The economic situation being as it is, things are not so rosy in the garden of recruitment. While all the signs are that project managers are not being hit as hard as other roles there are also signs that things will get worse. So it’s heartening to know that there are people who still want to be a project manager. I caught up with one of them, Chris Haigh, a student at Warwick University who has just started looking for work in our favourite field.
Chris, why do you want to be a project manager?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several experiences of leadership in my youth, and this led me to the conclusion that I wanted to be a manager. It wasn’t until around two years ago that this idea morphed into project management, and this change came about by a project on construction and development, where I was able to learn about project managers and their roles. I was instantly intrigued and started to do more research, contacting my local APM branch and subscribing to Project Manager Today, the more I found out about the subject, the more I realised that this was something I wanted to be involved with.
You’re doing an MSc in Project Management at Warwick. How did you select your course?
It was more the case that the course found me! I was already studying a masters degree in Manufacturing Engineering at Warwick University, and a sponsorship scheme link for the course was posted on the engineering intranet. I was planning on doing my four years of university education and then taking some courses in project management to get some qualifications. I looked into the course some more and decided to remove myself from the Masters programme, taking the three year Bachelors degree instead, and then taking the one year Masters degree in project management.
Construction, eh? Is that the industry you hope to go into?
Whilst I have a strong focus on my career ideas of moving into the project management discipline, I don’t have a particular sector that I would prefer. In actual fact, my ideal role would be to work for a project management consultancy or outsourcing firm, as I believe that this would be my ideal role. I’m aware that I will have to accumulate a certain amount of experience before this can happen; at the moment I would say perhaps the defence or the transportation sectors are where I will most likely end up.
Experience is really important: real-life experience can be more valuable than courses.
Having two very practical degrees myself, I couldn’t agree with you more.
How are you finding learning a practical subject in an academic setting?
I actually found that engineering was taught via theory, with not as much practical experience as I would have liked. Ironically, some of the only practical experience we got was an exercise in project management using Microsoft Project. On the other hand, my project management Masters has been taught with an enormous degree of practical application and experience, I’m finding it much more enjoyable, and learning something with each day. It is important to note that it isn’t just the development of your technical skills and application of theory that one can get out of practical exercises, but it’s also your own development of your soft skills, working with people, presentation, management, all of these things are best developed via experience, and we are given the opportunity to do that.
You did a summer placement with Cressall Resistors, organised through the Shell Step scheme. As a result of your work there, you got put forward for an award and won! Tell us about that.
It was obviously an incredible experience to go through the qualifying rounds and win the competition, but in line with what I was saying before, that was more an exercise in my soft skills such as my presentation ability and report writing skills. What I really got out of Shell Step was the practical experience in an SME, being given the chance to perform job tasks that aren’t trivial, and actually matter to the company. You are only ever going to grow and benefit from being given that kind of responsibility, and I certainly owe a lot to Shell Step and to Cressall Resistors, with whom I was placed with, for providing me with the right kind of environment to prove myself.
Prove yourself? The company saved £6,000 a month based on standing operating procedures you put in place! And then you designed a new product which helped them win a new account bringing in half a million pounds!
By the time the competition rounds had started my placement had finished, and it wasn’t really until I started talking about what I had done when I realised how confident in my abilities I had become and how much I had done in such a short space of time.
What’s the most surprising thing you have learned about project management so far?
I would say that I am a little surprised that there isn’t a more intense focus on management of people (as far as I have seen so far). It seems to be generally accepted that a project manager must communicate well with their team, but there are only a handful of courses in place to help to develop this, I would have thought this to be a more important issue when recruiting project managers, rather than something they should be trained in or develop through experience. Project management is, after all, about managing resources, and industry today dictates that people are the most important resource, so surely they should get the most focus? If we truly understand how to motivate and work with the people around us, then perhaps we could avoid or at least reduce some of the many problems that most projects seem to face.
Agreed. So what’s next for you?
Well I officially graduate in September, but I’m job hunting at the moment, and I’m hoping to be starting work in October. I have a few applications with graduate schemes at the moment for positions in project management, but I’m still looking to see what else I can find. My girlfriend and I will be moving to London (or thereabouts) in September, so I shall be looking for a job in that vicinity. My principle aim is to go into a job as a project manager, but eventually I would like to go into project management consultancy once I have gathered enough experience.
Good luck, Chris!