5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Entering the PM Market

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Written By: Jennifer Glatz, P.Eng., PMP

December 10, 2019


Are you experiencing frustration because you are not getting any feedback on your job applications? Perhaps you’ve had a few screening or first round interviews but don’t get invited for the second round. Are you also unsure of how to network effectively with other professionals to find hidden opportunities? Learn about the five common mistakes to avoid when entering the Project Management market.

Let’s face it! The Project Management industry in general is quite competitive and each year universities are pumping out graduates from various Project Management programs.

I’ve been receiving a lot of questions recently from graduates about how to land their first project role after finishing their education. Be sure to avoid these five common mistakes when entering the market.

Common Mistake #1. Pursuing the Project Manager Title Without Any Experience

Leading and being responsible for the business outcomes of projects are a huge responsibility. Many project managers take several years to develop the right technical and leadership skills to be prepared for such a task. If you have recently graduated from a Project Management program, whether it’s obtaining a credential or finishing your post-grad diploma, it is more appropriate to pursue positions that will start to build your practical project management skills. A few examples include an Estimator, Scheduler, or Cost Control Analyst.

Common Mistake #2. Not Targeting a Specific Market Segment Within Your Chosen Industry

I understand the temptation to submit as many applications as possible for project roles, in other words to cast a wide net. However, the issue with this approach is that your resume will be generic. Each industry has several market segments within it. The figure below shows an example of the construction industry.

Construction Industry & Market Segments
Construction Industry & Market Segments

Each segment within a given industry will have its own project management life cycle, workflows, language, and terms. Even for entry level positions, employers are looking for candidates to demonstrate their basic knowledge of the segment in their application. It’s important to choose a market segment, educate yourself on the basics, and tailor your resume accordingly.

Common Mistake #3. Using a Chronological-Based Resume

The PM industry has evolved in recent years to focus on results. Gone are the days where tenure or years of experience have taken precedent. It is now about answering the question: What can you do for me now? Employers are looking for candidates to demonstrate their skills AND results that they can expect from those skills. A chronological-based resume focuses on what you’ve done in the past and quickly highlights any gaps you have. Switching to a skills-based resume format changes the whole conversation: it highlights the skills you possess and what results you can deliver. 

Common Mistake #4. Not Leveraging Your Network, Both In-Person and Online

The age-old saying of “It’s Not What You Know, But Who You Know” is still ever present. Also, many opportunities present themselves through back channels and side conversations. If you are not leveraging your network, then you are certainly missing out. As you continue to submit formal applications online, also include networking activities in your daily routine. Make sure to seek out in-person networking opportunities in your chosen market segment and leverage your online networks on social media to connect with other professionals and have a conversation.

Common Mistake #5. Not Adequately Preparing for Your Interviews

When it comes time to make an impression in person, it’s important for you to be ready to present your best self. A common mistake of candidates is that they aren’t prepared to confidently answer three types of questions: skills-based, behavioral-based, and situational-based questions. Here are a few examples:

Skills-Based: Have you ever been involved in risk management? 

Behavioral-Based: Tell me about a time when you fell behind on schedule on a project?

Situational-Based: What would you do if a more senior co-worker disagreed with your approach on how project meetings are run?

In addition to preparing and practicing to answer these types of questions, be sure to follow proper interview etiquette including showing up a few minutes early, dressing the part, and thanking the interviewers for their time.

Avoiding these 5 common mistakes will help you to navigate the recruitment process more effectively and set you apart from the sea of competition.


If you are seeking more hands-on support to help you navigate the recruiting process and avoid these common mistakes with step-by-step instructions, check out my Project Leader Kickstarter Signature Coaching Program.