Performing the role of an interim Project Management professional is rather different to an employee position – obvious differences are that you are a temporary resource and as such you are paid (usually a good rate) to go in and address core business needs, and provide a robust solution.
Often you will face resistance by permanent staff and are viewed as the bad guy as opposed to the solution provider, it is not a role for the feint hearted and as such you will develop a style (and thick skin) which is flexible and understand the need to bring teams on board quickly without giving the impression you are stepping on toes but still meet overarching business goals.
Here’s a list of some things which you should consider if looking to take the plunge into contracting:
- No inductions – unlike the employee route which will have you sat in week long inductions, the contractor will be thrown into the IT team to get set up on their systems and then you are on the start line (the starter pistol having been triggered weeks earlier).
- Little support – as you are likely to be commanding a high day rate you will be deemed an expert in your field, so don’t expect any hand holding, be ready to roll your sleeves up from the off.
- No training – not true with every organisation, I have seen some businesses investing in training and qualifications for contractors, however this is a rarity and not something you should be expecting.
- Expected to hit the ground running – As per the inductions bullet point, jumping straight in is the norm. You will develop a style over time where you will have a communications plan set up from the off, getting to know the teams and understanding their perspective is important.
- Inheriting teams – although not always the case, some are lucky to be able to recruit their own team, whether internally or bringing in talent. But you will always come across assignments where the team has already been picked, not always ideal but a good leader will ascertain the teams’ abilities and needs quickly and ensure they are driving results.
- Resistance – how many have tried before you, I have spoken to many a contractor who has taken an assignment which has previously had several PMs try and fail. In this instance you are likely to be met with teams who are waiting for you to fail or are just fed up with a newbie coming in and implementing yet another method of approach.
Contractors by nature tend to get bored in their roles after a while which is why they choose to take this route, always looking for their next challenge and keen to be involved in problem solving. The best contractors really have the people element of PM nailed down, the ability to really understand people and lead from the front is key to being successful – arguably a skill which cannot necessarily be learned but can certainly be honed.
I am often asked “what can I be doing to enhance my CV further to attract employers” – it’s an interesting question which is often followed up by “should I take a PM qualification?” It is the 20 million dollar question, some organisations ask specifically for PM qualifications whereas others are happy with the experience in delivering through structured methods. My first response is have you set aside some funds to take a course? If you have been made redundant you may have an agreement with the business for them to pay for a course or two and as a seasoned contractor I would expect you to be investing in your business (i.e. you) with some courses. However if you are new to PM or looking to break into PM then a course may not be the best use of your time or money, I would always say it is good to back up practice with a formal qualification but just taking an exam when you have little or no exposure to putting the theory into practice isn’t going to set you much further ahead of your peers. An introductory course might be a good option for those new to PM, this will provide an insight into how projects are run and assist you in the terminology used within the PM field.
As a practitioner with a number of years exposure to structured methods, it is a clear indicator that you are dedicated to the field by gaining the PM badges and is always good to get back in the classroom now and then to brush up on current practices. Also those wishing to move from PM to programmes may look at qualifications which are relevant to that level of delivery, as you are likely to be managing a programme or two within your portfolio it would be a good exercise to apply a more robust structure to the delivery and set you in better stead moving forward.
In regards to which PM qualification to go for – it is always difficult to know which one the employer will be asking for, my advice is to research the roles you are relevant for and see what the adverts are asking for. However if you have a PM badge or two which are not what the employer is asking for, don’t be put off applying if you fit the rest of the job wish list – some employers just name a qualification but don’t necessarily use that structure, they may just be looking for a PM with a structured approach as opposed to a “just do it” approach. Another good idea is to talk to PM recruiters and ask what they are being asked for most within your field, they have their fingers hot on the pulse of what the trends are in reality.
I have written a number of articles containing tips and advice based on assisting PM professionals in securing that all important next role, job hunting should be a structured approach and does take some planning. Although the job websites make applications easy with one click to apply functionality, however some planning and organisation is required if you want to truly reap a good harvest.
A key starting point is setting out how and what you are applying for, this article provides some great ideas on how to structure an approach to your applications.
Once you have put together an action plan you need to start visiting some of the PM specific job boards and agencies, here is a list of some very useful sites.
Next, once you have a list of roles you wish to apply for you should take some time to match up your relevant experience to the job advert / job description. A cover letter can make the difference between being seriously considered for a role and being placed in a rather hefty pile of rejection CVs. This article has an example of a cover letter which is written in response to a job description so you can really understand what detail you should be including.
I have said this before and I will say it again – don’t leave job applications to chance, with the market being flooded by applications it is important to make sure you are doing all you can to ensure your CV is being viewed positively. Taking the pepper gun approach of applying for everything just doesn’t work and can be detrimental to your endeavours – often making recruiters and hiring managers disregard your applications as soon as they see your name in their inbox again and that may well be the role you are well matched to but having seen you apply for lots of other roles which aren’t relevant to you, you have unwittingly given yourself a bad name / reputation.
Taking a targeted approach to applications will have your applications taken seriously and remembered for the right reasons.
Always an interesting topic of conversation, when people tell me their employers will do almost anything to keep them. A compliment yes, obviously you are doing something right but how healthy is it to keep going at the same place beyond a few years? The problem with most organisations is that the projects can tend to become a little BAU (business as usual) and as much as a success you are at delivering, is this actually assisting you in moving forward in your career – probably not! Yes you may well be nicely compensated on your annual salary review and bonuses are always great but is the work actually stretching you?
As a progressive PPM professional you should always be looking for the next challenge and for pieces of work which will expand your skill set and portfolio of success, additional training when offered should always be embraced and taking on new teams, especially those which need strong leadership. Contractors are a great example of those who relish taking on difficult or failing pieces of work; the challenges make for an interesting work life and also enhance their capabilities moving forward. Contracting isn’t for the feint hearted though and those who prefer the security of a salary rather than day rates should really look at new internal challenges but also at moving on after a while to new businesses which offer something fresh and exciting to add to your experience portfolio. It can be daunting when you have worked within the same environment for a number of years to move on into the unknown. This is a common concern but as the PPM job market has been up and down, the roles are always there and sometimes it is about taking a leap of faith – in reality, just how stable is your current business? I was talking with a Project Director last week who works for a large blue chip, she told me that the headcount across the business was being rapidly reduced and that she has advised her project teams to update their CVs despite no actual decision to make cuts within the team as of yet. She told me she was met with resistance as there was a distinct “head burying” culture which she is trying to break through.
It is also common for counter offers to be made by employers to keep talent on board when external job offers are made – however is this not too little, too late? If you were truly valued then why does it take a threat of leaving to receive a salary you feel is more commensurate to your skill set. Take positive steps forward to ensure you keep on enjoying your work, be happy and learn to let go. Resistant to change? Come on, we’re all project people and projects are change.