Have you ever tried to catch a running train?
There was a time when careers were as predictable as a train running on a reliable schedule. We would climb aboard our career train after graduating from college or university, and comfortably ride it until the next stop—be it a promotion, a new job or retirement.
Today, however, hopping on that reliable career train is not something we can count on. This means that as project managers we have to be capable and self-reliant professionals. We need to be running along the tracks so that if the train comes we’re ready to hop on. So how do you prepare yourself?
Here, I’m going to share the strategies that have worked for me in my career, so you too can stand on your own feet and be in charge of your career.
Your career is a project
The first thing you need to understand is that your career has a beginning, a middle and an end, and each one generates a unique result. Your career is a project!
As projects, you can learn to manage them. The great news is that you, as a project management professional, are already equipped with what it takes to manage your career.
Know who you are and build those strengths
Before you can know what to offer the marketplace, you have to know who you are. More specifically, you need to know your strengths and weaknesses.
To be successful you’ll have to focus on areas that will make you stand out in the industry. So, focus on your strengths, and get even better at what you’re already naturally good at. If you put time and energy into improving on your natural strengths (e.g., writing, speaking, leading, teaching) then you’ll be able to really stand out with the least amount of effort.
Here are a few resources to help you find what your natural strengths are:
- Read Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath. This book, based on research done by Gallup, will show you why you should focus on improving your strengths. At the end of the book, you’ll be directed to a website where you can take a test that will generate an extensive report on your strengths and weaknesses.
- Take a VQ Profile assessment: This very interesting (and free) test will show you what your strengths and values are. I dare you to try to trick this test—it’s really well designed with lots of research behind it.
Create your narrative
After you’ve identified your known strengths, market demands, and the type of work you want to do, the next step is to create a narrative.
Your narrative is your story. This is how the market will learn to describe who you are, what you value and what you stand for.
Here’s what my narrative could sound like:
“Cesar is an often absent-minded yet intelligent professional who failed at work until an encounter with project management changed his life. The empowering feeling of successfully completing projects created a passion in him to bring project management concepts and ideas to the masses. He does so with a weekly podcast where project managers and those interested in getting things done can hear his Brazilian accent as he shares his journey and interviews thought leaders in the project management industry.”
This short paragraph describes who I am, what some of my strengths are, who I’m helping and how I’m doing it. I also give insights into my personality, like the fact that I’m forgetful and foreign.
How to write your narrative:
As an exercise, write up a short paragraph that describes how you’d like to be introduced. Answer questions like:
- What’s your story?
- Who can you help and how?
- What makes you unique so people will remember you?
Find your angle in every gig
As you work in different jobs, see how your experience lines up with your narrative. In my day job, I am constantly trying to look at my activities from the perspective of my story. For example, here are some questions I ask myself:
- How are my strengths being used?
- Who am I helping here?
- How am I succeeding?
- If I were to explain to someone what I do, how would I word it so it’s absolutely in line with my narrative?
Tell the world
Now that you have a narrative and some corresponding experience, it’s time to tell the world what you’re about. There are so many ways you can do that in this information age we live in.
Here are some ideas:
- Social media: Put your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels to good use! Share your narrative, your experiences, your thoughts, and connect with others in your industry using these platforms.
- Blogging: A blog in which you write regular articles and share your thoughts on your topic of expertise is one of the best ways to establish yourself as an expert in your field. It is also your private platform to consistently tell your story and ingrain your narrative in the marketplace. If the thought of having and managing a blog is overwhelming to you, here’s an easy tutorial I wrote on How to start your project management blog.
- Blog comments: Find bloggers that write about your area of expertise and leave comments on their posts. Bloggers crave feedback—and they will love you for it. Commenting lets you network with a thought leader in your industry, as well as leave a “digital trail” that displays your knowledge and willingness to share it. By exposing your knowledge and your narrative this way, you’ll also be leveraging that blogger’s audience to your benefit.
- Books: Writing a book has never been easier. A book is a fat business card that will instantaneously grant you expert status. If you’d like to learn more about the process of self-publishing a quality book, I recommend connecting with Patrick Snow for a free consultation on how to make that happen. I’m now in the process of starting my book using Patrick’s system, and I have no doubt this will help me tremendously.
- Videos, Podcasts, Screencasts: Are you a wiz at using project management software? Record a few screencasts of you pulling off some ninja moves using a piece of software and upload it to YouTube. Are you a great presenter or speaker? Record a presentation and put it up online. Nothing has helped my career as much as my work with the PM for the Masses Podcast. If you have the knowledge to share, using new media is a fantastic way to show the world you can get the job done.
My approach to networking is simple: Network locally, connect globally.
To network locally, become a part of your industry scene in your area. Most times this means volunteering with your local industry association, attending conferences and symposiums, and even connecting with members of your church.
Try to speak at events. When you speak, the networking effort is put mostly on others as you become the person others want to network with. It’s a lot easier to network when people line up to speak with you after a presentation.
To connect globally, engage with your industry at large on the Internet. There are countless membership communities on LinkedIn, professional message boards, and forums related to your industry.
When you engage in these communities, make sure that you interact with the content posted there by commenting, answering questions, curating and sharing articles you find elsewhere on the Web, and being an overall asset to the group.
Back to the train!
If you start implementing some of these strategies, you’ll find yourself running along the train tracks and being intentional about getting to the next station. You might even enjoy the run—and discover a great opportunity for a job that you’ll be ready to jump on.
Regardless of how you manage your career, intentionally working to establish yourself as an expert will only increase the number of opportunities that come your way.
As the host of the popular Project Management for the Masses Podcast, Cesar Abeid reminds you that life is a project, and you are the manager. A certified Project Management Professional® with a degree in Electrical Engineering, Cesar has over 10 years’ experience managing projects in Canada, the United States, Brazil and Peru. His most important project, however, is raising his children Laura, Adam and Lucy—a job he gladly shares with his wife, Amy. Cesar and his family live in London, Ontario, Canada. Visit and subscribe to his podcast at http://pmforthemasses.com.