How to Get Project Management Experience Without Any Experience
Written By: Jennifer Glatz, P.Eng., PMP
November 21, 2019
You have completed your education in Project Management and achieved your first credential – congratulations! The next step is to enter the market into your first project related position. It is not uncommon however, for people to struggle to get their foot in the door. Two of the age-old questions from recent grads are: “How do I get experience without having any experience?” and “How do I get into the industry if all the job postings have minimum years of experience?”.
Often, employers state in their job postings that they are looking for candidates that have at least a few years of experience. This can feel like a deterrent to people who are freshly graduated without any practical experience, to the point where they do not even want to apply. It may also be an uncomfortable topic during the interview process, leaving them unsure of how to respond.
The main reason why employers list minimum years of experience in their requirements is they want to make sure that candidates have some basic practical knowledge of their industry and their business. Each industry has its own unique language, processes, and workflow. For example, a candidate applying in the software industry must have a fundamental understanding of Agile project management practices and terms, as well as understand the workflow of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Recruiters will be looking for candidates to demonstrate their knowledge of these two things both in their applications and during the interview. Although you may not have years of work experience, make sure to educate yourself on the basics related to your industry and segment through courses and self-study, and tailor your resume accordingly to demonstrate the fundamental knowledge you do have.
If you are in this situation, there are few important things to consider:
1. Employers need a way to filter applicants to make their review list a manageable size. You can imagine that especially in a competitive market, employers are bombarded with thousands of applications. Including a minimum years of experience criteria is one technique that employers commonly use to help narrow the search, but it is not the only criteria. Don’t let this requirement deter you from applying.
2. For entry level or junior positions, employers are seeking candidates who are committed to staying in the industry long term and who are eager to learn. Hiring and onboarding entry level graduates cost an employer a lot of money as they are investing in your future. They want to feel like their investment is going to see a return in the long run. It is critical that you express your commitment in your application and demonstrate your eagerness to learn and grow.
3. In your job search, look for companies that have a page or section on their website that specifically addresses how they engage with students and new grads. This could be a separate section on their Careers page that explains any programs or events that they offer. If a company has a dedicated page for students and new grads, it indicates that they value young talent, they are willing to invest in training, and that they have positions available with no minimum years of experience requirement.
4. A great way to overcome this challenging question in the interview is to talk about your superpower. Be prepared to talk about one thing that you are exceptional at and explain how that skill will bring value to the employer. Try to tie some examples back to your personal life, studies, or volunteer experience to demonstrate how this skill made you successful. For example, let’s say you are an absolute whiz at using spreadsheets and you were able to use this superpower to do some analytics on how to boost ticket sales for an event you planned. If you’re struggling to figure out your superpower, reach out to your friends and family for feedback on the things for which they can depend on you.
Consider this: if you were going to put some money away in a savings account, wouldn’t you want the financial adviser walking you through your account options to demonstrate their fundamental knowledge when you meet them? They don’t necessarily need to be an expert in finance, but you would likely feel more comfortable investing your money if they were able to meet your fundamental needs.
If you’re looking for more ideas on how to start your PM career, check out our Project Management Career Kickstarter Guidebook.