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Industry expert profile: Project management - Sarah Skotnicki

By Rosa Ritchie | 18 September 2016

This month we caught up with Sarah Skotnicki, a design student and freelance project manager. Without waiting to finish her degree before jumping into the industry, Sarah has worked in various aspects of the design industry by doing internships and paid work in Melbourne and New York. Sarah has now come to a point where she finds herself doing a lot of project management on a freelance basis, allowing her flexibility and diversity within her field of expertise.

Upskilled: So, you graduate in 3 months?
Sarah: Yeah. I transferred from Bio Medicine (to Design). I was doing a double degree in biomed and biotech. 

Upskilled: That’s a big change to design! What kind of work have you been doing throughout your current degree?
Sarah: I started off just doing some freelance work for friends. I did a whole lot of RMIT Graduate Photography Show branding and catalogues for that. From then I got an internship in a hand-crafted jewellery company - I was doing some design work for them, and from there I met some other people working in the design studio and started getting work doing some freelance projects. When I moved to New York I interned with Milk Studios [a media company encompassing fashion, music, photography and film]. I wasn't running projects there but more like head of teams for fashion week, and making sure things were running smoothly. I also did a bit of design work for them. Then I got a job at a digital agency in New York called Oscuro. They would basically give me a project to manage and say I've got three days to do it. Sometimes there'd be other interns working on it, and at other points I Just had to get it done for a client. 

Upskilled: So can you run us through the process of what those three days would be like?
Sarah: Depending on the project, it could be a website or an animation, sometimes it'd be a whole branding concept for a company, the size of the team that I had for the project would change. Normally I’d get a brief, have 2 or 3 hours where we would all individually come up with concepts, and then we’d meet up and develop an overall concept of what we were going to do. It involved mapping, wire frames, concept sketches, and we’d all be doing the work. 

Upskilled: And the project manager is delegating these tasks?
Sarah: Yeah, normally whoever's concept got past would be doing the delegation. There is always a leader in getting a project done, and above them is the person running the whole office, checking in to see stuff's getting done. 

Upskilled: So have you got to be a people person to be a project manager?
Sarah: Yeah, you do. It's easy to say that you can sit at your desk and if you're good at what you do you'll get far, but the reality is the design industry is all about networking. You wont even get to a point where you can manage a project unless you've got people skills to network, and get yourself a foot in the door of the industry. 
You also have to commit to the fact that if you’re an intern your workday isn’t going to be 9am-5pm. You have to start at the bottom of the ladder to move your way up, and if there’s a project that’s half finished and you pull the intern card and go home, you’re going to burn all of your bridges.

Upskilled: Is it daunting trying to get a job?
Sarah: Yeah it’s totally daunting. You have to put yourself on the line, and write a killer cover letter. And say why you want to be there. No one is going to take someone that’s like everyone else. Figure out what the company does, and figure out why you would be better than anyone else in that company to hire.

Upskilled: What’s stressful about your job?
Sarah: It’s stressful when you have a deadline and you’re not sure if you’re going to make it. But you always do. You might be surrounded by people who are freaking out, and as a manager it’s your job to take a step back, see that there’s a client who’s paying and who has no design skills. We have to give them a project. You have to stay calm about it but get the job done. And if that means you have to stay on longer in order to do that, then that’s what you do.

Upskilled: And what’s the best part?
Sarah: Then you have a happy client!

Upskilled: So being a project manager isn’t limited to one industry. You’re in the design industry, but there are project managers in almost every industry, right?
Sarah: Yeah, essentially a project manager is someone who is able to communicate with a team, and make sure everyone is happy. You won’t get anywhere if the team doesn’t want to be there. Make sure everyone is doing what they’re best at. Otherwise you won’t get anywhere with it. Another big component involves understanding the needs of the client. In the very early briefing stages you need to help the client figure out what they want. For instance, if you’re designing a website the client probably won’t know if they want a hosted Squarespace, versus a site that has taken hours of coding. As a manager you need to find an in-between where everyone in the team can contribute to it, and you get a good project out of it.

Upskilled: Are you a girl who codes? This is a trendy topic isn’t it? Karlie Kloss, the Victoria’s Secret model runs summer camps for girls to learn to code!
Sarah: That’s so funny! I do code. Indeed.

Upskilled: Do you know heaps of females who code?
Sarah: I mean all of the girls in my course code. But it’s true that it’s a very male dominated industry. I’m lucky in that my degree wasn’t a specialised degree, it involved little bits of everything: film work, animation, graphic design and coding.

Upskilled: Ok, lastly, what do you imagine your career look like?
Sarah: I don’t know! Diverse. I would love to go into editorial design, or film work. I can animate, but it’s not my favourite. I’d like to work for a smaller agency, I’d hate to go into a big agency. Coming from where I am currently, where I can just get a brief and run a project, to doing someone else’s work in a huge corporation and coming in with no idea who the client is, or what the project is about, and just getting a little task is my idea of hell. I like seeing the project through from start to finish.

Find out more about the Project Management industry and explore some courses here.

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