Project Managers – changing jobs


“The time has come the Walrus said to talk of many things.” If you remember that Lewis Carroll poem, you know that the story did not turn out so well for the oysters who failed to think through and prepare for their new opportunity.  It is a new year and many of you are considering changes in both your personal and professional life.  There are several reasons a project manager may be looking to make a job change – projects complete, organizations downsize or career advancement stalls. So, what are good ways to prepare for and succeed at changing jobs and organizations?

First, let me say the obvious. You do not start career planning in a crisis. Even as you work hard to meet the goals of your current organization and successfully complete assigned projects, you should also consider what skills you need in the future and work on getting them. Like what? In May 2009, I talked about job change from the perspective of a hiring organization, “Interviewing tips for project managers.” Looking at the skills an organization desires and wants in its project managers is a place to start your thinking about needed skills and experience. Here are some more thoughts:

Technical skills
The technical skills required of a project manager differ from those of individual contributors. Yes, you need background and general knowledge about technical approaches to solving problems. However, you also need project management skills that use tools to support project organization, control and reporting. You should know how to develop realistic cost and schedule estimates. You also need to understand how return-on-investment is assessed from an organizational perspective.

Soft skills
Project management is about people and the job title “PM” has the word manager in it. Good managers understand how to communicate, listen to and work effectively with a range of stakeholders. People skills — or the lack of — determine your success and desirability as a project manager. Placing yourself into situations that require strong people skills, such as managing remote teams, mentoring and coaching, and working with users demonstrates a commitment to improving your soft skills. Being able to apply a variety of techniques tailored to different individual team members processing styles and learning to give and receive feedback helps hone your people skills.

Outside of direct project management experience, there are activities you can seek out that help refine sought-after PM skills.

  • Leadership – within your organization, spearhead non-work efforts by leading committees, setting up community efforts or supporting corporate initiatives. Change management and quality initiatives provide excellent opportunities to develop leadership skills. Within your community, you can practice leadership by organizing and supporting projects of personal interest.
  • Constant Learning – through classes, seminars and professional organizations.
  • Coaching and mentoring – through volunteer activities in sports and community organizations.
  • Negotiating – seek out training or working on projects with multiple stakeholders. Take the lead in reaching compromise and solving problems.
  • Public speaking – the fear of this activity is so common, it even has a name, “glossophobia.” You become more skilled and comfortable with public speaking by practicing.

Obtaining Project Manager Professional (PMP) certification shows prospective employers that you understand project management basics and believe that project management is a profession, not just a job. In a future job search, you may find that companies expect a PMP to be considered for a project manager’s position.  However, many other certifications may be just as beneficial to you depending on the industry or organization you are either currently with or seeking to move to.  A few examples are:

If you have other suggestions or observations about making a job change in project management, please share.

6 Responses to “Project Managers – changing jobs”

  1. Tweets that mention Project Managers – changing jobs « Fear No Project – A Project Management Blog -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by MS Project Viewer, Mike McRitchie. Mike McRitchie said: Project Managers – changing jobs […]

  2. John Hicks Says:

    Love your post. It is very appropriate given that I just lost my position and now find myself looking for new opportunities in project management. Although having a title of “Program Manager” my company had no project mangement methodologies when I switched to the position from a technical one several years ago. Methods were almost as varied as projects. It was to each his own. Now, after the major projects were successfully completed (success itself not clearly defined), when budget cuts came along they figured that a Program Manager was expendible. So I am still in the beginning stages and will use this article to help guide my transition. Perhaps for a follow-up I would like to know what kinds of corporate cultures are “friendly” to more formal PM methodologies as sometimes it seems that everyone wants the results good PM brings but are not willing to pay the price when it comes to formality. I guess as an IT Pro but a relative newcomer to PM I want to make sure I look for the best opportunities.

  3. Lynne Maciver Says:

    Hi Bruce. I agree, career planning in a crisis is too late! I would add to the skills, experience and certifications outlined above – networking. Staying up to date with where your ex-colleagues are working these days, knowing who is active in your local professional chapter and staying in touch with a wider network than your current peers is a good way to hear about jobs that aren’t advertised.

  4. Bruce McGraw Says:

    Excellent Point Lynne! There are many opportunities in any community to network – here in Austin we have a PMI chapter, a Technology Council, an engineering group, many “LinkedIn groups”, and of course the Chamber of Commerce.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Marisela Fernandez Says:

    I’m a young professional trying to grow my experiences in Project Management. After reading your blog I know I’m on the right track by taking charge of committees in my current work and leaning towards a PMI certificate. Thanks for the guidance.

  6. Claudia Vandermilt Says:

    I would definitely agree that making career changing decisions during a crisis is not the best time, though sometimes it happens.

    Still, planning, researching, talking to people in the new field of interest and taking deep breaths are all good tips for when a new career is in the future.

    Hasty decisions may leave you in a worse situation. Great article and topic.

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