woman leaping to her new career or job as a project manager

The Best Strategy for a Project Manager Job

You have decided you want a job in project management.  More specifically, in information technology or information systems (we will generalize the term with the acronym IS/IT).  Will further education or a certification track make you a better candidate?  Where do you find the best project management jobs?  What skills should you have day one?  Let’s start with the basics.

Top Five Things a Potential PM Needs

Leadership

If you are just entering the workforce, this attribute may not have shown itself yet.  Start reading and learning about leadership.  Know any good leaders?  Ask them about their experience in leading.  Don’t get discouraged if your leadership skills haven’t been tested.  You can learn leadership skills!  I’ll leave you with a couple of excellent books on leadership at the end of this article.  Remember that management and leadership are very different things.  If you enjoy the team spirit but would rather help the team to achieve their work and remove obstacles, consider the agile scrum master role. Don’t forget, leaders are excellent communicators, and that is why it is not identified singly as one of the top five.

Prioritization and Organization

These two skills go hand in hand.  Even the most organized individual may not be able to understand how to prioritize work when it gets chaotic.  Organized resources don’t usually like chaos.  Expect some levels of disorder and be challenged to prioritize work that is both serial and parallel.  In fact, you may like a little havoc with your organizational skills and want to tackle the volume of work that an IS/IT project hands you!  You are probably a natural born planner who likes to break big tasks down into their sub-components, but you never let a Gantt chart run a project!

Understands the Grey Area

The rapid changes in technology combined with temporary projects mean project and program managers often work in the grey area.  This means that there is a constant flux of invisible forces applying themselves on your projects.  Resource issues, team trouble, budget constraints, and technology all demand a highly flexible project manager who can continue to execute smoothly.  It doesn’t take much to throw a project off course, but these project managers know how to monitor and manage risk like an agile juggler.

Strategic

Basic project managers take a business goal and execute it.  Top project managers accomplish a target with the business.  You need foresight and the above three skills to be able to work with the company or customer to understand their goals and vision.  When you execute projects, they naturally follow that concept.  When you start out working in project management start understanding why these projects fulfill a vision.  How do these projects link to the corporate mission?  Begin to learn more about benefits realization of technology projects and how they line up in a technology portfolio.  The project management community is at your fingertips!

Proactive

Project managers who are proactive versus reactive can tame some of that organizational churn and chaos.  They have the foresight to know when the ship may veer off course before it even changes direction.  They have a defined set of risks before the project’s kickoff, and they had engaged the business to partner early.  Proactivity and foresight can lead to the best decisions made in IS/IT.  IS/IT organizations are struggling with an onslaught of systems and tools that end up decreasing work throughput versus enhancing it.  Proactive resources understand how to do the homework long before the decision was made to invest in a fancy new tool.

A Word about Education

Years ago when I was working in a corporate environment without a degree, it was impossible to advance.  You will never advance in your career without the educational requirements.  If you’ve read my previous blog about certification, you know that I’m not sold on them, but getting a degree is tantamount to your future success.  In the United States and other countries, this is a bachelor’s [or baccalaureate] or an associate’s degree.  Yes, I think those with two-year degrees could be project managers of small efforts.  If you already have the degree, congratulations.  If not, I suggest you get a degree in computer related technologies if your focus is in IS/IT.  Examples are similar to Information Systems, Computer Programming, Analytics, Technology Management, etc.  If your degree is advanced, that’s even better.  Tossing the idea around of a PMP or an MBA?  MBA, you aren’t going to be a project manager forever, you’re going places!

Experience

I’ve seen some questions from some people on LinkedIn where they don’t have any prior experience as project managers.  If you are employed, and your organization has any project management roles you need to take an active part and try to get some portion of your work hours committed to learning that trade.  Use your excellent communication skills!  Is your company currently implementing or trying out some fancy IT tool?  Maybe this is your chance to manage an IT “proof of concept.”  Ask your supervisor if there is some particular challenge in your team that a team based collaborative tool could help.  This is your chance to make the case, then plan every detail about how this new fancy system is going to make the team work smarter and faster.  Grab a copy of Kathy Schwalbe’s book Information Technology Project Management while you are working this micro-project and apply yourself!  Volunteering yourself:  Projects are not going to find you, you must find them.

Next steps

Now that you have this information you need your plan for finding that project manager job.  You must, at all costs, entirely avoid the shotgun methodDon’t use search engines to find “project manager jobs” and don’t use LinkedIn. Indeed, Career Builder, Dice, etc., to apply to every single position that comes up in your filter.  You need to use your strategic mindset to plan out your strategy carefully.

Identify the target(s)

What type of culture do you want to work?  Would you like to work in large or small corporations?  Do you like health IS/IT?  Ever had a government security clearance?  Do you like data management?  Are you more of a people person and want to get into digital marketing?  Do you want to work for a company that builds vehicles and has off-shore developers that write all the code?  Maybe you want to be co-located, with the team of developers, while they are iteratively developing software.  Maybe you’d like to lead a team that builds the hardware to support millions of cloud users.  How about working directly with a customer as your team builds the slickest, and most usable, analytics dashboard ever.

Pick what type of projects you would like to manage, or can lead.  Find companies, look at their vision, mission, and values, then add them to your target list. Objectively review the Glassdoor score and employee feedback on each company. Sift through their social media and understand who they are as a company.  Write down three reasons you would work for that company. Now set your filters and human resource notifications up for project manager in those groups.  Ignore everything else unless you want to exhaust yourself with the apply-all approach.

Prepare your resume

We won’t rehash any other information you can find online.  Bare necessity: your resume should be one-page and focused on the job you want.  Take the job description and read it like you were doing that position right now.  Does any of it seem overwhelming or hard to understand?  If much of it does, you might be overcompensating.  Keep looking or start looking for project analyst, administrators, or coordinator positions.  Let’s take a look at a sample position [captured January 29th]:

There are some critical statements in the job posting that your resume needs to address including what methodologies you used to manage projects.  Give examples of the breadth and depth of the working relationships across the company for all levels.  Show evidence of the five things that are the subject of this post including bullets defining your leadership of projects with example statements.  Add a few sentences addressing your experience with risk and change management.  The job posting clearing lays out what the primary job responsibilities will be, and so your resume needs to lend itself to precisely that. 
Tip: Don’t forget to look at the culture and values of an organization and sprinkle that through your resume.
Tip: Only use a cover letter if the system asks for one.  
This is just an example of one job posting, and unfortunately, you need to re-write your resume every time.  There is no way you can capture everything you’ve ever done or had experience with the one-page summary.  Thus, extract those things out each time you have done the homework and narrowed in on the companies you want to target.

Find contacts

Expecting to hear back from those jobs you applied?  Highly unlikely.  Unless, of course, you have a connection.  You will find many other articles that talk about increasing your chances of success in getting an interview if you have an inside recommendation or relationship.  Notice those 2nd and 3rd connections on LinkedIn?  Use them.  If it says, “Tom knows two people who work at XYZ corporation, ask Tom for a reference.”, Then, by all means, ask Tom to introduce you to someone who works at that company.  Most people want to help.

Join a Meetup or other networking event

Look through Meetup in your geographical area and see if they have project management focused groups where you can start networking.  Ask your friends or post on social media with hashtags that you are looking for other like-minded professionals and want to network.  Join project management discussions on LinkedIn, Facebook, PMI, and many other boards to help you find some groups to get involved.  Those connections can help you find other links.  Don’t like networking?  The shotgun approach might eventually get you an interview, but it will be exhausting.

Stay in your lane

Don’t be tempted by the millions of jobs you see posted on a host of social media sites.  Many corporate recruiting boards are extracted to sites like Indeed and Dice once and then left to stale when they are only click bait.  Those jobs were probably forced to post by Human Resource requirements but are going to be internally filled.  Those sites don’t police the jobs, and if an HR representative accidentally made all those jobs public one day then realized the next they were internal, sites like Indeed and Dice already have them and will continue to show until a nebulous expire date.

Lastly, when you see things like “certification…preferred”, don’t get discouraged.  Read my article about certifications.  Many sites, blogs, and companies are making millions of dollars on that tactic.  You only need certification when it is absolutely 100% required.  But, I’ll tell you a secret as a hiring manager:  if I see a rock-solid candidate sitting in front of me who exemplifies those five things and another candidate I’m not 100% convinced but has a PMP?   I’m going with the first candidate even if I said it was required.  Anyone can study a book, take a boot camp, and pass a test.  Few can, or will, take the time to do their homework, craft the resume to the job, and tell me how they will lead projects.

Stick to your plan – you want to be a project manager after all!

Don’t forget to peruse the leadership books below!

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