When Should PM Degree Students Start Planning Their Project Management Career?

project-management-degree-studentIf you are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in project management and you are about to read this article, then you should count yourself lucky as most project management graduates would have wished they read such article while still in school.

One of the major mistakes that most persons who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree do is to wait until they graduate before critically thinking or planning of how to start building their career, and project management degree students are no exemption.

University education is time and energy consuming and it is becoming more expensive as the years go by. To get a bachelor’s degree in project management in Nigeria, you would spend at least 4 to 5 years in the university coupled with spending a whole lot of money and energy. 5 years is a whole lot of time for any serious student to do some good career planning and avoid some of the career mistakes that most of our graduates did.

Times have changed. In the oil-boom days of the baby boomers, you are sure of getting a good job after completing your degree or diploma, but in this digital age of the millennials, it is no longer the case. Except in very few sectors like the health and legal sectors where a degree still holds strong value and often acts as a criteria for practising, sectors such as the agriculture, technology, construction, software and telecommunications do employ persons without a university or college education. As long as you have the right talents and skills, you can get a top-paying job in those sectors.

In addition, there’s something you really need to know: Many companies, globally, do not know what to do with persons with a bachelor’s degree in project management. It might sound harsh, but that’s the current reality. I’m not saying that they do not know the value of project management. Of course, they do. And I’m not saying that pursuing a bachelor’s degree in project management is a complete waste of time and money. Of course, It’s not, too. And I do not see any other formal training method that can impact you with much knowledge about project management than a degree. However, your bachelor’s degree in project management can be as relevant as you want it to be and that is why you need to start planning your project management career right from the university. Your lecturers’ job is to lecture you and impact some project management knowledge in you. It is your job to educate yourself and plan your project management career.

How Do I Plan My Project Management Career as a Student?

When I was in the university, there were engineering courses that I read just to pass the exams and move on. I was never interested in pursuing my career in the engineering field. And there were management, technology and financial courses that I read not just to pass the exams, but to really understand the course deeply. For those courses that I was passionate about, that is, those courses that I thought would contribute more to my own career, I would seek for advanced textbooks and do some further research on the internet.

First, you would need to know the industries or sectors that you would like to start building your project management career or practising your project management skills. That project management is a (transferable) skill set that can be practised across any industry or sector does not mean that project management is practised exactly the same way in all industries and sectors. Some industries are dominated by the waterfall or hybrid methods while some are dominated by the scrum, agile or lean methods. Therefore, you need to clear on the industries or sectors that you would like to practise your project management skills. Do some research and write them down. This will help you channel your focus and energy more. For me, I were and I’m still more passionate about the technology, telecommunications, digital and education sector. What is yours?

Second, search for good books in your library or local bookstore and download e-books from the internet that talks about project management in any of those industries or sectors that are of interest to you. I’m currently reading a book titled “Social Media for Project Managers” written by Elizabeth Harrin. The book is connected to the IT and digital sector. Aside your recommended departmental textbooks, what are you currently reading to educate yourself?

Third, leverage the power of virtual networking. Connect and virtually network with project management professionals from around the world who are practising project management in any of those industries or sectors that you interested in. Add them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, connect with them on LinkedIn, subscribe to their blogs and leverage the power of social media. They would help keep you informed and up-to-date on issues relating to project management in those industries or sectors. You need to also join relevant groups and communities on social media that discusses project management and virtually network with other members of the group. Do not be shy to let them know that you are a project management student and would like to learn from them.

Fourth, join a project management membership association in your locality and attend membership meetings. Connect and network with other members, most especially those professionals who are practising project management in those industries or sectors that you are most interested in. Do not be shy to let them know that you are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in project management. You could also ask any that you find so much interest in if he/she could be your mentor in project management. Some membership associations have special packages for students. I’m also looking forward to connecting with some project management graduates and lecturers to see how can we can strengthen and promote our Project Management Alumni (a group of persons who have obtained a bachelors, masters, diploma and/or doctorate degree in project management in Nigeria). Get in touch with me if you are project management degree holder and interested in supporting us.

Fifth, continue to build your knowledge and network by attending conferences and seminars on project management. The strength of your network will determine your net worth. When you graduate, directly or indirectly inform most local persons in your network. They might know someone who knows someone who might offer you a job in the industry or sector of your choice.

Sixth, look for internship and practical training opportunities to PRACTISE your project management skills while still in school. Use your 6 months industrial training period to full use. If you have other skills aside your project management skills that you learned or developed that would be relevant to any of the industries or sectors of your choice, practise and promote it, too. That extra skill might put you one-step ahead of most of your fellow project management job seekers. You need to find a way to blend it with your project management skills. As you are reading this article, I am promoting two things to you: My blogging skills and my project management knowledge. If you do not have any skill set, you need to plan on learning or developing one that you would blend with your project management skills, and let the skill be relevant to one or some of the industries or sectors of your choice. Your project management degree is very relevant but it’s so generic that it is difficult for most hiring managers and recruiters to know which area or department that would best fit a recent graduate. So, search for a non-generic or more specialised certification that is connected and relevant to your industry or sector of choice. If you do not know which certification is right for you, get in touch with me and I could help you out.

Seventh, you should see your project management degree as a tool for opening up doors of job and career opportunities rather than an end in itself. Entry-level jobs are good options but with your project management skills, you can as well target mid-level job positions, and then look for internal opportunities that would be right for you to grow your project management career. For some organisations, you might be employed to work in their Project Management Office (PMO) at a mid-level position. As you work your way up the career ladder, different parts of your project management skills will become increasingly relevant and by then you would be more experienced to decide which career path is right for you.

Finally, aside natural causes and man-made accidents, your failure to properly plan while in school might delay your project management career when you graduate.

As part of the plans of the Project Management for Africa Initiative, I am looking forward to visiting some of the universities in Nigeria this year and speaking with some of our project management students. You are the future of project management in Africa.


  1. Sospeter said:

    Hi Jerry,
    Thanks for your great insights.
    Can that Project Management Alumni be extended beyond Nigeria? I think if other countries in Africa are involved, it will create a broader base to discuss PM issues as a continent.

    March 2, 2016
    • Hi Sospeter, the Project Management Alumni is still under consideration here but I believe that if we, the degree holders in PM, strengthen it and find a way to make the PM degree more relevant and accepted in the industry, it will help us in a long way. It’s all about promoting and advancing the project management degree education and profession. Let’s see how it goes and thank you for your comment.

      March 4, 2016

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