Standing out from the Start

Showcase Skills When You Lack Experience; Plus, Advancing beyond Project Manager and How to Pick the Right Performance Review Metrics



By Lindsay Scott

I just earned the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® certification, and I'm ready to start work. How do I promote my skills when I lack experience?

Not all project management roles require advanced experience and skills. Ideally, you are looking for the roles where budget responsibilities and authority levels aren't huge. At this stage in your career, go for a supporting role, such as project coordinator or a project manager role in which the project risk is fairly low. Either role depends on your comfort level.

Being a project coordinator will help you learn the ropes while working alongside a project manager. You typically will complete administrative tasks, such as setting times and dates for meetings or maintaining paperwork. Taking on a project manager role will work only if the value of the project is low and the project itself is likely to repeat.

When you search for such opportunities, try to pinpoint the actual skills needed to carry out the tasks outlined in the job description. These are your transferable skills. For example, let's say the job advertisement states, “You will be taking accountability for the effective execution of project processes, procedures and tools for the project on behalf of the project manager.” If I'm the hiring manager, I want to know if you can demonstrate knowledge of the project processes, procedures and tools using your CAPM® qualification. Show me evidence of previous experience and skills working with processes, continuous improvement and redesigns. I would also like to see evidence of skills used to put processes in place and how you achieve compliance from others.

Next, I want you to show evidence of accountability traits: problem-solving, drive, integrity, communication, motivation and so on. I also would highlight knowledge of certain tools, including software skills and any kind of data collation. What's your experience in extracting information or providing reports and administering tools? Finally, to show that you can work on behalf of the project manager, I would expect to see relationship management, delegation, collaboration and organizational skills.

Once you understand what core skills are behind the list of tasks and activities, you'll be able to work on putting your best foot forward when it comes to demonstrating your transferable skills.

For my next review, my manager asked me to come up with performance measures beyond delivering on time, within cost and within scope. What else can I use?

When it comes to project metrics that measure your performance, choose the ones that mean the most to your business. For example, show how your resource prioritization benefited work in progress or gross margin. You also should be looking to provide the context, the story and the insights from those numbers that reflect how you have influenced those outcomes.

Don't just choose metrics that are easy to collect, either. Make sure you include quantitative measurables, such as customer satisfaction or stakeholder engagement. Look for performance indicators that show how you managed or motivated a team. Did you contribute to project management maturity in the organization through leading, coaching or mentoring team members? Did you stop or cancel any projects? How have you contributed to lessons learned?

Finally, there's the improvement in your own performance that can be achieved through competencies, skills and behaviors. If your organization has its own competency or skills assessment system, use it. It can help you identify any performance gaps and set you on a path to improvement in the different areas as required. If your organization lacks such a system, consider introducing the Project Manager Competency Development Framework to your manager and work together to devise a plan of action.

I've been a senior project manager for a while, and I want a new challenge. What are my options?

There are two immediate options that many other senior project managers pursue. The first is program management, a step up in terms of responsibility, level of complexity and risk in delivery. From there, you can move on to portfolio management, where you have accountability for the organization's entire portfolio of change. The second option is to seek a role in the project management office (PMO). Working in the PMO is a move away from hands-on delivery to having a wider influence on maintaining good practices, processes, capability and governance. In fact, many organizations combine the role of the enterprise PMO with that of portfolio management, making it a versatile and challenging position.

With both options, leadership approaches are key. The options for your career change are split: Do you carry on in the delivery role, or do you take a position with a bigger influence around change in the organization? With some research and an honest look at what is going to excite you in the next stage of your career, the answer should become apparent very quickly. PM

Have a career question for Lindsay Scott? Email [email protected].

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



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