Published here January 2007.


Musings Index

Career Change Decision:
To Be or Not To Be a Project Manger?

With all the discussion, and perhaps hype, surround project management, it is understandable that there are people who would like to consider a career change into project management. For those not already working in the discipline, this is not an easy decision. Here is such an inquiry sent to us by Email and our thoughts on the issue. Perhaps you, too, will find them helpful.

10/5/06, Rick V. wrote:

Mr. Wideman,

I will try to be specific as possible. I am a ten-year veteran technology sales person. Three years ago I bought into a small software company and they informed me they wanted me to be the production manager and project manager. Instead of a salesperson, I agreed to become the project manager.

In the past three years I have done many things that project managers/production managers do but I have no formal training in project management. I like the IT field but will be leaving the company soon. However, I will remain a shareholder though no longer working for this small company. So the issue is: Do I go back to technology sales or do I try to polish up my credentials and move into project management?

I did salary comparisons and they look about the same. $60-90K seems to be the pay for both technology sales and software project management. Please correct me if I am wrong? Project management did not seem as stressful as sales so I am considering a job category switch. I think I performed well in the role, in spite of thinking of myself as only a salesperson in the past, so I surprised myself in being able to do the job and liking it.

I would be willing to travel and work for consulting companies, but would like to sign on with a large Fortune 500 company and do project management at some point. As far as that goes if I go back into sales I am looking to do the same thing - work for the larger established companies. However, I am prepared to "pay my dues" by traveling with software teams to do projects.

My questions are:
  1. What would you recommend I do to polish up my marketability in project management?
  2. Since I am a veteran of the IT field with roughly three years of software project management experience, will I have an easy time making the switch?
  3. Will I be taking a big cut in pay initially and at what point will I be at 70-80K?
  4. Is there a big difference in pay working for consulting companies vs. in house project management for the Fortune 500? If so how does the financial compensation differ?
In short, I think you see the basic outline of what I am asking. How much pain to make the shift? How much retraining necessary? How many years would I be considered a junior person? How many years to get my pay up near the six figures? I have heard the demand for project managers is large. Is this true? Is it true enough that they welcome a half trained industry guy like myself, or will I have to fight my way in?

I wore a lot of hats with my old job as a project manager but I would call myself "project manager light"! Still, I know the software project game, have sold projects, and understand programmers and software companies. I would appreciate your opinion!

Thank you!

Rick V.

10/5/06 Max responds

Rick, thank you for your Email. It is difficult to answer your questions - because they are very specific and I wish to neither encourage you nor discourage you in one direction or the other. Ultimately, the decision must be yours - either by selection or by opportunity.

Given the research you have already done, I suspect that the issue of earnings is a side issue. What you really need to decide, assuming that you can find competing opportunities, is which you will enjoy doing the most. Because if you really enjoy doing what you are doing, the money will flow (with a little persuasion, perhaps, but that's not a problem with your marketing experience!)

Two major factors in your decision will be where the work is located, and the impact on your family commitments, if any, and the size and type of project for which you find an opportunity. So, may I suggest a different strategy to your decision-making?

Get your hands on a copy of "What color is your parachute" by Bolles and work through the chapter on "Only You Can Decide: What do you want to do?" - especially the things you like and don't like in both work and play, then match those to your job opportunities (or perceived opportunities). Assign priority points and see which option wins. Finally, stand back and see if your gut tells you that the answer is correct (very often it tells you the opposite is true because you read the answer with disappointment!) That exercise, if done properly may take several days to mull over.

Once you've crossed that hurdle, look around for a company you'd like to work for and enquire about their culture - does it match your style? Never mind if they are advertising for staff (if they are, the vacancies have probably already been earmarked.) Get inside, chat up a few people and say "Hey I really want to work for you guys, I know I can help and here's how. When do I start?" (But steer clear of the HR department; their job is to filter people out, not in!) Of course there will be some administrative details to complete, but that's the general idea.

For the rest of your questions you should be able to find answers by doing the necessary research and through networking in your area. Finally, take a look at my paper: Dominant Personality Traits Suited to Running Projects Successfully (And What Type are You?) here:

If you do opt for project management, you might find it beneficial in your industry to hold PMI's PMP certificate. At least that will teach you the lingo, if nothing else.

Hope all of that helps, and let me know how you get on,

Footnote: You can find more on this topic here:

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