e The Monday Interview - "So, what's it really like working as a... project manager?" :: Momentum Careers Advice

The Monday Interview - "So, what's it really like working as a... project manager?"


Welcome to this week’s ‘The Monday Interview’.

OK, so we’re taking another slight turn this week. Over the past few weeks I have focused on many jobs which are popular graduate destinations. Project management, on the other hand, is a job which often develops at a later stage of a person’s career - not that it’s impossible to get into it at graduate level but rather that most entrants to the career choose to do so after having gained professional experience and knowledge first.

Today’s contributor is a great example of this. Rebecca gained professional training as a surveyor, with a specialist slant towards the retail industry before later branching out as a project manager. In this interview she shows just how her industry knowledge and professional expertise, along with her communication and problem solving skills made project management a logical turn for her career to take. And also, how she has managed to maintain a successful part time career whilst juggling the demands of a young family. Respect!

Many thanks, Rebecca, for sharing your story with us.

So, briefly, what is your job?

“Self Employed Project Manager for Retail Developments. This includes client representation and co-ordination of professional services and contractors to deliver best value, in terms of cost, time and quality and in line with the client’s requirements of the project.”

How did you get into it?

“I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school, so I moved to London with a handful of GSCS’s under my belt. I started temping for a Construction firm who later assigned me to the Quantity Surveyor to assist in final accounting of sub contract packages. The PQS(Professional Quantity Surveyor) firm serving this company invited me to train with them to become a quantity surveyor. I spent 12 years with this firm, specialising in Retail Cost Management, Procurement Management and Project Implementation. I was TUPE’d into a large UK Retailer as a Commercial Manager, however missed the pace of running projects and delivering large scale roll outs, so I left to become a self-employed Project Manager.”

Describe a typical day.

“On a typical day, during the Design Phase of a project I will meet with the Design Team, discuss progression and co-ordinate the team to achieve the next steps in the programme. I will meet with Engineers and QS’s to ensure that Tender Documentation and DWG’s are in line with the Clients expectations of the project. I will highlight and record risks to the programme and budget and seek or suggest solutions to these.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“I love interacting with people. Retail Projects enable you to co-ordinate and work with a diverse mix of people from shop floor, to the professional team to board executives. Retail is extremely fast paced, so I never feel bored or unchallenged.”

And the least?

“Clients like to change their minds! You have to manage their expectations within a set time frame and budget. You have to tread softly and steer people with an element of diplomacy, which is an area of self-development I hope to improve!”

What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?

“Project Managers just delegate. This isn’t true! The scope of service and level of fee dictates the activities I perform.”

What are the main skills you need to work as a project manager?

“Good communication, problem solving skills and attention to detail. Plus, experience and knowledge of the industry enables you to learn how to delegate efficiently.”

Tell us a little about the benefits that come with the job.

“I get the market day rate and it’s very good. I am self-employed and currently work two days a week, so to me the benefit lays in the fact I can fit my job around my young family.”

What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?

“There are two routes:

  1. I would advise someone to gain some experience of the retail industry to get a broad knowledge of the business or alternatively

  2. go direct to a Project Management firm and work upwards. Gaining the APMP (Association of Project Managers) qualification would be required; It also helps if you specialise in a professional discipline first, this will enable you to traverse other industries.”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

“I’d like to move into Property Development. Just need some capital and to be less risk adverse.”


First in the office or last to leave?

“I work from home mostly, so both.”

Tea or coffee?

“Coffee. Lots.”

Staff canteen or packed lunch?

“SUSHI always on a Wednesday.”

The lift or the stairs?

“The Stairs (it’s a new year’s resolution!)

Out after work or straight home to bed?

“Wine, sofa, CSI…”