February 9, 2024

How to Become an IT Project Manager Without Experience

Many IT project managers had to earn their positions. It means they did something to prove their ability to lead others. In this article, you’ll learn how to become an IT project manager step-by-step.

It is hard to become an IT project manager.

That’s because there are no clear career paths.

Moreover, most people make one critical mistake in the process.

They believe there’s a magical trick that allows them to jump across experience and knowledge gap. 

  • Maybe there’s a specific entry-level position that makes this gap smaller.

  • Maybe there’s education that automatically makes you an IT PM. 

  • Maybe there are companies that take interns.

Unfortunately, it’s wishful thinking, a desire for an easy workaround.

So, people spend a lot of time and effort to find a magical solution. 

What’s the Biggest Problem in Getting an IT PM Job?

The fact is you must overcome the chicken and egg problem:

You need experience to become an IT project manager. But at the same time, you have to be an IT PM to get that direct experience.

But don’t worry.

It’s a common challenge that you’ll see in any leadership role.

And it’s a challenge that you must overcome to prove you can lead people.

That’s why you must understand the difference between direct, relevant, and indirect types of experience.

Project Management Skills and Experiences

So, if you work as an IT project manager, you gain direct experience.

But if you work, for example, as a team leader, general manager, or any other role that requires collaboration, you’ll gain experience relevant to project management.

And here’s a secret:

You can also get indirect project management experience in any role.

A table that explains different type of experiences like direct indirect and relevant

You must find and execute some initiatives, but you try to use PM approaches. 

It’s a very broad category that doesn’t have any standards.

Obviously, when you don’t have direct experience, you must substitute it with relevant and indirect experiences.

How do You Get a Job as an IT Project Manager?

Now, why does my strategy of becoming an IT project manager without direct experience work so well?

That’s because I interviewed hundreds of project managers.

And I understand the hiring process on a deeper level.

Once you understand the hiring process, it will make so much more sense.

So, again, whether you are searching for a new job or you want to change your profession, everything follows the typical hiring process.

Here's a typical hiring process all employees get through.

Let’s assume it’s an entry-level project manager role, like a junior PM. 

So, this job description has specific requirements:

  • “previous experience in project management”

  • “strong leadership qualities”

  • “excellent communication skills”

But what actually happens when you apply for this job?

Obviously, you send your resume to a recruiter.

Or maybe you apply with your LinkedIn profile. 

And here’s the most critical question:

When a recruiter picks your resume, what do they see in it?

  1. Do you position yourself as a perfect candidate for the role of aspiring IT project manager?

  2. Or do you position yourself as QA, business analyst, tech support engineer, etc.?

Obviously, if you apply for the role of an IT PM and your resume describes, for example, a tech support engineer, you have zero chances. 

Recruiters will most likely even discard your resume, thinking you accidentally applied for the wrong position.

By the way, that’s the reason why your technical skills or bachelor’s degree in computer science won’t help you.

I'll explain each step below.

Proven Strategy on How to Become an IT Project Manager

The first step is to create a brand-new resume. This resume will position you as an aspiring project manager. It will contain only experiences and skills relevant to the role of an IT project manager.

The second step is to rewrite all your previous unrelated experiences from other jobs in terms of accomplishments in management, leadership, communication, and organization. 

The third step is to strategically and continuously close experience and skill gaps with micro projects. 

The fourth step is to continuously apply for project management jobs to develop interview skills and test your resume. 

If you try to implement these steps yourself, you’ll waste lots of time on trial and error.

That’s why – keep reading.

I’ll provide you with best practices for each step of the process. 

Step #1: Create a New Resume of an IT Project Manager

How to become an IT project manager?

You must position yourself as one.

So, the first step is to create a new resume that literally screams that you are an aspiring project manager and you have the required skills.

But do you have ethical and professional rights to title yourself as a PM without experience?

This brings us to two critical considerations:

  1. What is our resume?

  2. Who decides what our job titles are?

You can choose to title yourself as PMs

Hear me out.

  • Your resume is an advertisement of your talents and skills.

  • A resume shows how YOU want to position yourself in the job market. 

  • Your Resume lists your qualifications and experiences supporting YOUR selected position. 

Again, a resume is not a catalog of job titles that previous employers gave you. You can position yourself as you like.

When is it Okay to Title Yourself a Real Project Manager?

Here’s the secret:

You can title yourself an aspiring IT project manager anytime you want. There are no standards here. 

(Just to be clear, aspiring PM means you have no direct experience in managing projects.)

You may consider yourself a junior IT project manager if you can support this title with at least some experience relevant to project management.

We’ll discuss how to do it correctly below.

Likewise, you might be an accidental IT PM.

It means your current title might be something completely different. However, in practice, you manage people, and they do projects according to the standard definition of the project.

In this case, you can name yourself an IT project manager.

And if you describe your experience and accomplishments correctly, you may consider applying for mid-level positions, not entry-level ones.

What to Write in the Resume of an IT Project Manager?

So, at the top of your resume, as a title, you want to put your full name and the job title you apply for.

Again, you must put the title you are applying for, not your current position.

You have several options here:

You can say simply “Aspiring IT Project Manager”.

But as much as possible, it should match the job title in the job description. 

So, if the job description says Technical Project Manager, you put aspiring Technical Project Manager. If it says software project manager, you put aspiring software project manager.

Next, you will have a summary section. Here, you must accomplish two things:

  1. Reiterate that you are a PM.

  2. State that you pass the main criterion.

Usually, the main criterion is the number of years of relevant experience. 

Notice how many times I mention that I'm an IT PM!

So, it will sound like this:

“I’m an aspiring IT project manager with 4 years of experience in the IT industry. I have excellent communication skills as I interact with hundreds of customers. Additionally, I have proven experience organizing and managing people.”

Usually, the next section should list all the required skills and qualifications.

Here, you’ll have a neat table listing the skills mentioned in the job description. 

It’s critical that you, again, re-iterate that you have PM knowledge!

So, the first skill here should be “project management.” Then, you can add leadership, stakeholder management, and proficiency with PM tools.

When we talk about aspiring or junior PM roles, it’s okay to list knowledge and skills that you learned from books and courses but didn’t use in practice. 

Next, we move on to the professional experience section.

Here, you need to list out all your job titles and responsibilities.

And remember, here, we must write only experiences relevant or related to the job you are applying for.

Step #2: Reframe Your Experience into IT Project Management Achievements

You need to fill out the professional experience section of your resume.

So, the worst case scenario is when you create a new resume for an IT project manager, but you have nothing to put into your professional experience section. 

For example, you worked in a call center and literally sat on the phone the whole day. Obviously, you won’t recall any PM experience.

There’s no workaround here! You won’t pass the recruiter’s screening without related experience.

In such an unfortunate case, you first need to get into an environment that has a project manager career path.

Assistant Project Manager Career Path

So, how can you get an experience that will count as the relevant experience of a PM? An experience that will show you have the required skills and talents? 

There’s a lazy approach!

You can position yourself as an assistant IT project manager

So, if you work in a project environment and you have project managers around, you can help them perform some tasks.

For example, collecting and writing reports, managing Jira or any other tool you use, conducting regular performance reviews, and so on.

The more responsibilities you take, the better. 

If you can handle those project management roles, two things might happen:

  1. You may try to ask for a promotion to a junior PM role inside the organization. 

  2. You gain the ethical right to call yourself an assistant PM.

And you can apply directly to assistant and junior PM roles.

This approach may get you the first project management role in as little as six months. You don’t need years to gain that experience.

Be careful with a project coordinator role. Most employers see a project coordinator as a secretary. It might be hard to get a promotion to an IT PM.

How to Get Indirect Experience of an IT Project Manager?

You might not have an opportunity to work in a project environment.

In this case, you should find opportunities to invent your own projects at your workplace. 

So, consider the standard definition of a project:

“A time-limited endeavor that aims at creating a change, product, service, or specific outcome.”

This definition covers a broad spectrum of activities that we consider as a project.

That’s exactly why so many accidental and unofficial project managers exist. And they can quickly become professional PMs. 

The fact is anyone who leads a project can name themselves as a PM.

Step #3: Develop Project Management Skills with Micro Projects

Let me introduce you to a strategy that helped me build my whole career:

A micro project is a small improvement that you can do in your current environment. You can improve processes, documentation, and workflows. Also, you can teach others and help your boss achieve their goals.

Here’s an example of a micro project.

As a technical support engineer, I noticed inefficiencies in the process of approving the emails I wrote every day.

I did a quick analysis and created a set of email templates. I got confirmation from leadership that they don’t require any approvals and could be sent to clients directly.

It reduced the cost for eighty percent of emails by ninety-five percent. It was the first time our department could clear out all the requests we got.

As a result, I got my first leadership and PM experience. It was an outstanding achievement that opened the door to the role of a PM.

In fact, it was a real project. The initiative I described falls well under the standard definition of a project. It’s just a small version of it – a micro project.

As you can see, the opportunities for micro-projects are limitless.

Any company, any function has lots of inefficiencies.

You can take the initiative to improve something in your environment.

Use Project Management Methodologies With Micro Projects

The key here is to use a simple project management approach and act as a PM.

It means you must manage stakeholders and, ideally, don’t do the work yourself. 

Instead, you need to organize your peers and colleagues to help you. That’s because you need to gain proven leadership skills while you have no authority or title.

The most important thing about micro projects is that you probably have already done quite a lot of them in your previous jobs.

So, now, you need to recollect all the micro-projects you did in your professional career and describe them from the project management perspective. 

And here’s another secret trick.

Use Accomplishments to Display Key Skills

You won’t be able to describe your professional experience as responsibilities.

Most likely, you can’t claim that you planned projects, managed stakeholders, and other typical PM responsibilities.

That’s why, instead, you need to describe your experience as achievements that highlight your understanding of project management and imply that you managed people.

For example, the improvement I mentioned a minute ago ended up in my resume as the following achievement: 

“Created a template answers database, which resulted in a 95% cost reduction for 80% of incoming requests.”

So, you can now position all your micro-projects as indirect or relevant experience of an unofficial project manager.

Project Management Institute Certifications That May Help

A comparison table of typical certifications IT Project Managers may get

So, first of all, there’s a low-hanging fruit in the IT industry.

It’s the scrum master certification. Usually, it takes about two days of training and a simple exam. 

A good live training with a good coach will cost around two thousand dollars. But we can find very cheap online alternatives as well. Scrum Alliance has good coaches.

The secret here is that most project managers act as scrum masters in the IT industry. So, it’s a good skill set to have.

Next, we have entry-level project management certifications like CAPM and PRINCE2 Foundation

Here’s a catch. If you live and work in the UK, you should go for PRINCE2. If you live in any other part of the world, you should go for CAPM.

Both certifications have no prerequisites. They cost a lot, and the exams are quite difficult. So, you’ll have to take a training course and study for the exam. 

I don’t recommend the project management professional (PMI PMP) certification. It doesn’t have a direct impact on IT project managers. You can get it to make a career advancement at 5-7 years mark to get a higher salary.

The Problem with All Certifications

But here’s the problem I see with all certifications.

(And it circles back to the hiring process and applying with your resume.)

As a result of a certification, you’ll simply mention the certification in your resume.

Real life example of a resume with PM certifications

Maybe you put it in the title. And also at the end in the Education section. That’s all.

The rest of your resume stays the same.

Here’s what I want you to understand. You won’t get a PM role if you go this lazy path of getting the certification and mentioning it in your old resume. 

You must create a new resume for a PM! In this case, getting a certification will reinforce your skills and experience.

But also keep in mind that both Project Management Institute CAPM and PRINCE2 are theoretical courses.

And it’s a serious problem. 

These courses teach project management approaches that no one uses in the real world as is. Project management simply doesn’t work that way. 

As a result, it will be hard to pass an interview because the interviewer will see you have no practical experience or even understanding of how things work with real projects.

What Skills Do IT Project Managers Need?

  • Do you need any technical skills?

  • Do you need a bachelor’s degree in computer science?

  • Do you need a background in software development?

You don’t need any of that to become an IT PM.

IT project managers don’t use technical skills in general. Watch this video to understand what you really need to know.

Most project managers don’t have formal education. They have to google their way through a project.

But as you can see from this article, you must be a confident manager from day one.

You have two options now:

Option #1: Try to figure it all out on your own and slow down your career for years.

Option #2: Let me explain the practical project management framework in a few days.

My Practical Project Management book covers all aspects of project management you need in the real world. All the knowledge comes from my 12 years of practical experience.

Get the book. Read it instead of random articles. Master a practical project management approach that will boost your knowledge and skills.

All successful project managers know it’s better to learn from someone else’s experience (aka lessons learned). That’s because you are confident that these tips and tricks do work in the real world.

If you want to become a great project manager, get the book now.

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