Kelvin Lau is manager of the IT&T transactional division at Robert Walters Hong Kong
How do I engineer a move into project management?
I am a process engineer with more than a decade’s experience, seven years of which working in Hong Kong. I have been looking for a change of direction in recent months and I read an article that said project management is a sector that is expected to grow in the coming years, and that there is a severe shortage of talent.
I am naturally very interested in this sector, but I am unsure how to move into it. Will retraining be needed? Is the transition from my field of work a relatively straightforward one or are there obstacles?
Your aspiration to shift your career focus from a technical position to a more soft skills-oriented one is a fairly common scenario in today’s job market. Professionals who, like you, have accumulated a certain amount of technical experience are prone to make such decisions because the career path to senior management often requires a background that goes beyond basic engineering.
Attributes such as stakeholder management, resource allocation and schedule arrangement are all critical requirements to obtain before one can make the move up the career ladder.
It is also important to note that such a career change requires a gradual accumulation of the aforementioned skills. A good way to start is by proactively looking for opportunities to participate in small projects within your team or company where you can contribute your engineering expertise. While taking part in the project, try to maximise your exposure to work with different stakeholders, both regionally and functionally.
Your technical background also allows you to provide a practical evaluation on whether the planned resources and schedule are realistic in relation to the project objective. Once you have amassed a track record of project coordination and implementation on your CV, you will stand a much better chance of demonstrating your ability to manage projects in job interviews.
There are also training courses such as PMP and PRINCE2 that allow you to gain a better foundation in project management, which I would recommend you look into.
In addition to enhancing your CV, it is also important that you are able to present and showcase your project experience effectively during job interviews.
A structural way to describe your project experience to interviewers is to use the so-called CAR approach (case-action-result): start by explaining the background of the project you worked on and its objective (case), then share your involvement and responsibilities in the project process (action) and, finally, the project deliverables/outcome (result).
This will give interviewers a 360-degree perspective on the whole scope of the project and help them better understand your contribution. Being able to sell yourself is vital.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as How to engineer a move into project management?