Project Management Institute

Not Too Late

You Can Return To IT Projects—But It'll Take Some Effort

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By Lindsay Scott

I'm trying to make a U-turn in my career—I want to get back to managing more IT projects. But after five years managing projects in different sectors, I fear I might be too late. Any advice?

I'm guessing you already know that after five years away, much of your experience in IT probably looks dated and unwanted.

Project managers often believe they can manage any type of project and don't need expertise in the project's subject matter itself—whether that's a process improvement, a new banking system, an office relocation or a business transformation. They argue that it is their project management skills that make them a success, not whether they understand the project's subject matter.

The problem is, the organization that wants a project manager often believes the opposite. Its hiring manager might think it's necessary for project managers to understand the technicalities of the projects and specialist teams they're managing.

So where does that leave you? There are a few options. The simplest for you is to look for organizations that place more emphasis on great project management experience than on specific technical knowledge and skills. Those organizations exist—it's up to you to do the research and find them.

The next option is to get up to speed on the IT and technology changes of the last five years and start plugging the gaps in your knowledge. If you see positions advertised that interest you and you think you have a good shot at, look at what skills they are asking for. That gives you a head start on what to study.

Another option is to use your network. After all, these people know you and what you are capable of, regardless of whether you're current on technology. Changing any aspect of your career can be tough, so use a friendly face: Are there any referrals or recommendations your connections could make?

A further option is taking a small step back in order to move ahead. A position that might be considered more junior than your current one will offer the IT experience needed to get you back on track.

A final option is not to dismiss potential opportunities where you are currently working. Is there a chance that a new technology-related project could be assigned to you? Make sure you scope out the possibilities before making any final decisions about leaving your current employer.

I'm a business school graduate with an interest in project management. What are my career options?

There are so many avenues to explore—different types of roles exist in project management as well as in many industries and business functions where projects exist. There are varied career paths in project management, too. Because they're often not linear paths, there are different opportunities that present themselves as you move through your career.

Starting a project management career should begin with a little self-reflection: an understanding of who you are and what most interests you and motivates you. Ask yourself: What do you get passionate about? What parts of your degree did you find the most interesting or challenging? What type of work would you excel at? Something analytical? Something that involves lots of relationship building and people?

There are entry-level roles such as assistant project managers, project coordinators, project planners, business analysts and controllers across all industries. Finding the one that most appeals to you takes a little research to understand where those roles fit in the project management family—and how they might act as a steppingstone to your longer-term goals.

Try to speak to as many people as you can who work in a project role. They'll have great stories to share that could make your options clearer.

I need to update my résumé. Where should I concentrate my efforts? Which parts of it are most important?

If you follow the 80/20 rule of résumé or CV writing—the majority of results come from a minority of inputs—concentrate on the first page, specifically your current or last job. It has the most impact when it comes to job applications.

Starting a project management career should begin with a little self-reflection.

Be clear about exactly where you worked, especially if you work (or worked) for a blue chip business: Hirers want to know which part of the organization you worked in because it helps contextualize your role. Consider including a line describing why you were hired and a high-level description of what kinds of projects you manage.

Because hirers want to understand the level of project manager they are looking at, it's useful to offer some facts: how many projects you managed, how many people you managed, budget sizes and outcomes. What benefits did you help deliver to the business?

An important side note: Be sure that someone outside of your business and industry can understand the résumé. Don't use acronyms, and don't write too much about specific projects—instead, focus on how you manage projects and people. The hirer wants to know if you're capable of being successful in the organization—so you need to demonstrate skills and capabilities across the project life cycle. PM

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