So we’ve been in and out and back in and double dipped the recession, a lot have held on in their current jobs feeling it to be a safer bet than moving into the unknown – but in reality, just how safe is it to stay with an employer after a few years? The business may be booming and there is no sign of streamlining, however a story I hear all too often is that there appears to be no progression and roles are becoming a little stale as the projects are very much alike. As far as your career progression goes, the safe bet is actually making your aspirations grow stagnant. Most PM professionals enjoy the job because of the diversity and growth, and as much as your company may be signing off training to keep you interested and happy – is it really enough?
I was talking with a programme manager last week who told me he had realised he’d lost his spark because there just wasn’t enough of a challenge for him anymore. When he had started his role a few years ago at his current employer, he had significant challenges with disparate teams and projects not delivering on time or to budget. Having spent time to really understand the team and implement a stepped capability model into the business, he had brought the programme capability through to maturity and apart from the occasional anomaly he has a smooth running ship. He explained that he’d hung in with the business as the job market was unstable and felt the security of his current position was enough to keep him interested. But as time has flown by he realises that he needs to do something against his risk averse comfort zone and take a leap of faith to secure a new challenge and get his spark back. Although he has a great deal of loyalty to his current company, he knows that the current structuring means he will continue in the same role with no chance of progression until “someone dies” and as the PPM team and structure are looking healthy for the foreseeable future his only option is to move on.
Is this you? Are you feeling trapped in a comfort zone which is slowly killing your passion for PM? The market is always up and down, there is never an ideal time to jump ship but as a good PM you will be used to researching and weighing up the risks, so use these skills to look at new opportunities and relight that fire.
Project Management is all about variety and achievement – however it isn’t as simple as getting from A to B, anyone who has managed a project which has run smoothly will appreciate the hassle free approach but in reality this is a rarity. It is the challenges and blockers which really make for an interesting project and can really add value to your CV. These challenges can range from cultural issues, resistance to change and suppliers going under. Not to mention disparate teams and no buy-in from the senior management team – every PM professional I have spoken to has a portfolio of stories to share but it is rare to see any evidence of this on their CVs. Employers are usually aware of the major issues faced within the organisation when looking to bring in fresh talent and sharing these war stories can really add a new dimension to your application and set you apart from your peers. It isn’t about whinging, trust me, a lot of PM professionals feel sharing such detail would come across like this however written in a positive light on how you overcome significant challenges you are addressing some core areas such as management style, problem solving and organisation. Although the other perception is that it is all part of the job, to a point yes it is but it takes real skill to turn around a failing or troubled piece of work and as such why are you not singing your own praises? Focussing on particular aspects of PM such as the people element or process are key skills sought after by employers. Quantifying your skill set with some key achievements is a great way to showcase yourself in your CV and let’s face it; the job market is flooded so it is imperative you are marketing yourself in the document. Choosing a few achievements with some variety and also targeting specific examples for the roles you are applying for will certainly highlight you for the right reasons with employers and the all important gate keepers (recruiters/HR).
When noting your achievements you should look to set the scene with enough detail to be clear on the challenge then talk through what you did to rectify the issues, followed by the result / benefits. Keep to a short statement (the CV needs to be concise) and don’t be tempted to share more information than is necessary – it always gives the impression you struggle to get to the point with long winded statements; this is not a good impression to make as hiring managers will assume an hour long interview is likely to go on for 3 hours and project meetings will unnecessarily overrun. Remember it is not just the content that is being assessed, are you being clear, concise and demonstrating an understanding of what it is you do.
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.
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.