Seven project management techniques that will help you land that dream job

Project management skills produce results.

As a former project manager, Joe Ruck knows that. And he knows that those same skills that produce corporate results are also personal assets.

The discipline that brings in a major IT project on time can also guide personal projects such as the search for a new job.

“Project management is going to improve your odds at getting a better job at better pay,” says Ruck, who is now CEO of BoardVantage Inc., a Menlo Park, Calif.-based provider of secure portals and communications for boards and executives.

In fact, Ruck says a colleague who recently launched a job search landed a better position using project management skills that helped him to stay on track and avoid jumping at early offers.

Here are some tips gleaned from project management to help you successfully bring in that all important job project:

1. Set project objectives.

One of the key concepts from project management is to define what success looks like. So start by articulating your vision of the job you want.

“Sit down in an organized way and examine where you’ve been. Think through the kinds of work you’ve done in the past five to 10 years, what you enjoy most and get the most meaning from, and why. That’s a great way to make decisions about where you want to go next,” says John A. Challenger , CEO of outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. in Chicago.

As in any project, lean on your team. Get input from those close to you who can give you objective insights to those questions.

2. Establish a project timeline and milestones.

Every IT project has an implementation schedule and a delivery date. Your job search should have those too, says Karyl K. Innis, chairman and CEO of The Innis Co., a Dallas consulting firm.

Granted, you can’t guarantee the start date of a yet-to-be-found job, but Innis says most people have a target date in mind. For example, you may want to land a new position in advance of expected changes at your current job or before your severance money runs out.

Once you commit to that time frame, establish some milestones. Schedule dates for tasks such as finishing your resume and researching companies.

“You can build a schedule that will give you a sense of whether you’re on track or not,” Ruck says.

3. Plan for changes.

All project managers encounter obstacles, so it’s better to think early on, when you’re objective, about which exigencies would make you revise your plan, says Dave Van De Voort, the Chicago-based principal consultant of IT functional effectiveness at global consulting firm Mercer LLC. For example, determine whether you’ll compromise on location or pay demands if you don’t get any offers. And figure out how long into the job search you’ll wait before making those changes.

4. Prepare, then implement.

Consider your most valuable skills and your place in the current market. Spruce up your resume and write cover letters. Make a list of the recruiters, search firms, colleagues and personal networks — including on LinkedIn and other online social networks — that can help you reach your goal. Determine which Web sites and job banks you’ll search for leads. Compile lists of companies where you might want to work and the roles you would seek, then narrow them down, focusing on those that would fit best.

Then move into the next phase: implementation. Make those calls and line up those meetings, confident that you’re on the right track.

“You place the phone calls to those on your target list, and you’ll know what you’ll say because you’ve prepared that script,” says Innis, who has managed large-scale and global projects for tech companies such as Motorola Inc.

5. Document progress.

Successful project managers document their plans and their progress. You should be just as diligent in your job-search project, says Van De Voort, who has taught project- management-related courses at Ohio State University and the Graduate School of Business at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio.

Documenting your work helps you keep track of what you’ve done, what you’re committed to and what you need to follow up on — important points that can easily get lost in the shuffle when you’re already working a full-time job or, conversely, unemployed and out of your regular daily routine.

Documenting your steps also helps you measure your progress against your timeline, Van De Voort says.

Adds Challenger, “Documentation is so important, because you can use it to hold yourself accountable. It makes you do the work.”

6. Review and manage change.

Review your progress regularly, says Scott McMillan, the New York-based chief people officer at Capgemini in North America, who as a former IT consultant managed various projects. Look at what you’ve done, prepare for the next steps, and ask whether you’re still on track or need to adjust your plans or objectives.

Don’t be surprised if you sometimes find yourself off track; all projects have at least some slippage. When your project slips, figure out why, Innis says.

Good documentation helps you do that: You can track trends, like lots of first interviews but no callbacks. When you see a negative trend, ask your team of trusted advisers to help you determine why it’s happening.

Adjust your project plans, timeline or objective based on what you learn, using the criteria for change management that you established at the onset of the project.

7. Perform a postmortem.

Your work on your job search isn’t done when you land that dream job. “When all is said and done, it’s good to evaluate how it all went and prepare yourself for the next time around,” Van De Voort says, “because in the reality of today’s world, there will likely be a next time.”

Here are some key project management qualities.

Top 10 tips for acing a job interview.

Prattis a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her [email protected] .

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