An inexperienced project manager.

How to Get Project Management Experience

We’ve seen several areas in the project management forums where aspiring project managers want to know how to get project management experience.  It proves even more difficult when your career focus doesn’t allow you to branch out in the role you currently fill.  Or, in some cases, new college graduates want to know how to get into the project manager role and get experience quickly.  Switching careers to the project management role much later in life can also be smoother with a few months of applying the basic tenets of project management.  Having the skill to keep tabs on every moving part of an evolving project takes discipline but you want to be a ring-leader!  Seasoned career vets also struggle with attempting to move into the project manager role.

The challenge is that your full-time job doesn’t really allow you to find time for project management but any job description you see wants a minimum of experience.  Even certifications require a minimum number of hours in project management.  There are the basic processes of project management in any field that all project managers must know, understand, and apply.  In technology, this could also lend itself to an understanding of methodologies such as software development, virtual storage, analytics, etc.  You know what your career focus means for the industry you are targeting, but how can you get more experience in a practical hands-on application for project management?

If you have just a couple of hours each week outside of your school or full-time job, there is an incredibly easy and accessible way to get that practical hands-on project management experience through volunteering.  Now before you click off this page, understand that while you might not get paid for a few hours a week to monitor and manage a project, you will receive countless returns in the form of project management experience, resume building, and development of professional connections.  You might even currently work for a company that encourages and allows some hours per month focused on volunteer work.

If like me, you found yourself questioning the impact you have in your current career and want to make a change without jumping ship, volunteering is probably the most profound way to quickly turn your skillset and passion into great impact!  You never have to leave the house (unless of course, you want to), can commit a few hours per week, access everything you need virtually, and learn a great deal about managing projects that have zero to do with driving shareholder results for a company you do not own.

There are many websites that you can sift through to find the best fit for your working style.  Your desire for impact and experience are exactly what these organizations need!  Countless Non-profit organizations have to analyze, procure, implement, and maintain many different types of technology.  It takes a technology project manager to make sure that these are done right!  As an example, for the last several months I have been volunteering for a non-profit organization that wanted to use collaboration tools like Google Enterprise, Basecamp, Slack, and others.  In some cases, if you only have the project management methodology with zero hands-on experience you can still make a major impact by applying those techniques to small projects across the non-profit landscape.

Finding the right fit and the best volunteer project management role is very easy because there are many to choose from. 

The best site with clearly defined expectations is Catchafire.org.  Catchafire may not list Project Manager as a specific skill set, but if you look at the “What are you good at?” dropdown list, you choose one and begin perusing needs.    In this example we will choose “Information Technology” and the opportunity cards are shown.  Let’s say that you know a lot about Google Analytics but still have zero project management experience.  There is a 4-6 week project to help the African American Firefighter Museum get their analytics in top shape.  If you click project steps, it tells you exactly what needs to happen.  You’ve already got your project steps and milestones and the project requirements.  This is a great project for experience to build on!  You would create a small project schedule and work with the project sponsor using the methodology.  It’s short-term and you understand exactly what they want.

Volunteer sites that have a variety of opportunities to build on:

  • The United Nations Online Volunteering Organization – This connects volunteers with organizations working for sustainable human development around the world.  Scroll down to “Technology Development” and use the link to see a sample of opportunities without having to sign up.
  • Volunteer Match – This matching service can also look for opportunities in your area but has extensive virtual projects.  Click “Computers & Technology”, then check “Virtual”.
  • Idealist.org – Use the Job Function and Remote/On-Site filter to find opportunities.  This site is not as easy to find opportunities for a few hours a week but may spark some ideas.
  • Catchafire.org – Matches volunteers with specific skill sets and has great starting project deliverables.
  • Upwork.com – While I can’t find many positive things to say about this site and don’t use it anymore; there are some Upwork advocates who navigate it easily.  Each job would clearly say, “This is an unpaid position.”.

Remember that while you may not find a virtual volunteer position that says, “We need a project manager!”, you will find many opportunities related to technology you have experience in and you will be managing yourself.  Discipline and focus are key qualities about project managers who can work virtually.  If you are looking for an eventual full-time virtual project management position, these experiences will support getting access to them.  You’ll be able to draw on several experiences as you work with organizations who need help.

These organizations don’t just let anyone through the door, so be prepared to have a quick telephone interview so that they can gauge your interest and how you might help them.  Before getting on the phone, make sure you understand how to apply basic project management processes to their needs, be open and honest about your lack of hands-on project management but that you are familiar with the technology.  If the organization is something you can be passionate about don’t forget to add a personal touch.

Your impact will be far greater than any paying job you have now.  In a years time, you will have a few project management gigs to add to the resume and you might have gained a few new colleagues.  Remember that you’ll also be connecting with other professionals who are connected to the technology workforce and you’ll be building a solid network in no time!

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