How to Become a Project Manager: Job Description & Education Requirements

Have you ever been to the circus and seen those awesome clowns that are able to juggle like 10 bowling pins without dropping a single one or more importantly without getting whacked in the head by one? Well if you’ve seen this amazing feat, you now have a pretty good idea of what it is like to be a project manager. In this position you are the head cheese of some very important and integral tasks. You will have to find a way to know everything and anything about your project at all times. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then come with us to learn everything you need to know about how to become a project manager.

How to Become a Project Manager

How to become a project manager is a rather loaded question as it takes a combination of education, experience and just the right qualities to snag one of these positions. The company big wigs that determine if applicants are qualified enough to secure a position will be looking for current or potential employees that are team players, aren’t afraid of a lot of responsibility, are pretty organized with excellent time management skills. These traits rank right up there with your educational background and previous experience in the position.

Companies will often also look for individuals that have a vast knowledge of many of the working parts of the company and this will actually make it easier for you to slide right into a project manager position. This is obviously further aided by you having the right qualities for the job as well. Definitely keep in mind that there are different types of project managers depending on the type of company you are working for. Each position will require different things, so get your resume loaded up with all of the great things that you have to offer. You want to be the easily located needle in a haystack.

IT Project Managersright_image_projectManagement

Most IT companies require their IT project managers to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science in addition to as much actual work related experience as possible. The bachelor’s degree required for the position as an IT project manager will likely take you 4 years to complete with courses ranging from computer programming to mathematics.

Some companies may also require you to have a graduate degree as well. If the company you are considering applying to requires a graduate degree as well, do take into account the 2 extra years of school that are required to achieve a master of business administration degree.

On top of the educational demands of a PM job in the IT field, several years of experience are usually required in the immediate field of information technology. It is possible that some of the lower level project management positions will require less years of experience than some that are higher up on the food chain. If you happen to stumble upon one like this, be sure to jump on that opportunity if it is in your wheel house.

There are some important skills that will be looked for by your future employers. You will want to make sure you are a shining star among a crowd of dull rocks, so be sure to beef up or tofu up (for our non-meat eating readers) your resume. Try to add as much information and prior experience that shows that you have analytical, communication, decision making, leadership and organizational skills. In other words – if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

Construction Project Managersconstruction_mgr

The construction industry is an area that is much more fluid and that may allow you a few more opportunities with less experience or educational background. Those things are important though, so if you’ve got them you are golden. This is an industry that is very multifaceted, so there will be ample opportunities available.

The experience needed to become a project manager for a construction company is ever changing because the industry is always shifting and evolving too. It once was possible to just be a go getter in the company to get promoted to this position. Now, however, some companies are requiring that you have bachelor’s degree in construction science, construction management, architecture or engineering. It is still possible to obtain a position with a high school diploma, knowledge of the construction industry and a rocking go getter attitude though, so don’t be afraid to dangle your resume in front of some companies and see what kind of nibbles you’re likely to receive.

When vying for a position as a project manager in a construction company, knowledge is totally power here. It is super important to have a pretty well rounded knowledge of the type of construction and all its facets, sales, accounts receivables/payable, reports,  bidding the works as well as the process of how the actual jobs are completed from start to finish.

Some extra special skills that are required for construction project managers are business, leadership, technical, writing, speaking and time management skills. You will also need to be able to take initiative and grab the bull by the horns in many situations. This is definitely not a position for the meek and mild, so keep that and mind when applying. Maybe even grab an extra bullhorn to project your voice if that is an issue because you will definitely need to be heard loud and clear in this position.

Meet Lydia

Lydia is the perfect example of how you can become a construction project manager with some good experience, a bit of education and a whole lot of moxie. You see Lydia worked in fence construction for about 5 years before she applied for a job as an accounts payable clerk at a local roofing company. She was one of the lucky ducks that was able to wiggle into a company and use her knowledge, ability to learn things on the fly and go getter attitude to her advantage.

It wasn’t long before Lydia was moved from her position in accounts payable over to the awesome position of a project manager. She didn’t have anything more than an associate’s degree, but she made up for that with tons of experience. She was a team player too and that definitely played in her favor.

Lydia loved her new position so much. She found it both challenging and rewarding at the same. It was awesome to wear so many hats and to have to be everything to everyone at all times. It made her feel like such a champ to be an integral part of how the company functioned on a day to day basis. From what we hear, Lydia has gone on to open her own company where she is calling the shots now. You can bet that a lot of her business skills and savvy came from her time as a PM. Probably a few of her grey hairs and wrinkles come from it too, but it a little grey never hurt anyone.

Engineering Project Managersproject-management2

A more demanding type of PM position is from an engineering perspective. There is certainly more involved and more required than the other two examples we have listed, but it’s still a job worth working towards. The experience you will receive alone will be invaluable.

Most engineering project managers are required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. It is becoming increasingly common for a considerable amount of more schooling to be required though. A master’s degree in engineering management, technology management or business administration is definitely preferred here. This extra degree will take you another two years to complete. One thin to be aware of though is that some engineering companies will actually help you to pay for this extra schooling if you have been with the company for a while and they feel that you are worth the investment. We know you are rock stars, so show the big guys in charge how great you are too and get that schooling paid for!

Another thing to think about is that most employers prefer that you have years of employment as an engineer prior to obtaining a position of this importance. If you have experience working with increasingly difficult projects, that is great and a very marketable quality when searching for a project manager position in the engineering field. We also can’t forget about the many important qualities needed and some are the same as the aforementioned qualities under our sections. The desired qualities are pretty well the same as what is needed for the IT and construction project managers, but there is an added emphasis on math skills here.

Project Manager Job Description

It’s super important to know exactly what you will be doing if and when you pursue a project manager position. A project manager does indeed essentially manage projects, but don’t let that simple explanation fool you because there is so much more to it than that. Ultimately you will be responsible for the coordination, overseeing and completion of projects while working super closely with all related parties that are assigned to the project as well. There are going to be lots of reports to pull, responsibilities to be assigned, deadlines to be met and progress reports to be reported in this position.

You will need to be able to make judgment calls while the pressure is mounting as well as needing to pay super close attention to details. This job will require you to plan and follow through on every aspect of the task at hand while making sure that all of the working parts are functioning effectively. We kind of think of a project manager as being similar to how a distributor works in a car. The distributor provides the spark to other integral parts of the engine and gets everything going. Well perhaps car analogies aren’t exactly our strong suit, but you see where we are going with that.

We know it sounds like you’ll doing a lot of paper shuffling and delegating, but trust us when we say that it is actually a really fun job with loads of learning potential. You will get the opportunity to act as the jack of all trades, the master juggler or the wearer of many hats within the company you are working with. Do keep in mind that the duties that are required of a project manager will vary depending on the particular industry that you will be diving into.

Project Manager Salary

General PM Salary

The salary for a general project manager will have varying factors that will affect what the final amount is. Some things that will be taken into consideration when your salary will be determined are the industry type, company size, location, years on the job and level of education. is currently projecting that the median salary for a general PM is $81,030 with a range from the lowest 10% earning $60,532 to the highest 10% earning $103,641.

Project Manager

IT PM Salary

The same elements go into determining what your salary will be in the position of an IT PM, but there will likely be more emphasis on your schooling and the growth of the IT industry here. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the annual median salary wage for this job is $120,950 as of May 2012. There are salary ranges from the lowest 10% earning less than $74,940 and the top 10% earning more than $187,200. To provide a bit broader of a scope for what kind of greenbacks you will be bringing in, take a look at some more specific types of IT project managers and what their median salaries are reported to be:

  • information: $133,120
  • computer systems design and related services: $128,830
  • Government: $101,690

Construction Poject Manager Salary

The salary expectations for a construction project manager will be less reliant on your educational background and more heavily weighted against your management experience and knowledge of the industry specific area you are working in. Our buds at the BLS also report that the median annual wage for a construction PM is $82,790 with the lower 10% earning less than $49,680 and the highest 10% earning $144,520 as of May 2012 . There is quite a range here as you can see, but do keep in mind that location and company size may be at play in these ranges. As with the IT position, the different areas of construction garner different pay grades as well. Take a look:

  • heavy and civil engineering construction has as median salary: $85,130
  •  construction of buildings: $81,830
  •  specialty trade contractors bring in about: $79,470

Engineering PM Salary

Here is another area where education and prior extensive experience in the field will play a heavy hand in determining the salary that you can expect. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting a median salary for and engineering project manager as $124,870 with the lowest 10% earning less than $80,300 and the top 10% earning $187,200. Not to sound like a broken record here…but different fields where an engineering PM may be employed will have variations in the annual salary. Take a look at what we have for you here:

  • mining, quarrying and oil/gas extraction: $147,250
  • scientific research and development services: $142,310
  • architectural, engineering and related services: $123,310
  • government: $119,240

Project Management Schools

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Project Management Certification

We definitely want to preface this section by stating that a project management certification is not absolutely necessary to obtain a position. It is super helpful at times though and may have a large impact on the rate of pay that you receive. There are a few certificate options available that will make your credentials that much better and we suggest taking this extra step if it’s an option for you.

A Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certificate is an easily obtained entry level certification. This is more than sufficient if you are new to project management and don’t have a ton of experience under your belt. Definitely check out for some really helpful tips on how to achieve this certification.

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate is possibly one of the more important and recognized certifications that you can obtain for a PM position. This is a better certificate if you already have experience in this field and will likely play a hand in landing you a sweet job. There is some great information on the PMI website for the certification as well, so hop on over there and check it out while you check out the information for the CAPM certificate.

How to Become a Project Manager Without a Degree

While it is possible to become a project manager without a degree, most jobs do require a bachelor’s degree. This is especially true in more detailed and in-depth fields, like IT and Engineering, having said that, there are some fields that do not necessarily require a degree though. The construction industry is an exception here and will pull you into the project manager fold as long as you have sufficient experience and display the qualities that are looked for in someone fulfilling this demanding roll.

How to Become a Project Manager Without Experience

To be completely honest, you will almost always need experience in the field you are interested in becoming a project manager in as well as management experience. It is possible, however, to secure a PM job if you have a good degree and have completed a bunch of internships in related work environments. If you are not at this point in the process yet, these are definitely things to consider and works towards,

Displaying some of the very important qualities that are sought out in project managers will also give you a leg up and a foot in the door…now do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around. Sorry we got lost in the moment there. Just a reminder of what some of the important qualities you will want to display when working towards becoming a project are: analytical, leadership, organization and decision making skills. Being a team player and a real go getter will totally work in your favor when aiming for this type of job. Being an eager beaver will get you ahead here, but do try to limit your wood gnawing to your lunch hour.

Final Grade

  • Degree vs Debt:A-

    We give the degree vs debt ratio an A-! These jobs pay very well and often only require a bachelor’s degree. Not to mention that you will gain tons of viable skills and knowledge that will definitely help you land a sweet job in the future should you need one.

  • Difficulty of degree: B

    We give the difficulty of the degree a solid B! We did this because IT and engineering degrees can be pretty tough even for the brainiest of brainiacs. So you’ll definitely need to rock a thinking cap during the process for sure.

  • Happiness quotient: C+

    We went ahead and gave the happiness quotient a C+, but don’t let this deter you from traveling this road if it’s what you want to do! Our grade comes from knowing first hand that this is a job with lots of responsibility and stress. It may also come along with few grey hairs as well, so get that box of hair dye ready if you aren’t prepared to embrace your inner silver fox just yet.

  • Job outlook: A-

    The job outlook deserves an A- for sure! The IT sector in particular is booming right now. If you are in the right location, you may experience a big construction boom sometime soon as well.

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As much as we would like to take all the credit for putting this little ditty together for you, we can’t hog all of the glory. We had the help of some super helpful resources and we know that you will definitely find that they are very useful as well. There is a ton of information that will certainly cover nearly any of your questions that we may have missed here. So check them out, bookmark them and make some notes. Good luck on your future as a project manager, although we know you won’t need it since you are already aces in our book!

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