Meet your new employer
There are rewarding project management positions out there—the hardest job is finding the one that’s best for your career goals
>>BY CAROL HILDEBRAND
After several years of reasonably flat growth, it looks as if project management jobs are on the increase. More companies are hiring, and more companies are recognizing the worth of having a project management expert on staff.
“I’ve been in the business for 25 years, and the market is as hot as it's ever been,” says J. Kent Crawford, PMP, PMI Fellow, president and CEO of PM Solutions, a project management consultancy based in Havertown, Pa., USA. “Our hiring needs have significantly increased—it's a hot market with increasing salaries and bonus packages.”
And as the market picks up speed, so do the career aspirations of many. The question is, how do you best get to where you want to be? Although a personal strategy depends on each individual's situation, the following tactics can be adapted to fit most job searches.
You must first know your strengths, and this involves some self-analysis to figure out skill sets and areas that could be strengthened. “Typical managers look at a résumé for about six seconds, and they look for certain words, such as scope management and budget management,” says Karen Fox, the career development manager of the PMI New York City Chapter, and a job aspirant in her own right. “You need to make sure you have the right words out there.”
If you're in a situation where you can travel and work abroad, you'll have a better choice of projects, as there will be less competition.
—Martha Heller, Managing Director, IT leadership, Z Resource Group, Westborough, Mass., USA
If you find a hole in your skill set, fill it. Ms. Fox, for example, has been reading a book on the rational unified process and investing time in a series of Webcasts on leadership skills. “If you have some learning and understanding of concepts, it points you in the right direction,” she says. On a recent interview, for example, an interviewer asked her some questions that she was able to answer by drawing upon points from her leadership series. “The feedback from that was very positive,” she says.
John Kocon recently left a position as the project management officer for the IT group at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Ore., USA, to work as vice president of the business process improvement global programs office for U.K.-based Rolls Royce. He found it helpful to highlight three areas on his résumé:
- Soft project management skills such as team leading and negotiation
- Hard project management proficiencies such as scheduling, estimating and scope management
- Information about specific projects led: scope, duration, budget, cost savings and ROI, for example.
Another helpful boost lies in acquiring project management certifications. “Project Management Professional (PMP®) certifications are a plus,” says Mr. Kocon, who functioned as a hiring manager at OHSU. “It's a step up over somebody who doesn't have one.”
Those seeking a new job or even exploring their career possibilities can follow a few simple techniques to get noticed.
Know your numbers. Finance is the universal language of executives, and project managers must speak in business terms if they want to advance. “Once you advance in an organization, finance is what it's all about,” says Martha Heller, managing director of the IT leadership practice at the Z Resource Group, an executive recruitment company in Westborough, Mass., USA. “If you're applying to be a PMO director, you'll be dealing with people who have profit-and-loss responsibility. Alternatively, project managers might find themselves looking into a lateral move into operations. And the only way to do that is as a business person.”
Ms. Heller advises that project managers take financial courses as a first step, as well as learn to couch their project successes in terms of business value.
Go global. Take a page from Mr. Kocon's experience and look for positions with global companies. “If you want to advance internally, take on global projects,” Ms. Heller says. “If you're in a situation where you can travel and work abroad, you'll have a better choice of projects, as there will be less competition.”
If you're searching outside your company, make sure to target global businesses, and indicate a willingness to work globally on your résumé.
Volunteer. Contributing time at professional organizations or keeping skills current through donating services to not-for-profit groups is an excellent method of developing a network. Ms. Fox, who has been volunteering for the PMI New York Chapter, thinks that her work has helped her develop contacts and deepen her project management expertise.
Bradley Richardson, executive recruiter at Kaye/Bassman, Dallas, Texas, USA, and author of Career Comeback: Eight Steps to Getting Back on Your Feet When You're Fired, Laid Off, or Your Business Has Failed [Broadway, 2004], offers the following search tips:
1 Find solid ground. Take good stock of where you are on issues such as financials, debt, insurance—that'll give you needed information as you make choices about next steps.
2 Find out what happened. Take a hard look at what happened was it something that was out of your control? If not, it's time for a hard look at your performance and what you can do to avoid a repeat performance.
3 Find out what others need from you. Career change is a life-altering decision, but it doesn't just affect you. Take careful consideration of how others are affected, and address that realistically.
4 Find your support system. Career networking groups are good, but you also need to find a group of people doing what you want to be doing. Join industry or career associations and become involved. Finally, don't neglect inner support-find an outlet to express some element of faith, be it spiritual or any other method of believing and taking action.
5 Find out what matters to you. Are your actions mirroring your priorities? Make sure you're walking the talk.
6 Find your next move. This should be a reflection of the work done in the previous steps, be it a move of continuity, a move of survival or a move in a new direction.
7 Find a new job. That's the one most people go for first, but to do it right, find out what you want to do, where and what's important to you first.
8 Once you get a job, find your stride. You are now the new kid in town, and it's time to earn your stripes. Don't expect to coast.
Mr. Kocon also relies heavily on networking. “PMI has local chapters and annual conferences, and being able to present papers helps with meeting people. I’ve done that in a number of organizations.” In fact, he says that the recruiters who contacted him about the Rolls Royce opportunity found his contact information through his affiliation with PMI.
Grow in project responsibility. Project managers should grow by seeking to upsize the scope of the projects under their management, says Jeff Wittenberg, the managing director of Kaye/Bassman, an executive search firm in Dallas, Texas, USA. “Let it be known in your company that you're trying to grow and want more responsibility for larger efforts,” he says.
If already typecast as a manager who only does projects in the $1 million to $10 million range, it may be necessary to move outside the company, he says. “Some companies will pigeonhole a person, and the only way to break through the stigma is to change companies.”
Consider company culture and career path. As project management grows beyond its strongholds in project management-centric industries such as aerospace, construction and IT, companies gradually are creating formal career paths for project managers. Job searchers must do their own homework to ensure that a company's attitude toward project management will be conducive to their professional happiness. For example, Mr. Kocon researched the project management culture at Rolls Royce before he accepted the job. “Having an aerospace background in the past, Rolls Royce was a better fit in terms of valuing project management,” he says. “Other types of organizations see the value but may not have as much of a commitment. It's a fair question to ask whether they have a formal career path and what it might look like.”
Companies that have taken the time to put together a PMO are most promising, Ms. Heller says. “If you're at a company that doesn't have a project management office, it means the ability to move from project manager to PMO director is nil,” she says. “Either convince the company that the PMO is worthwhile, or make sure that your next place has a PMO.”
While general job boards such as Monster.com have their value, sites geared specifically toward one type of career can help job hunters target their search more effectively and guide employers to a select pool of applicants. PMI’s Career Headquarters offers an online job service that provides exclusive benefits for PMI members.
Job hunters can post a résumé for free in the online Career-Link directory, where hundreds of companies worldwide look for qualified professionals. Meanwhile, companies can post positions they want to fill for a very competitive price, says John T. Roecker, Ed.D., PMI’s Career Framework manager.
The site is growing by leaps and bounds, Dr. Roecker says. “The traffic has increased considerably-it's almost double what we had last year,” he says. “We currently have about 3,700 résumés and 200 jobs open now, with about 4,000 registered employers that search the site.”
The Career Headquarters also offers useful career links, tips and tools, such as a knowledge assessment to help users determine where they should improve their skills.
Mr. Crawford takes it a step further, pointing out that companies must establish a formal staircase of titles. “One of the things we struggle with is convincing organizations that there are other project-related job titles out there besides project manager,” he says. “Better practice companies have other functions, such as project controller, project planner, program manager and project estimator.”
Mr. Crawford also has noticed a trend to break out financially related project jobs into a separate career track, which can help job seekers more accurately target their search. “They're complementary roles with two distinctly different competencies,” he says. “The project management role is more along the mid-level functional manager role, while project support roles that focus on the financials of the project have attributes of accounting.”
Smart job changers will know which track suits them best. “The best project controllers serve much like the CFO of a project while the best project managers function along the lines of a CEO,” Mr. Crawford says. Acknowledging the various functional roles on a project team, PMI has revised its Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) credential, a credential that tells a potential employer that you have fundamental knowledge of project management processes and best practices. (For more information on the CAPM, visit the PMI Web site at www.pmi.org.)
In the end, project managers may find themselves with a unique advantage when it comes to finding a new job: They can treat a job search as the project of their lives. “You have to consider it one of the projects you're working on for the next period of time,” says Ms. Heller, “and turn your skill set loose.”
Carol Hildebrand is a business and technology writer based in Wellesley, Mass., USA. Her work has appeared in publications such as CIO, SearchCIO.com and Computerworld.
www.pmi.org << NOVEMBER 2005