Project managers oversee processes from start to finish, and are therefore essential to the smooth running of an organisation. You'll succeed in the role with the right combination of qualifications, skills and experience
Project managers can work in a variety of sectors, from business, construction and engineering to IT, marketing and retail. In this role you'll ensure projects are delivered on time and to budget, by planning and organising resources and people.
As a new graduate you'll probably start off in a junior or assistant project management position. Read on to discover the qualifications and skills you'll need to progress.
Project management courses
You can get into general project management with any degree subject, although courses in business or project management are particularly useful. However, for more specific project management roles, such as those in engineering or IT, subject knowledge is more important, so an undergraduate degree in a related subject will prove useful.
You don't need a postgraduate qualification to get a job as a project manager but if your first degree is unrelated, a Masters could increase your chances of success.
A degree in project management will qualify you for the job, but it's the additional knowledge you'll gain through professional qualifications and short courses that will help you to progress as a project manager.
Completing these qualifications before finding employment isn't necessary, as the majority of employers provide new recruits with on-the-job training.
Courses are available in the various project management methodologies, such as:
- PRINCE2 - a structured methodology, commonly used for end-to-end project management. Courses are available at foundation, practitioner and agile level. Foundation courses are suitable for new recruits with a basic knowledge of project management processes. You'll then progress to practitioner level, which is aimed at working professionals.
- Agile - is suited to fast-moving environments such as IT. Agile methodology uses short development cycles called sprints to focus on continuous improvement in the development of a product. Training is available at foundation and practitioner level. For more information on Agile courses, see IT training.
The APM offers the following certifications:
- APM Project Fundamentals Qualification (PFQ) - an introductory course in project management terminology. No prior project management knowledge or experience is required.
- APM Project Management Qualification (PMQ) - a knowledge-based qualification that allows candidates to demonstrate an understanding of all elements of project management. You'll need some previous experience and will ideally have completed the PFQ.
- APM Project Professional Qualification (PPQ) - covers the core and specific competences project professionals require. It's aimed at those working in all types of project management and looking to become a member of the APM.
The APM also offers shorter courses, including the Single Subject Risk Certificate - designed to build on the knowledge gained in the PMQ or similar management qualifications. Find out more at APM Qualifications and training.
A variety of certificates for experienced project managers are also available from the PMI. In most cases you'll need a degree and at least three years of project management experience for entry onto these programmes. Courses include:
- Project Management Professional (PMP)
- Program Management Professional (PgMP)
- Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)
- Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
- PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
- PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)
- PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)
- PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP).
Project management skills
As well as qualifications, to be effective in a project management role you'll need certain skills and competencies. The following are often cited in project manager job vacancies:
- Time management - you'll spend time figuring out how other people spend their time, but it's equally important to be skilled in managing your own workload. It's your job to prioritise and delegate tasks successfully. You need to be skilled at identifying the most important tasks, and saying no to requests that will get in the way of completing priority tasks.
- Organisation - how can a project manager organise the work of others if they’re unorganised themselves? The job demands a high level of responsibility from setting goals, managing meetings and creating estimates and timelines to scheduling and tracking the progress of a project.
- Communication - the majority of your time will be spent liaising with others. You need to be able to clearly articulate visions, ideas, goals and project issues to a variety of people, from team members to stakeholders. Your written communications skills need to be honed for report writing, while your verbal skills need to be up to scratch for meetings and presentations. Good listening ability is also essential.
- Negotiation - project managers need to be excellent negotiators in order to find common ground to accomplish project goals. You'll need to work with teams, often with competing interests to negotiate resources, budgets and schedules. Knowing how to negotiate a win-win outcome for all parties is the sign of a good project manager.
- Risk management - identifying and managing risk shows that you're in control of your project. You need to stay ahead of the game and predict and create solutions to problems before they arise in order to deliver projects successfully.
- Leadership - being able to lead your team, as well as manage their activities is vital. You need to be able to inspire team members, set the project vision and motive your colleagues.
Work experience can help to build up your project management knowledge and skills. Any experience leading and organising the activities of a team will be valuable. Look for internships as a junior or assistant project manager in sectors of interest, arrange a period of work shadowing with an experienced professional or volunteer in leadership roles. Also consider signing up to professional bodies such as the APM and the PMI as a student member, to access networking opportunities and events.
Project management apprenticeships
Consider a project management apprenticeship if you’d like to earn as you learn and start building industry contacts from day one.
Programmes are typically at Higher level (Level 4 - equivalent to a foundation degree), although a Level 6 project management degree apprenticeship is now available.
You can train in roles like assistant project manager, project manager, project co-ordinator, project executive and project support officer. The duration of these apprenticeships range from two to five years, depending on the company you work for and the level you study at.
You can complete a project management apprenticeship with companies such as BAE Systems, British Airways, National Grid, Rolls Royce and Vodafone.
Common interview questions
To make sure you're well prepared for a job interview, research the company you've applied to and read the job description and person specification. Know your CV inside out and brush up on any industry news.
On the day you could be interviewed by a panel or by a single interviewer. To stay ahead of the game pre-prepare your responses to common interview questions. Also think about what solid examples you'll use to demonstrate your suitability to the role when asked these specific project management interview questions:
- What project management methodologies are you most familiar with?
- What are the most important qualities of a project manager and why?
- How do you plan a schedule for a project?
- How do you allocate resources?
- How do you ensure your team stays on track to meet project deadlines?
- How do you motivate a team?
- Two key stakeholders have opposing views. How do you manage this?
- How do you approach risk management on a new project?
- What did you find most challenging about your last project?
- Have you worked on a project that failed? What happened?
- What is the most complicated project you have managed? How did you handle it?
- What was your most successful project?
Before the interview draws to a close it's a good idea to ask the interviewer some questions of your own. See 7 good questions to ask at an interview for inspiration.
Find out more
- See what else is involved in becoming a project manager.
- Learn more about other business, consulting and management jobs.