Are you a big-picture thinker? A good decision-maker? Do you like collaboration? How about owning a project from start to finish? If you answered “yes” to these questions, then a role as a Project Manager could be a good fit for you.
Project Managers work at companies in every sector, from technology to healthcare to real estate. They oversee the day-to-day tasks that are required to make projects successful. And these professionals often bring subject matter expertise to their role that they gained prior to transitioning to project management. For example, a Project Manager at a software development company might’ve worked as a developer for several years before moving into project management. At a machine learning company, a Project Manager might’ve been a Data Scientist before they took on their current role.
But you don’t have to come from a tech background to land a Project Manager role at a tech company. As long as you’re willing to develop some new skills and learn tools that Project Managers use on a daily basis, it’s totally possible to make the transition to Project Manager at a tech company. Here are tips to plan out your transition, plus advice on how to get started.
But first: What is project management?
Project management involves a variety of hard skills and soft skills to lead a team to meet specific goals and deliverables within a set of given constraints. In software development, an example of a project is developing a new app or software package, and a Project Manager would spearhead the operations of getting that project to the finish line. This person would ensure that the team is meeting deadlines and working within the budget.
Here’s another example: Imagine you’re in charge of building your dream house. Over the course of this project, you’ll be hiring and talking to dozens of specialists, like real estate agents, architects, permit agencies, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, and engineers. Not only that, but you’ll be working within a specific budget and a timeline.
To get everything done in the right order, on time, and within budget, you’ll apply project management principles. For example, you’ll prioritize tasks based on what’s most important in the construction process, and you’ll figure out which tasks are dependent on other tasks being completed. Then, you’ll purchase the materials to build your house, keep track of what everything costs, and line up all the professionals before construction starts. You’ll also oversee the work and make sure everything is on schedule, pivoting if need-be.
But project management goes far beyond these tasks. The most successful project managers are experts in risk management, communication, and foreseeing problems before they come up. They’re also great leaders who know how to motivate their teams and quickly adapt to changes. If they work in tech, they don’t need nitty gritty knowledge about how products are built, but they need to understand the field well enough to communicate effectively between stakeholders. (And the more subject matter expertise they can bring to the team, the better!)
Here are five steps you can take to pursue a Project Manager career.
1. Look for project management skills you already have
You might not realize it, but you probably already have a handful of relevant skills that’ll help you become a Project Manager. This is because many of the fundamental project management skills are universal.
Maybe you’ve coordinated volunteers for an event or planned a retirement party for a family member. Have you ever put on a bake sale or a car wash? What about putting together a vacation itinerary? To pull off any of these, you would’ve used skills, and in some cases tools, to get the job done that gave you some exposure to the skills you’ll need as a Project Manager. These include leadership, communication, scheduling, prioritization, time management, budgeting, and organization — and that’s all without doing any formal project management training.
2. Build the project management skills you need
Once you’ve figured out your existing project management skills, you can build on them by learning some hard skills in project management. These include Agile methodologies (such as Scrum and Kanban), the Waterfall software development method, risk management, planning and forecasting, resource allocation/budgeting, and analytical skills.
There are a number of different ways to develop these skills, from online courses to webinars to traditional college classes. If you're looking for self-paced online options, you can check out our Analyze Data with Microsoft Excel course to get started building your analytical skills.
If you’re interested in being a Project Manager on a web development team and you haven’t worked in the space before, you could consider taking some courses to familiarize yourself with what developers do all day. Having knowledge of the work your teammates do can be really helpful and make your job easier as a Project Manager, especially when it comes to scheduling, prioritization, and communication.
Our Learn How To Build A Website Skill Path is a great way to learn the basics of web development while also learning how to collaborate with developers. And you’ll also complete the Skill Path by creating a personal website, which you could use as a portfolio to use for applying to jobs.
3. Learn to use project management tools
Project management software helps teams collaborate, stay organized, and track their progress over the lifecycle of a project. As a Project Manager, you’ll likely use a project management software on a daily basis to collaborate with your team, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with one or more of these software packages.
Also, depending on the role and job description, the name of a project management software could be a keyword that hiring managers and applicant tracking systems (ATS) look for on applications. So don’t forget to list these on your resume when you’re applying for jobs.
Some popular project management tools to check out are Jira, Asana, Notion, Monday.com, Trello, Wrike, and Hive. We also rounded up some other collaboration tools that developers use to work together more seamlessly.
4. Get ready for the job search
Once you have the skills you’ll need to start a career in project management, it’s time to apply for jobs. When you’re searching for roles, look out for job titles like IT Project Manager, Technical Project Manager, and Engineering Project Manager, as well as simply Project Manager. You can also find these jobs listed with a descriptor. For example, Software Project Manager, Project Manager - Web Development, Agile Project Manager, and Senior Project Manager are popular ones. If this is your first job or you're switching careers, some entry-level job titles to watch out for are Project Coordinator, Project Administrator, and Project Management Specialist.
Hiring managers will expect to see a resume from a Project Manager, so you’ll want to highlight all your technical skills, as well as your soft skills, on your resume. Check out this guide on how to build a technical resume, as well as this advice on how to showcase your soft skills.
One way to increase your chances of getting noticed by hiring managers is to submit an online portfolio with your application that highlights the skills that you'd bring to the position. Consider picking one or two case studies to feature and include details like the project scope, budget, timeline, and client testimonials. If you have any images or videos of the final product, include those too since they help the hiring team visualize how you’ve managed projects in the past. You can also discuss major challenges you faced during the project and how you overcame them — hiring managers like to learn how you approach issues and solve them. Remember that you can include a wide range of projects in your portfolio, from organizing a local fundraiser to working on a major software update.
Here are some tips to help you put together your technical portfolio.
5. Prepare for a Project Manager interview
All of your training, job searching, and resume writing have been leading up to this moment: the interview. This is your chance to prove your technical knowledge, demonstrate your soft skills, and show the hiring manager that you’re the best fit for the role.
Each company has its own interview process, which may involve a single meeting with the hiring manager or multiple rounds with different people from HR and the technical team. So you’ll want to make sure you’re as prepared as possible for your interviews.
One of the most effective ways to prepare is by setting up a mock interview. You could ask a friend or family member to play the part of the interviewer and ask you questions. If this isn’t an option, even just saying your answers out loud is a good way to practice. Another tip for the interview is to memorize examples that highlight your skills. For example, you’ll probably be asked a question about budgeting, so take some time to think through your past experience and find an example that illustrates your budgeting skills in the best way possible.
Want more interview advice? Read more tips on how to ace your technical and behavioral interview. You can also find more resume writing tips, portfolio guidance, and interview prep support at our Career Center.