Changing Sectors in Project Management

Many Project Management practitioners consider changing sectors at some point in their career with the most common reasons including:

  • To broaden their experience and skill set
  • To increase their earning capacity
  • To follow up a passion they have for a certain sector or domain
  • To avoid an economic downturn in their current sector

Like all change, moving from a situation where you have lots of knowledge and experience to one where you don’t can appear daunting, but it should not be impossible.

Despite many organisations and recruiters focussing on relevant industry or sector experience when looking to hire a project management practitioner, it is really important to remember that your core skills should be highly transferable.

Core skills and techniques used to manage and administer projects apply across most industries. The nuances such as language, tools, regulation and technologies may be a challenge but ultimately, they only account for a portion of your activities and over time they are probably learnable faster than your current project management skillset.

So how do you get organisations from other industries to notice you?

Choose the right opportunities

When looking for opportunities try and understand the balance between project management skills and knowledge and domain/sector skills before you apply. Using the 80:20 rule we often see roles have a small element of project management (20) and high levels of domain/sector (80) requirements. These will typically be very difficult to break into whereas roles with a requirement balance favouring project management may be easier.

Showcase your ability to project manage

This is ultimately what you hope to be judged on so make sure that your sales materials (CV / Cover Letter) are focussed on what you can do and deliver and your previous experience. Do not get bogged down in the nuances of your previous roles or what you were delivering, focus on the HOW and the RESULTS you delivered.

Show your commitment to learning

Moving sectors will mean that you have to undertake some learning, be that formal or informal in order to build yourself up into a knowledgeable practitioner in that sector. It therefore makes sense to highlight how you have been able to adapt to new environments in the past, even if it is not project related it shows that you have the right mindset to be able to make a change.

Don’t be afraid to make a lateral move

This may be disheartening in terms of overall career progression, however in the long run it may certainly be beneficial.

If your current position or sector is no longer offering you the challenge or opportunity that you crave then it may make sense to make a sideways move to get your foot in the door.

The financial impact in the short term may be negative, however gaining fresh energy in a new sector will hopefully benefit you in the long run and perhaps push you to new heights.

Tap into your network

Hopefully you have a good network who you are able to talk to about the challenges in a project management career. If not, I would definitely advise starting to build one, as it can also help develop a pipeline of future opportunity. Project Management Q&A: Networking for Opportunities was written on the blog recently and I’d definitely recommend reading that article if you are looking to create or extend your professional network.

See if you have any contacts who already work in the sector you want to move into and ask if you can have a chat with them about it. It will help you understand if it is a sector you’d actually like to move into and what it takes to work there. Gain advice from them and use as a bank of knowledge.

The final thing I would say is don’t underestimate the value you can bring to a new sector. You will be able to provide new insights and ideas and pick up the knowledge about the sector once you are in it.

Richard Branson once said: “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

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