Switching to a Project Career? Here’s Where to Start
Lindsay Scott also reveals the value of self-assessments and the need to prioritize post-nominals.
I just earned an MBA after a career in another profession. What should I do next to pursue a formal project role?
Transitioning to a project management career can be both intimidating and exciting. The mind races: How do I gain the experience in projects if nobody will give me a chance to gain that experience?
So let’s take a deep breath.
My first question would be, “Why projects?” Understanding the motivation to start a project-related role will help narrow down the options and make it easier to plan the next move. There are projects in literally every industry. Which interests you the most?
Then start to think about your transferable skills and experiences (apart from the MBA). Highlighting those—whether you’ve planned volunteer events or managed people—helps an organization understand how your skills fit on a project team.
Once you’ve mapped out those skills and criteria, reach out to former coworkers and others in your professional network. Letting them know what you’re looking for will likely open doors and reveal job opportunities. Of course, you could apply for jobs on the open market, but the people behind those roles often are looking for prior experience and will rule you out.
Another possibility is staying in the industry you’ve most previously worked. Is there an initiative at your former organization that needs someone to help get it done? If other firms in this sector are looking for talent with your knowledge and expertise, perhaps there’s an opportunity to start a conversation about your desired shift to project management.
Just remember: Project-related roles span far beyond the project manager role. Your previous experience might set you up for a support role like a planner, business analyst, data analyst or such—each of which could help you develop skills to ultimately become a project manager. Exploring these options might broaden your thinking about a project management career.
I’ve been asked to complete a self-assessment. Could the results have a negative impact on my role?
Short answer: No. Project management self-assessments—like PMI’s Project Manager Competency Development Framework—are designed to be career development tools. They initiate self-reflection so you can evaluate strengths and help identify skills gaps—so you can plan more effectively.
Consider it a tool for self-discovery—an opportunity to check yourself against a standard. Taking the time to think about what you’ve achieved and what you’d like to learn next is the cornerstone for professional development. And the outcomes of these assessments are much more useful when shared with your manager. They become a conversation starter for performance in your existing role and advancement opportunities.
One more thing: Don’t get hung up on the weaknesses this assessment might expose. In project management, getting even better in your strengths is just as important as addressing skills gaps. It’s also worth noting that there will be gaps regardless of how well you perform in a role because, with some competences, your company might not apply those properly. And such revelations can force a heart-to-heart about whether it’s time to look for a better organizational fit.
I just earned my PMP. But adding it to all my other post-nominals on a résumé looks overcrowded. What should I do?
For those who might not know, post-nominals are acronyms that designate which credentials, degrees or other achievements you’ve earned—MBA, PhD or any of PMI’s certifications like Project Management Professional (PMP)®. (Congrats, by the way!) It’s only natural to want to display them on résumés and CVs or on professional networking profiles. They’re a badge of pride, a symbol of hard work—and validation of knowledge earned within a profession.
But when you’ve compiled more than a few and list all of them after your name, the combination can look like a scrambled alphabet on your professional profiles—a distraction that competes for attention when hiring managers or professional connections see them. Scale back to list the most relevant post-nominals, like the ones that apply most to your current role or the role for which you’re applying.
Two other tips: Having too many post-nominals also reduces visibility when people tag you on social media—particularly LinkedIn—because that long list often obscures the message. And check with your organization before listing post-nominals on your email signature. In some cases, listing post-nominals are not in line with company culture, because they can make those who lack post-nominals feel inadequate.
PMI career columnist Lindsay Scott is based in London.