Hi Nicola, I have a long career of software sales experience and I am looking to make my next career move. My question is that I have a great deal of project management experience having delivered a number of software implementations to clients but I am always seen as “just a sales manager” – is there any advice you can give me on how I can be taken seriously as a Project Manager. Simon; Key Account Manager, West Midlands.
Hi Simon, many thanks for getting in touch – what a great question! I can see from your CV that you talk a great deal about the sales you have made and your track record is impressive. You place a lot of focus on the sales aspect which I suspect is why you are not being taken seriously for the roles which lean more towards the PM skill set. One piece of advice I will offer is that you need to be sure that your desire to focus on the PM aspect is realistic – at the end of the day there is a great deal of competition for PM roles out there and you will come up against out and out Project Managers. Should you reach interview with such stiff competition you will need a convincing reason why you wish to transition. However there are a lot of Software Project Manager roles available and most of them are strongly focussed on presales, these types of roles tend to require a good sales person to interface between the client and the development team and will do similar project management to your background – delivering integration of the product.
Therefore I would suggest you balance your CV with information which demonstrates your strong sales track record but also talks through how you deliver projects, think about the project lifecycle and address the various aspects. Add in details on teams, stakeholders, budgets, project details and change management – let the reviewer of the CV really understand what your current and previous roles involved. Place some emphasis on key achievements which really talk about how you add value – this can be dealing with tricky customers, overcoming change and identifying/remedying bottle necks. You will put yourself in a strong position against the perceived strong competition as you have three or more core areas of competence versus the straight forward PM. I have always believed you need to have some good sales skills to be successful in Project Management, dealing with such a mixed bag of stakeholders and gaining buy-in, to be able to combine with a structured approach to managing projects you are in a strong position if you market yourself well.
An interesting question came about from a client I was coaching the other week, he has gained some really good experience in project support and is looking to progress into the delivery aspect of PM. When I asked him what he enjoyed most about his career so far he became very animated and passionate about the work he had put in to creating financial monitoring and resource management tools. It quickly became apparent that he has a clear skill-set much sought after within PMO environments and his knowledge of promoting best practice through traditional means such as workshops and one to one coaching he also took more innovative approaches which met the constraints of the business managers and project managers. When we discussed his desire to change over to delivery from support he said it is because he wishes to progress his career, I pointed out that there is a career path within the project support element and that salaries are certainly commensurate to delivery staff once you move up the ladder. He said he felt that the general consensus is that delivery staff command more respect – naturally I had to push back on this as PMOs have evolved significantly over the past few years and that organisations are quite rightly using them as an interface between the business and the project delivery staff. Not nearly the “admin pool” it was once perceived as, maybe looking into businesses which value the support element as much as (if not more) than the project management functions are certainly the right route to take if you are looking to gain some gritty and challenging experience and forge a career.
Of course if you have always had it in your mindset that you want to be a project manager then you should follow this course but I would recommend working more closely with the project managers in roles such as Project Assistant, Project Coordinator, Junior PM etc where you are more likely to gain some exposure and experience in delivering the projects. The PMO is generally there to support as opposed to deliver, although I have seen some PMOs evolving to incorporate both.
Some are not cut out for delivery, the pressures in both environments are high but the delivery does have the “buck stops here” element so not for the feint hearted.
There’s always a lot of talk about skill-sets and particularly transferable skills; however if you want to transfer your career into the project management field then it is important to highlight the right skills which will be of greatest benefit to you and your potential employer. Now we all know there are differing types of project management roles from support through to managing and there are also more technical PM roles too – not just IT, they may be construction / engineering etc where you need to have a good knowledge of the field as well as PM methods to be successful in delivering benefits. So I am going to cover some key transferable skills for the PM aspect not any specific industry based element, here are a few to consider:
- Investigating – Researching and questioning why? Key components to any good PM professional, being able to push back with quantifiable evidence is required even more now that funding is tight and projects benefits really do need to be explored thoroughly before starting off another project.
- Planning – Planning / scheduling projects, predicting outcomes / scenarios, organising events and preparing for tasks – it’s a must!
- Leadership – Core requirement for any good Project Manager and comes in very handy for Programme Support professionals too.
- Influencing – The ability to gain buy-in is a big requirement for PM professionals, whether it’s from senior management, external (or internal stakeholders), sponsors or suppliers – you need to be able to persuade and encourage others.
- Teamwork – Proving you can bond with others and build a strong force which produces results is key to successful project delivery.
- Problem solving – Taking different viewpoints and exploring solutions is a big part of PM, from understanding workstream leads other commitments to supplier issues.
- Budgeting – At some point you with be either managing your own budget or monitoring budgets on projects in a support element.
- Decision making – The ability to look at your options and actually pick a way forward is crucial especially in a critical situation.
- Training – Working with others either as a manager (PM) to mentor and train people in the project team or as a support person (PMO) to train others in various aspects of the project lifecycle such as risk management etc through workshops and 1 2 1 engagement.
- Organising – From coordinating teams and individuals, arranging meetings and resources to scheduling.
- Time management – Meeting deadlines and setting priorities are the core factors of project management and being on time is a given.
- Creating – Not always highlighted as a core skill for PMs but in my experience of delivering projects, inventing, originating, designing or composing play a big part to success.
Now you can use this as a starting guide to performing a skills audit – once you have a list of transferable skills, you then need to provide some good examples of each skill (where you have used them / how / outcomes etc). These will help you form a basis for applications to project management jobs.
Your CV is the most important starting point for you to market yourself to potential employers – as a marketing document you need to ensure it is clear, concise, relevant, has a unique selling point (USP) and is personal to you.
Don’t pull your hair out we have all been there and although it may seem difficult to start with – you will soon develop a creative flow. Play around with a few CV templates and find a style that works for you. Then consider the following:
- Use positive statements and an enthusiastic tone – use an active tense such as managing rather than managed and facilitating rather than facilitated.
- Talk through your demonstrable experience – giving workable examples.
- Avoid generic statements such as “good communication skills” and actually demonstrate how you have used the skills effectively to achieve something or get something done.
- The space you devote to a matter suggests the importance you give to it. Be careful not to dedicate half a page to education and a line or two to your achievements or role remits.
- Account for all gaps in the CV – if you took a year off to travel; that is fine just ensure you list it.
It is very important to make a good first impression – remember you are not the only person applying for the job! You will have competition and if you are not a strong contender – your CV could be rejected within 20 seconds of being viewed.
- Make sure the job you are applying for is something you can realistically do – take care to place emphasis on the skills required for the role.
- Address the application specifically to the name on the website / advert and write a cover letter matching up your relevant experience.
- Put in the effort to make sure you are selling yourself in the best light.
Here are some links to articles which you will find useful moving forward: