I work often with people wanting to transition into or advance in project management, who ask me about this classic conundrum: how to get experience when you need experience to get a job. A recent article in Forbes Magazine provides some good tips for newbies, but these apply to oldies as well – ways to keep up connections and maintain diversity and vitality in your career.
Do something. For those looking for experience, this means volunteering or interning – working and taking part to get that experience. Those in a related position but looking to transition might look for opportunities to take on management tasks within their current role; yes, that means doing more work than what you’re paid to do, but, similar to volunteering or interning, is a necessary step to get that experience. For the experienced person, this also means volunteering: as a trainer, a mentor, a speaker, some way of sharing your experience and giving back. Regardless of your career status, staying active in the field beyond your day-to-day work shows employers – both current and potential – that you have the drive and potential to contribute and to learn.
Get results. Stepping off the regular path sometimes takes your forward – or perhaps just in a new direction with great rewards. As we advance in our careers, it is still important to occasionally try something a bit different to be sure that you can still show that you can get stuff done. It’s also important to keep current on how things get done, by learning a new-to-you skill – show that you can still do that, and that you are still focused on getting results.
Manage your mindset. It is important to show confidence in what you can do, especially if needing to overcome a shortfall in experience or expertise. While doing this, take care not to verge into bragging (bad) or embellishment (worse). Find a balance between confidence and humility that shows a can-do attitude with the capacity to learn new things. While the inexperienced person should take care not to settle for something just to get started, the experienced person should guard against holding out too long or demanding too much – giving the impression that the position is beneath you is a sure-fire way to lose an offer before you get it.
Focus on business development. This is important regardless of your career stage. Know the business of the company or organization and show that you had and can contributed in some way to that. This is essential both during recruiting and in the first few months in a new position or role. Show the interviewer or your new boss that you get it – you know what’s important to the company and you do add value.
Wherever we are in our careers, there are always new things to learn, and areas where we lack knowledge and experience. Continuous development – both getting experience (training and volunteering), and giving back to the field (training and mentoring) – combined with a good attitude and focus, can keep your career dynamic, engaging and rewarding.
UPDATE (Nov 2015): read more about this topic in a new e-book, "20 Things I Wish Job Candidates Knew", The book is only $5 for CARA members ($8 for non-members) and is available here.
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.