You might not realize it, but your career change is a project.
Many people try to fight this, of course.
Some people see career change as a simple transaction that requires little thought: apply for a job, get the job, enjoy the job.
Others see it as an impossibly huge mountain that will take a hundred years to climb.
But what does every single job process have?
A beginning, a middle, and an end.
And if we look at it like that, it’s not difficult to see that your career change is a project.
Fortunately, several of my 65+ jobs have been in project management, and it’s not surprising that so many lessons I learned in those jobs have permanently influenced how I manage my career – and my life as a whole.
So let’s take a look at how project management can help your career change.
1. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail
Yes, this has become a bit of an overused cliché.
But that’s only because it’s true.
Next time you buy something from Ikea, just grab a few pieces and start assembling that desk. Don’t read the instructions, just do what feels right – what appeals to your professional judgement and that can-do attitude that says “Just get ‘er done.”
Let’s see how far you get before you have to start taking everything apart, start again from scratch, and probably have to buy a few replacement parts.
In your career change, you might be able to “wing it,” sending out random resumes to random people. Maybe you’ll get a good job – but I wouldn’t count on it.
People don’t want “whatever.” They want someone who seeks out their goals with purpose, and with efficacy.
If you want to be the ideal hire, you have to act like it – and that means thinking before you act.
We should never treat plans as accomplishments or “deliverables” that we brag about. All the talk and paper in the world is just fluff until you do something with it.
2. Projects live and die by their targets
It’s amazing how many projects have vague objectives like, “Gain Happier Customers” and just leave it at that, as if everyone’s intuition would bring it home.
Without clear targets, everyone involved – including those same customers – will see success differently. And if you’re trying to please everyone, you’re pleasing no one.
Make sure you know exactly what you want out of your career. Maybe you want to have a whole load of experiences in a short period of time, so you commit to one new job every year. Maybe you want to make more money, so you set your desired salary – and expectations for raises along the way.
Be specific about your goals, and make them achievable.
Not only will targets help to accomplish your goals, they’ll help you to see and track your progress.
3. Results can be interpretive
50% of all projects fail, according to project management legend.
Seems pretty high, right?
Not if you recognize that “success” has three major components, and none of them can be explicitly called the “result.”
Every project has a budget, a schedule, and a scope. If you built that software project to performed exactly as intended – congratulations! But if it took a year longer and twice as much money as budgeted, then it wasn’t a success.
If you need a career change, then change it. Don’t wait forever, hoping the perfect job will just appear.
But don’t just jump into anything, either. Make sure whichever job you seek is the right job, at the right time, for the right pay.
And if it turns out to be wrong: change again!
There is no limit to the number of jobs you should have, because your current situation should only be measured by one thing: how happy you are and how much you enjoy it.
4. Everyone needs a close-out party
I had been managing projects for a few years (rather well, thank you very much <ahem>) before I took any formal project training.
And when I did get that training, I couldn’t believe that the project “establishment” considered a close-out party to be an essential part of every plan.
The reasoning is quite simple: the team worked hard to reach a goal, and when it ends, the drop-off can be demoralizing. And what if you need them to work on another project – or even just stay to the end of the current project??
A job search can be a long process. And although we’re eager to celebrate actually getting hired, we often neglect a major factor: the process is made up of loads of smaller victories.
Developing a great new resume, building your own brand, getting interviews, completing the interviews…
It sometimes feels like there are a hundred hurdles to pass.
Sure, the victories might vary in importance, but don’t forget to pat yourself on the back and get ready for the next victory.
Have fun and reinforce your value along the way.
5. There has to be one person running the show
The worst thing any project can have is multiple “leads.”
Sure, everyone has a piece, but you need one person who’s ultimately accountable.
Managing is easy when things are going well – but the second things fall apart, everyone will spend all of their energy pointing fingers instead of solving the problems.
You have to own your career, as well as your career change. No, you can’t hire yourself or promote yourself.
But you can control how you deliver, and you can control how you present your value.
And you also control where to direct your efforts if your message and value are strong, but no one’s listening.
Most importantly, you have to develop solutions if things aren’t working.
You could blame your boss, or the staffing agency, or any stranger you bump into on the street.
But ultimately, it’s your career. No one will care more about the results than you.
So treat your career like a project.
And manage the heck out of it.
How do you manage your career? Do you fly by the seat of your pants, or map it out? Tell us in the comments!