Should you stay or should you go?

thinking about changing jobs?

Thinking about changing jobs? Talk it through, then make a list to plot your next career move.



Q: I've been at my current project manager position for more than a decade and think it's time to move on. How do I know if I'm making the right decision?

A: It's the million-dollar question, isn't it? You never know if moving on is absolutely the right decision, but there are a number of ways you can minimize the risk of making a mistake. That's one of the good things about being a project manager: You can look at the practical and logical side of this, like weighing project risks, and then look at the personal side, like moving on for the right reasons and having the support of your family.

I speak to many people who are thinking about making a move away from their current position. Talking to someone is often one of the best ways to start forming ideas and thoughts about what you're trying to do. Talk to many people from different circles in your life; you'll solicit questions and get alternative views you never thought of. You should include your own manager, too. You can certainly have conversations with your manager about your career at any time, not just at the annual performance appraisal. At this stage, you have all your options open, and that should include where you currently work.

After all these conversations, start a list of reasons you want to move on. I find that when people want to move on, the reasons they give are not the ones that will make them happy or sustain them.

Increasing your pay is often first on the initial list, but in reality, interesting and challenging work will top that. Add to the list over time to get closer to the truth of what you really want to achieve if you decide to move on.

A simple pros and cons list works for many people. It also works well if you're going to choose between different opportunities. Rather than just writing the list as items occur to you, think about the different aspects of each opportunity. For example, split each opportunity into:

  • Remuneration, bonuses and benefits
  • Location, modes of working, travel
  • Management team, colleagues
  • Strategy of the business, objectives of the department
  • Culture of the business, work/life balance
  • Type of work available, projects now and in the future
  • Personal development, learning opportunities

You won't know all the answers at this stage, but just being aware of the questions is good enough. All of this gives a clearer view of what you're really looking for. As you understand more, your confidence will grow and you'll be on the way to making the right decisions for your future.

Q: What are some of the entry-level roles for someone who is interested in pursuing a career in project management?

A: There are jobs that support the activities of project and program managers. The roles tend to have “project administrator,” “project coordinator” or “project support” in the title. These roles require an understanding of the project life cycle and the hands-on work focused on areas like producing reports, updating registers and logs, scheduling meetings and generally supporting the project manager and team. Because these entrylevel roles exist to support the administrative side of projects, strong candidates tend to have a background in administrative office roles.

You never know if moving on is absolutely the right decision, but there are a number of ways you can minimize the risk of making a mistake.

Q: I've noticed that some job applications ask for a cover letter. What is the best way to write one?

A: The cover letter is all about providing a summary for the employer. It acts as a “Do-I-read-the-résumé-or-not?” marker that tells the employer what he or she can expect to read in the résumé. If you're unable to convey within a few short bullet points that you are a match for the position, chances are the employer will pass you over for someone who can.

If a cover letter is asked for, the employers will be looking for a number of things. The obvious ones are that they want to check that you have read the job specifications (you'd be surprised how many people don't read the whole advertisement) and that you can follow instructions (i.e., include a cover letter). They want to see how you have interpreted the job and what experience and skills you highlight. They also are interested in how you write and convey information. After all, a project management job relies on this skill, too.

A cover letter is not about listing the skills and experiences you have obtained and hoping that these are the ones the employer is looking for. It's about providing context for your résumé, highlighting the skills relevant to that particular job.

If you take a look at any project manager job posting, you'll see which requirements are the most important to the employer. They're generally featured within the first paragraph of the position description or near the top. You should aim to include about four or five points in your cover letter that relate to them. Make sure that your language matches the job description's. PM


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

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