Project Managers – Are You Worrying About the Wrong Things?

We regularly carry out project management careers clinics – it’s a service for project practitioners who want to talk through a particular career challenge they have, often having a third party helps them get some perspective – and sometimes we like to share some insights from some of the sessions.

In a recent session, I had a project practitioner who was concerned about the new regulations coming down the line for contractors – the Off-Payroll Workers regulation, which you can find out more about in the latest Project Management Benchmark Report).

They were wanting to get away from working in the public sector and the question was all about moving industries – which industries are more open to project managers coming from a different industry, and what industries specifically would be good for them.

The interesting thing about the session was a step back was actually needed before addressing that question because there was one step that was fundamentally missing.

So, what do you do?

That was pretty much my first question.

They were worrying about getting into another industry whilst neglecting to notice that actually, on paper at least, it was really unclear about what they actually do for a living.

Incredibly even the title of “Project Manager” was missing from the main summary of the CV and in the first part of their career history.

No wonder they weren’t getting many bites from applications and agencies – it wasn’t about getting into a new industry, it was because people who were looking at that CV were actually unsure about what that person does.

Project Management Careers Clinic

Where were they going wrong?

It’s one of things about project management – often you’re performing a role that is hard to describe to the outside world. It’s not as clear-cut as “I was managing one project, it was project X and this was the benefits for doing it and this was the outcome”.

Often a project manager is working on many different things – some projects, some business-as-usual activities and anything else that you’re asked to get involved in.

To sum up the multitude of different activities that this project practitioner had done, they chose to call themselves, “Business Change Consultant”.

Now that throws up a load of different interpretations depending on who you’re talking to.

For some that means you’re someone who comes in and devises a solution to some problem – but you’re not the one who actually does the work to resolve it.

If you’re a project manager contractor looking for the doing work of delivering a project, that interpretation is going to throw up a lot of problems for you.

For someone looking for a project manager,  seeing consultant instead on the CV – just leads to more confusion.

I think in the project management world we take it for granted that people outside project management understand it – but by and large they don’t really. For example, you imagine the person taking a look at the first lot of CVs for a project manager role in an organisation. They’re probably working in the HR department, they might have a basic understanding of what a project manager does – they’ve probably been told to watch out for certain keywords. Now when they see the CV with Business Change Consultant on it – what are they likely to do?

Taking that further – one of the other problems of the CV was a common one in project management. It was too focused on what projects were delivered without the balance of including how that project was delivered. As a result, all those common project management keywords that first line CV sifters are looking for are missing. Where does the CV mention things like, ‘planning’, ‘business case’, ‘stakeholder management’, ‘risk management’ and so on.

The final area where this particular practitioner was going wrong was not really understanding what they were about and what specifically they could offer to the marketplace.

This was evident with using that title of Business Change Consultant – they weren’t a change professional in the truest sense (as in Change Practitioner); they weren’t a consultant; they were definitely a delivery project manager but they were struggling to define what they deliver.

And that’s the difficulty a lot of people face – how to take what you’ve previously done and present it back to the marketplace in a way that makes sense to the next person who is likely to hire you. That means doing a lot of research to understand what similar roles are out there – that are the nearest match to your experience – then looking at how those roles are positioned;what they call them; the roles and responsibilities; the skills asked for and the language they use.

You need to make it as easy as possible for that CV sifter to make a decision that puts you in the right pile – and being in the wrong pile is often not for the reasons you think.


If you’re looking for someone to give you another perspective on your project management career – take a look at the project management careers clinic. It’s a cost effective way of making sure you’re on the right track.

>> Project Management Careers Clinics

Take place over the phone or Skype – for 30 minutes.

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