Project Management Institute

Soft Landing

VOICES | Project Toolkit

You found the perfect position, nailed the interview, negotiated your package like a pro—and you're starting on Monday. Now the hard part begins. We asked project practitioners: How do you overcome the biggest hurdles of transitioning to a new position?


“One of the biggest hurdles is delivering results to match high expectations built during the interview process. It might have helped get you the job, but it can backfire afterward. Try limiting the number of projects you work on: It's better to deliver three important, strategic projects successfully in a year than to start a lot of initiatives but not follow through. The first will be valuable in your performance appraisal.

I'm prone to say yes to any new request. I once got more than 10 assignments in the first two months of a new position. Although I tried my best to work on all of them, it was impossible to deliver the best results. After that, I learned to say, ‘I'll check my schedule and get back to you with a planned date to start working on this one; otherwise we can re-prioritize it on top of the ongoing project.’

Also, work with your manager to prioritize projects. Your success will reflect positively on your manager, so don't be shy in approaching him or her for help and advice.”

—Mahmoud Khater, PMP, senior manager/acting head of enterprise projects and architecture, banking company Masraf Al Rayan, Doha, Qatar


“One of the first steps is buying into the new position's objectives and knowing how you will be evaluated. Have a conversation with your manager to make sure the objectives are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Ask about the position's results in at least the past two years. What made a specific year good or bad? Take notes and check them periodically.

Also, find out who the key stakeholders are and what their expectations may be. Keep in mind that expectations will vary. Make sure to reassess what they are every quarter.”

—Daniel Luna Jeri, PMP, PgMP, country manager for networking business division, Samsung, Lima, Peru


“The best way to get off to a good start in any new position is to learn the acronyms as early as you can. If you do not know what people are talking about, then it will be very hard for you to be a high performer.

Last year, I moved industries, from finance to healthcare. Healthcare is a great place for project and program managers—there are massive changes taking place, a huge amount of complexity and a relatively small number of project managers with healthcare experience. Since I knew little about the industry, I spent every weekend reading and learning about it during the interview process. And after I secured my new position, for the next several months, I spent about five to 10 hours a week reading books and memorizing jargon to get up to speed. It's a big investment to transition to a new industry, company or job, but spending the extra time is worth it because it will allow you to fit into the organization more quickly, increase the likelihood that you will succeed in the role, and give you confidence that you can lean on during the times when you will struggle in your new position.”

—Mike Haran, PMP, PgMP, project director at OptumRx, UnitedHealth Group, a PMI Global Executive Council member, Irvine, California, USA


“In my experience, each transition is always divided into three parts: the initial fear of the unknown, the excitement of the new job and, finally, understanding your new position. There are three pieces I usually need to get through the last stage:

  1. Know your co-workers beyond their job description: their strengths and any difficulties that might prevent them from doing their job.
  2. Figure out the relationship of employees across levels of management on a personal level.
  3. Understand the corporate culture: what is and isn't acceptable to do.

I engage in small talk, listen rather than give my opinion and stay sensitive to nuances. Over time, you can put together a complete picture of the project you are running.”

—Etgar Fishel, project management officer, infrastructure department at Visa CAL Israel (ICC), Givatayim, Israel

Get Personal

It pays to pay attention to new team members’ individuality. A March 2013 study divided a call center staff into three groups with different orientation approaches:

  1. Individual identity: New hires were encouraged to focus on and discuss personal strengths, and received a sweatshirt with their names embroidered on it.
  2. Organizational identity: New hires heard about the company's strengths from one of its star performers, and received a sweatshirt embroidered with the organization's name.
  3. Control: Traditional onboarding process, focusing on skills and corporate culture training.

Fast-forward seven months, and the turnover rate of the control group was:

47.2% higher
than the individual identity group

16.2% higher

than the organizational identity group

Source: “Breaking Them In or Eliciting Their Best? Reframing Socialization Around Newcomers’ Authentic Self-expression,” Administrative Science Quarterly, 2013

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.




Related Content