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.

Job Title Inflation Continues

What title would you put on your business card if you could pick any one you liked? I’d pick “Project Janitor,” for myself because my job so often involves helping clients clean up problems and get projects back on track. Project manager job titles (and many other roles!) have been co-opted to new heights. Go to any PMI meeting and gather a few business cards. You’ll see quite a range of titles, some of which don’t quite seem to fit the maturity level of the holder.

Some folks may inflate their job title to appear more skilled or valuable. Companies have been known to offer fancy job titles in lieu of pay raises or real promotions. Whatever the reason, hiring organizations cannot rely on a previous job title to screen applicants. Last year, I offered a guest post, “What’s in a name—job title inflation hits project management,” that received many supportive comments. The trend continues….

It is not just in the world of project management, either. I recently saw this post from Sharlyn Lauby, suggesting that creative bartenders using farmer’s market ingredients should call themselves, “bar chefs.” Hmmm. “The Economist” in their Too Many Chiefs article reports that America’s International Association of Administrative Professionals—formerly the National Secretaries Association—has more than 500 approved job-titles, ranging from front-office coordinator to electronic-document specialist. Paperboys have become “media distribution officers.” There are even terms to describe the process of job title inflation:  “uptitling” and “title-fluffing!”

I have seen many people asking for help on titles – as the question posed on that asks:  what the “typical job titles were for those who manage projects.” In reviewing recent employment applications to Cognitive Technologies, we have seen:

  • Project Associate
  • Associate Project Manager
  • Project Manager
  • Project Coordinator
  • Sr. Project Manager
  • Sr. Schedule Manager
  • Sr. Project Scheduler
  • Project Lead
  • PMO Project Lead
  • PMO Director
  • PMO Project Manager
  • Portfolio Manager
  • Chief Project Manager (CPM) – my favorite!
  • VP, Project Management
  • Client Servicing PM
  • Technical Project Manager
  • Technical Project Lead
  • Business Project Manager
  • Business Project Lead
  • Program Manager
  • Sr. Program Manager

And the list goes on!!!

The Lesson: Screen Resumes for Experience, not Titles
Project management requires a range of skills from technical proficiency to leadership. Project managers must be capable of understanding a broad vision and supervising detail-specific execution. In a world of self-managing teams, skills as a coach and mentor are also important. When I review a resume on candidates for a project management position, I look for several key indicators:

  1. Demonstrated commitment to the profession of project management through training, certifications, and memberships.
  2. Willingness to work hard, as reflected in selecting a tough university (and graduating), holding multiple jobs to make ends meet early in a career  or during school – what Harvard Business Review calls pay-to-play skills, and gradually increasing responsibility within previous companies.
  3. Leadership experience in organizations that demonstrate a willingness to step up and be counted.
  4. Project management or team leadership that requires more involvement than just tracking the work of others.
  5. Demonstrated knowledge of PM tools beyond Gantt charts and PowerPoint slides.
  6. Previous experience working directly with customers.
  7. Understanding of why projects and process decisions were made, not just what or how.
  8. Also, consider the size of the projects previously managed, their complexity and the individual’s budget responsibility.

Sometimes it is just looking for basic skills and talents that people have and can apply to the job – beyond the titles, training, and certifications on the resume.  I wrote a post about staffing and finding the best staff last September (2010) which speaks to finding resumes and people – but did not address how to scrutinize their background.  However, you may want to read my thoughts in, “Staffing Projects for Success: Back to The Basics” by Cognitive Technologies – (free registration required).

So what are your thoughts on Job Titles?  Are you looking for the “Project Janitor” or something else?

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