progress overview. You can manage your project’s milestones, calendar, as well as customize the work environment to suit your team’s exact needs quite easily. With its native support for Zapier and Clockify, Infinity is the tool to learn if you want to land a job as a project manager.
  • TrelloAn alternative to Infinity, Trello helps teams collaborate, manage projects, and improve productivity. You can organize tasks using Trello boards, lists, and cards and expand each project using task assignments, timelines, productivity metrics, calendars, and other. Trello comes with a built-in automation tool called Butler that enables you to create custom buttons and automate repetitive tasks. Since being a project manager implies handling multiple tools, Trello has made it possible to integrate software like Confluence, Slack, Dropbox, Google Drive, or Evernote into your workflow.
  • AsanaAsana is another versatile project management tool that facilitates team collaboration. This software provides multiple project views, including list view, timeline, and boards. When it comes to task automation, Asana lets you create custom rules to automate common tasks and prevent human error. Just like Infinity, Asana offers 50+ pre-made templates for different types of projects and task pipelines, which comes very handy when you’re building your project workflow.
  • SlackIt is hard to imagine remote work without a tool like Slack. This communication platform enables real-time messaging, audio, and video calls between two or more participants. Teams can create an unlimited number of public or private channels for different topics and projects, and decide which team members have access to which channels. If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop for team communication, Slack offers various integrations, simple file sharing, and workflow automations.
  • Skype for BusinessRemote work management has become something of an industry staple lately, especially due to extensive social distancing norms still in place. Learning how to use Skype for Business will drastically improve your chances of becoming a project manager. Skype for Business is what it says it is—a video and messaging app designed with professional collaboration in mind. You can share desktop screens, documents, and feedback on certain project aspects with your team via these apps, so choose the one that suits you.
  • ZoomNamed a Leader in the 2020 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Meeting Solutions, Zoom is becoming a sine qua non for team communication worldwide. Zoom Meetings syncs with users’ calendar and provides video conferencing via desktop, mobile, and dedicated Zoom for Home devices. If you are reluctant to discuss sensitive information on a video call, rest assured that Zoom uses 256-bit TLS encryption to protect shared video and audio content. You can go a step further and enable end-to-end encryption with private crypto keys and prevent sharing without permission by adding audio signatures or watermark screenshots.
  • TogglIf you charge projects by the hour, some kind of time tracking software should definitely be on the list of tools to use. Toggl started out as a time tracking tool that enabled individuals and teams to track time spent on different tasks but what was formerly known as Toggl is now Toggl Track, since the company expanded its software suite with two more products: Toggl Plan and Toggl Hire. While the latter is a candidate screening tool, the former is much more interesting from a project management standpoint. Toggl Plan is a simple drag-and-drop project management tool for organizing tasks in Gantt charts, especially great for creative and marketing teams.
  • LucidchartA picture is worth a thousand words, and flowcharting processes provides clarity that no brief can match. Lucidchart lets you create diagrams or flowcharts by using 500+ templates or by dragging and dropping elements from the shapes library. Some of the great things you can achieve by using this software include process mapping, org chart design, and agile planning. Like many aforementioned tools, Lucidchart also provides integrations with popular apps like Google Docs, Microsoft Word and Excel, Salesforce, and many others.
  • SmartDraw—Graphs, charts, and other forms of visualized data are standard affairs in project management. SmartDraw is a deceptively simple platform that will allow you to quickly create visualized data based on your team’s gathered information. You can use SmartDraw and its plethora of templates to spruce up your presentations or simply to make the project more understandable to stakeholders. The tool is useful for brainstorming and mind mapping, so you can use it in different scenarios to ensure the successful completion of your project.

Depending on the job you apply for, it might require you to know how to use different tools. It is up to you to show that you are willing to learn and eager to help your team reach success. You can also learn how to use writing tools to edit the emails your team sends out. You can check them out in this helpful database and find the tools and services you need.

Most tools will be fairly similar, so knowing how to work a few basic ones will make this job easier. Many companies will require you to be familiar with a variety of different tools that will help you run your team better. Knowing about these tools will help you go from wondering “how do I become a project manager” to actually becoming a professional.

Most tools will be fairly similar, so knowing how to work a few basic ones will make this job easier. Many companies will require you to be familiar with a variety of different tools that will help you run your team better. Knowing about these tools will help you go from wondering “how do I become a project manager” to actually becoming a professional.

4. Create a Strong Resume

One of the biggest reasons why someone would choose you for a project manager job is the way you present yourself. There is no better way to show who you are other than your resume. Judging by gathered data, it takes recruiters an average of six seconds to determine a candidate’s viability, with over 250 resumes submitted for corporate-level positions. This is exactly why it is important to enhance your resume and make sure you give a good first impression. 

Your resume should focus mainly on your soft skills that were mentioned in the beginning, especially if you don’t have formal project management experience. This will show how eager you are to work on new projects and excel. Every company will look for people that are hardworking and devoted. In addition, you should mention your past working and volunteering experience, even if it is in a different field. Some of the general pointers you should follow in writing your resume without past experience in project management are:

  • Emphasize your formal education and any volunteering/internships you did during schooling.
  • Write separate sections for soft and hard skills to indicate your passion for project management.
  • Use keywords related to project management and the specific industry you are applying in.
  • Keep the resume itself limited to a single page, with portfolio or work samples as separate links.
  • Edit and format your resume so that it doesn’t contain any grammar or proofreading errors.
  • Write a cover letter elaborating on your career plans and willingness to learn about the industry.

Knowing that you have been working and producing results will show employers you have carefully thought of choosing project management as your career path.  

5. Apply for Entry-Level Jobs

The first project manager job you apply for should always be an entry-level one. More advanced positions require people to have a certain amount of experience, so starting there is probably not the best idea. This is something that will help you increase your chances of actually landing the job and starting this journey. The questions you should prepare for in advance when it comes to project management positions include but are not limited to:

  • In your opinion, what are the responsibilities of a project manager?
  • What is your leadership style, and how can you build on it further?
  • Do you see yourself building a long-term career in project management?
  • What was your most successful project so far? What worked and didn’t work?
  • What kind of project tools and resources are you familiar with?
  • How do you handle conflicts and misunderstandings? Do you have experience in coaching?
  • Why do you want to develop your project management skills in our company in particular?

While not set in stone, some form of these questions will pop up during your interview, so think about your answers in advance.

One of the things that entry-level project management jobs have to offer is the chance to gather experience. Many companies are willing to onboard project managers as interns or team members and groom them for leadership if they are satisfied with their performance. Therefore, it will be much simpler for you to present your aspirations and convince your future employer that you are perfect for the job.

To Wrap Things Up

Landing a project management position without any prior experience can present you with something of a catch-22 situation. To land the position, you will need at least passing knowledge of how to manage projects, which is where courses and certification come into play. 

Invest time into learning the right skills, terminology, and project management principles before you approach a big company and apply for its project management opening.

Employers are willing to go out on a limb for passionate candidates without experience, but you have to show love for project management through preparation. Take the time to adequately prepare for your next job application, and potential employers will look to you much more favorably and subsequently hire you.

Marques Coleman
Marques Coleman
Marques Coleman is a blog writer who specializes in marketing and copywriting. Moreover, he is an avid traveler who is always trying to learn something new.
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