0001 – Why Do You Want to Be a Construction (Project) Manager?

Who – This text is written for people who are currently considering a career in construction management and those who recently joined the industry. Someone who’s been in this business for several years might still find it useful to go through a self-examination process and gain clarity on this question. A mastermind group (2 people+) may also facilitate this search for purpose.

Several factors usually influence our career decisions, but what role does our individual intention play and how can we use it to our advantage? I chose to major in civil engineering because I was fascinated by skyscrapers and highways when I visited the US multiple times during summer breaks as I was growing up in Haiti. However, while attending Cooper Union in NY, I developed a strong interest in finance. That didn’t last too long, since the financial crisis of 2008-2009 😨 quickly convinced me to stick with engineering and go for my Master’s right after graduation in May 2009. When I completed the Master’s program in December 2010, engineering design wasn’t an option for me due to the following limiting belief: engineers sit in front of a computer all day long and rarely get a chance to see what’s happening in the field. Therefore, my next best choice was construction management.

Why – In March 2011, I joined a GC without any short or long term career goal besides escaping unemployment. While this career move served its purpose immediately after getting hired, it didn’t take too long for me to start wanting more than a paycheck from a place where I was spending most of my (awake) time. I blamed everything and everybody for my lack of motivation and for feeling like I was stuck in a place where I didn’t belong. I hated hearing the word patience from others, and I thought that people who were telling me to be patient simply didn’t know how to deal with me (someone who knew everything he didn’t want or like about construction but knew very little about what he wanted to achieve professionally). As I tried to find my sweet spot, I jumped from one project assignment to another. In 2013, I had 4 different project assignments within less than a year, and just before I started the 4th one, one of my supervisors told me “This is it. If this doesn’t work out, there’s nothing else I can do.” 😂

Oh well! Thankfully, I was ok with this last assignment (or maybe I was forced to be ok with it 🤔). I had the opportunity to work with a Superintendent (Walter) and a Foreman (Randy) who taught me a lot and helped me enjoy what I did. It’s also during that period that I started developing a professional relationship with one of my mentors (Grant) who understood the construction business very well. After 6 years in the industry, it became clear to me that I should have done a much better job at getting to know the business and making a significant effort to be clear about the reasons why I wanted to join this large family of construction managers.

Why does knowing your why(s) matter?

1) It doesn’t (if you are ok with not knowing and believe you will figure it out in the future or don’t care about figuring it out for whatever reason). And by the way, if you only need a paycheck to pay your bills or pay student loans, that’s your why.
2) College education can only get you so far. Therefore, you’ll be learning a lot as a full-time employee, and the learning process can either be painful or pleasant depending on your focus and energy level. It is so easy to get distracted when you first join the construction industry (most common distractions: impatience, ignorance, arrogance, office politics). Knowing your why will help you stay focused and be more productive.
3) Knowing your why will also help you keep going by giving you an opportunity to stay emotionally connected to your reason(s) as you continuously invest time and energy in proving your worth, solving problems, and overcoming frustrations.
4) As a Project, Field, or Office Engineer, saying “it’s a just a job” when asked about your experience can be an accurate sign of low employee engagement, an indication that you’re not giving 100% of yourself at work, and an easy way to push decision makers to discreetly put you on the DNP* list.
5) Career advancement is more difficult for employees without a 4-year college degree, even if they are more qualified than those with college credentials. Investing thousands of dollars in your education will make more sense if you know why you’re making such investment, right?

What – Here are a few things you can do to figure out your why(s) or get close to doing so:

1) Take a selfie. Ask yourself the following questions** and write your answers down. What is construction management? What are the most common aspects of the construction culture? Why do I want to become a construction manager? Is my choice being influenced by my parents? Which construction sector am I mostly interested in? What will be my salary during my first few years? What are the skills required to be an outstanding construction manager? Take some time to review your answers, and if you can’t answer these questions or don’t like what you write down, get some help. A career counselor can point you in the right direction.
2) Visit multiple construction sites in your area and ask if you can walk these sites with experienced people. While you’re onsite, talk to construction workers and managers about their personal experiences.
3) Put your networking hat on and connect with other construction professionals. Meet with them or talk to them on the phone. LinkedIn is a good place to start; be clear about the reason why you want to connect.
4) There is no substitute for hands-on experience. Find a way to work for construction managers (internships, part-time opportunities, volunteering, etc.).

Thanks for reading. Happy building! 👊

Olivier Coquillo

*DNP: Do Not Promote
**Visit hired2win.com/books to download a file that answers some of these questions.

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