Project Management Institute

Don't Sell Yourself Short

Limited Experience across the Project Life Cycle Doesn't Have to be a Job-Search Obstacle. Also, How to Get the Most out of PMI Membership

By Lindsay Scott


I'm looking for a job and am concerned I don't have enough initiation and planning experience—I've always focused on project implementation. How should I tackle this problem?

First of all, it's only a problem if you choose to make it a problem. Just because your experience has focused on the implementation side, does that really mean your initiation and planning experience is lacking? I'm sure there were times when, due to shifting requirements, you've had to alter a project plan. Don't focus too much on where in the project life cycle your experience has come from. Rather, think about the techniques and skills you have.

I would advise you to revisit PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) with an eye for which techniques and skills are used in the initiation and planning phases. Also consider undertaking a competency assessment on these phases. I predict you'll be pleasantly surprised.

In terms of practical actions you can take to prepare for a new position: First of all, make sure you address any gaps revealed while reviewing the PMBOK Guide® and from your assessment. Take some time to invest in yourself—enroll in a training course or just pursue further reading in areas such as business cases, requirements gathering, planning and scheduling. Building your knowledge in these areas will make you feel more confident when it comes to talking about your experience in an interview.

The second step is to make sure you clearly articulate what delivery experience you have, both in your résumé and in your interviews. In response to questions about initiation and planning, speak with authority about how you've developed planning skills during implementation. When it comes to initiation experience, be open and honest. Talk about the skills you do have that are relatable and how you plan to bridge your current gaps (to show you have a plan of action). Explain why the position you're interviewing for fits into your career plan; for example, you want more experience in these areas or you want shorter projects that will enable you to manage the whole project life cycle.

Finally, remember that organizations want project managers who can deliver projects—so make a big deal about the implementation experience you have rather than focusing on your perceived gaps. This change of mindset will increase your confidence and can make a big difference during interviews.

I work at a high-security organization, and the projects I manage require special security clearance. I'm looking for a new position and want to update my résumé. How can I do that without sharing sensitive information?

This is quite easy to do: Concentrate on writing about how you did something rather than writing about the project. (I wish most project managers would think about this when writing their own résumés.) People who read a résumé or CV would rather learn about what kind of project manager you are than the details of the project you managed. Every project is unique; therefore, the chance of you having delivered something that is exactly what an organization is looking to deliver is very slim.

So: In your résumé, start with your company's name and then make it clear that projects you managed were of a sensitive nature. But you should be able to communicate the nature of the projects—IT, logistics, defense, justice, etc.

Next, focus on the project management methods, processes, tools and techniques. Again, all of these will not require the sharing of sensitive information. You can easily write about your experience and skills in areas like stakeholder management, risk management, planning and change management without getting into the project specifics.

Remember, this is what the majority of interviewers and readers of résumés want to see anyway. They want to understand what you know of project management and what level you are used to operating at. They are looking to see if your kind of project management experience will fit with the job being offered and the company's culture.

I've recently become a PMI member. How can I get the most out of my membership?

Aside from spending a lot of time taking in all the resources on the website and undertaking development, you absolutely must join your local chapter and take part in PMI chapter meetings. This is where it all starts to come alive: being with other project practitioners, listening and learning, networking with people who totally get what you do for a living.

Having the opportunity to step outside your organization and see what life is like for other practitioners—finding out what challenges they face and how they practice project management— can be a breath of fresh air. It's also a great way to find out what your peers are doing to get the most of their membership. Be active and you'll soon discover the full array of membership benefits. PM

img Lindsay Scott is the director of program and project management recruitment at Arras People in London, England.
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