Project Management Institute

New frontiers

PMI'S career track


In December 2004, Adolfo Cruz Luthmer of San Jose, Costa Rica, was considering a position as a project manager with Isthmus Inc., a software development company. Despite the thrill of the job offer, he had a tough choice ahead of him.

At the time, he was executive director of Prosoftware, an initiative to develop Costa Rica's software industry. Funded in part by the Inter-American Development Bank, the program had been named one of the group's top five success stories in Latin America—one reason Mr. Cruz was retained. At Prosoftware, he also would continue to work with trusted colleagues.


But the position with Isthmus provided a new challenge. With a background in industrial engineering, Mr. Cruz would have to learn how to manage software projects. The new job offered opportunity for advancement within the organization. However, the company was only a year old, which meant some risk. After weighing the pros and cons, he joined Isthmus. “I am a person of challenge and love to learn new things,” he says.

Like Mr. Cruz, most project managers will, at some point in their careers, find themselves torn between new opportunities and the security of their current positions. First, they should determine what they're looking for in a new job, says Andrea Kay, a Cincinnati, Ohio, USA-based career consultant and author of Life's a Bitch and Then You Change Careers [Stewart Tabori & Chang, 2006].

Many project managers know what they don't want but are less clear about what they need. They should identify the desired elements in a new position—looking at the company itself, daily tasks, types of projects, the project team's goals for the upcoming year and the available project management career paths. Going through this process reduces the risk that one positive aspect, such as a salary bump or a higher title, will blind them to the overall package. It's easy to become so excited about a new opportunity that you neglect to probe for information about the position and the company, Ms. Kay says.

Ask Questions

Paul Kostek, in Seattle, Wash., USA, posed a number of questions before joining Boeing Co. in 2003 as a systems engineer and requirements lead for unmanned ground vehicles on the future combat systems program. He asked about the project schedule, the technical skills needed, the scope of his responsibilities, and how he could advance within both the project management and engineering areas. Mr. Kostek also chairs the career and workforce policy committee with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Washington, D.C., USA.

Of course, a company on the prowl for a candidate may be tempted to paint a rosy picture, says Ms. Kay. So, in addition to asking questions during the interview, “pay attention to subtleties,” she says, such as how people treat each other and what the energy level is like in the office,

Pay attention to subtleties, such as how people treat each other and what the energy level is like in the office.

Read articles on the company, look at the stock's performance, and review executive speeches and mission statements to get a sense of the company's culture.

Michelle Burke, PMP, discussed potential career moves with a group of project managers she knew through PMI. When she was considering a position with the consulting firm, Trissential, one person noted that Ms. Burke wasn't considering the instability of the consulting field—the very reason she had left it in 2003 to go to Miller Brewing Co. “I hadn't put that on the list and needed to take it into consideration,” says Ms. Burke, who is based in Milwaukee, Wis., USA. She concluded that the consulting industry has stabilized over the previous year and took the job.

Sometimes it helps project mangers to discuss potential career moves with people outside of the industry and their families. For example, Tom Sheffrey, PMP, was working at IBM Corp. in the late 1980s when he took a project management position installing networks in schools around Alaska. “It seemed like a good thing because we needed to get more computers in schools,” says Mr. Sheffrey, president of PMI's Anchorage, Alaska, USA Chapter.

His wife, however, had misgivings from the start. She was concerned about the travel required—Mr. Sheffrey would be traversing the state, going to different schools—and the likelihood that the position would halt if school funding declined. Indeed, that is precisely what happened two years after he started the job. “I looked at the glamour,” Mr. Sheffrey says. “My spouse had another perspective.”

Turning Down a Position

After you've analyzed potential opportunities, it will become clear when things are not quite right. Turning down a job from outside your firm is unlikely to harm your career path at the company you're working for. Sometimes, however, you might wonder if it makes sense to accept an offer from your current employer. That might be the case, Mr. Kostek says, if the project is outside your area of expertise and the time frame is tight, leaving you little time to gain the experience you would need. Or, the project might be a step back in terms of its scope and complexity.

Again, asking the right questions can help you determine the best course of action. If the project time frame is tight, for example, inquire about the type of support available, Mr. Kostek says. If the project appears to be a step back, find out whether the move is related to your performance or a result of broader issues, such as cutbacks across the company. In the first case, a step back or sideways might help you move forward in the future. If the change is a result of more widespread reductions, accepting the position may be the only way to stay employed.

Finally, no matter how eager you may be to change jobs, you want to leave your current position in good hands. “Work with your management team to identify a succession plan,” says Mr. Kostek. Helping ease the transition is simply good project management, he says. img

Karen M. Kroll is a freelance business writer whose articles have appeared in AARP: The Magazine, American Way, Business Finance and Inc.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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