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How to Prepare Yourself for a Career Move in Project Management

Many people come to me for coaching because they need support in preparing for a new role. In recent weeks, three of my coachees have discussed some form of career transition with me.

BAThe first person –we’ll call him Chris – is a contractor who works as a business analyst and project manager. Although his contract isn’t coming to an end just yet, he is beginning to position himself for a more challenging role elsewhere. The organisation where he is contracting is a good match for him, but there doesn’t seem to be any major change initiatives in the pipeline after his current project finishes. Staying in the organisation in a business-as-usual-role doesn’t appeal to Chris. He would like to stay in change management where he can continue to develop his BA and PM skills.

AgileThe second person – Helen – is in a maternity cover and is also preparing for her next move. She would ideally like to step away from actively running projects and instead work as an agile coach, supporting the delivery teams rather than running them. She has spoken to her current employer about her aspirations after the maternity cover comes to an end, but as they don’t fully buy into her vision, she has decided to hand in her notice. Although she is daunted by the prospect of looking for a job elsewhere, she feels empowered as she is now taking matters in her own hands. She’s giving herself a three-month period to find that PM coaching position.

Project ManagerThe third person – I’ll refer to her as Dawn – is working as a manager in finance and has so far been really happy in her permanent position. She enjoys the flexibility of working remotely, gets on well with her managers and also likes the industry. But due to a recent organisational change, her team members are now reporting directly to her boss, which means that Dawn has effectively been demoted. Although the reorganisation makes sense and is not a reflection of Dawn’s performance, it’s left her without a direct team to manage and with the feeling of moving backwards. Dawn is now considering what her next career move should be and is using her time to up-skill and get ready so that she can actively applying for new positions.


Your situation might be similar to ones mentioned above. Perhaps your contract is coming to an end, you feel sidestepped by your organisation or you simply don’t feel that you’re developing where you are. You now have the urge to be proactive and to take control of your career because you want to be challenged and grow in your profession. To help you get ready, consider the following steps:


1. Be Specific About What You Want

The first step to consider when you have decided that it’s time to move on, is to be as specific as you can about what you want. It’s hard to sell yourself and to find your dream job if you haven’t asked yourself what it looks like.

So take time out to dream and to imagine yourself in the future. Be honest about the things you would like from your new role. What type of industry are you in when you fast-forward one year? What type of environment, clients and teams would you like to work with? Which new skills are you making use of in your new role, and where are you physically? What types of hours are you putting in and what’s your relationship with your boss? Be as specific as you can. See it. Feel it and hear it. If you feel creative, you can also draw it, or create a mood board.


2. Analyze Feedback and Past Successes

In order for you to attract that fabulous new role, it’s important that you are as strong and confident as possible. So take this time to look back at the feedback you have received in the past.

What is it that people have praised you for? What do you tend to do really well that you should definitely continue to do in any future roles? Also contemplate the successes and achievements you have had. Sit back and relive those successes for a moment. Allow yourself to feel proud of them and to really feel it in your body.


3. Identify Any Skills-Gaps

Feeling strong and confident is also closely linked to the skills and experiences you have. The more expertise you have within a certain field, the more likely you will come across as a confident and attractive candidate to potential recruiters.

Carry out an honest self-assessment of your current skills level compared to what the new role requires. What are the topics you need to learn about or brush up on? Don’t just consider hard skills. Also think about your interpersonal and communication skills. What feedback have you received in the past about your interpersonal skills? Perhaps you have been told that you need to become a better team player or be more proactive in your communication. From this self-assessment identify a maximum of three actions you will take to improve your skills.


4. Update Your CV

Your CV is often the first impression a recruiter will get, so it’s important that it’s up to date and that it’s as clear as possible.

Ask a few people to read through it and to give you feedback. It shouldn’t take long for someone to read it and get a good understanding of your past roles, strengths and achievements. A great way to enhance your CV is by adding a paragraph at the very top highlighting the essence of who you are and what you are looking for. It will greatly help a busy recruiter and influence how they read the rest of your CV. Think of it as a little executive summary detailing your core skills, your experiences and the kind of role you’re after.


5. Network and Meet with Recruitment Agents

Now you’re ready to go out there and tell the world that you’re looking for a new position.

Upload your CV to search engines and have coffee with as many recruiters as you can. It’s much more effective than just speaking on the phone. When you meet in person they get a better impression of who you are and you get the opportunity to pick their brains. Ask them about the market place at the moment, what skill-sets are most in demand and if they think your CV is strong enough. But don’t just rely on the agency route. Use your existing network as much as you can. Tell people that you’re open to new opportunities. The more energy to put into this the more likely it is that you’ll attract the right role.


6. Visualize yourself in your new role

Needless to say that all the actions you take at an external level are imperative to moving you forward in pursuing a new role. I’m referring to the importance of learning new skills, updating your CV and meeting up with recruiters. But your internal work is equally important, and this is where a lot of people fail to put in the effort. By internal work I mean to visualize yourself in your ideal new role and to really feel

Imagine that you are already where you want to be – not just with your thoughts but with every cell in the body. Have faith that when you do everything you can, then the universe will do the rest. This is in fact what happened to my coachee, Helen. She took action, did the internal work and within one month of having resigned she was offered a new role, coaching teams to be more agile. Voila!




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About Susanne Madsen

Susanne Madsen
Susanne Madsen is an internationally recognised project leadership coach, trainer and consultant. She is the author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook and The Power of Project Leadership (Jan 2015).

Prior to setting up her own business, she worked for 17 years in the corporate sector leading large change programmes of up to $30 million for organisations such as Standard Bank, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. She is a fully qualified Corporate and Executive coach and a member of the Association for Project Management (APM).

Susanne specialises in helping managers improve their leadership skills so that they can gain control of their projects and fast-track their career. She does this through a combination of training, coaching, mentoring and consulting.

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