One of the most frequently asked questions in LinkedIn project management discussion groups is whether it is possible for a project manager to switch domains, and if so, what is the best way to do that.
There are some variables outside your control which will influence how successful you can be. If there are many project managers looking for work who already have years of experience within the industry you wish to move to, it is effectively a buyers’ market and it might be extremely difficult to get your foot in the door. Also, in some domains, a project manager is not expected to do more than project manage, whereas in others, there is an expectation that they will be wearing more than just that one hat. If you happen to want to move to the latter, it could be challenging without some hands on experience within that industry.
However, there are also some actions which you can take to increase your odds of success.
Do your homework
Whether it’s taking a formal course, following discussion threads within a domain-specific online forum, or attending a conference, there are many ways to gain the knowledge you’ll need to effectively talk the talk. Look for information online about the common sources of risks & constraints within the industry, learn about the extent and nature of regulatory influences, and check back issues of PM Network or PM Journal to find case studies or domain spotlights.
Even thought the majority of your network may work within the same domain as you do, you might either have a direct or secondary connection into the industry you are pursuing. If so, ask for an informational interview – buy the contact a coffee or lunch and take lots of notes. Ask questions which will demonstrate your own understanding gained from your research.
Based on your research, you should be able to create a list of the critical skills and knowledge required to succeed within the domain. Review your past experiences and highlight those which are directly applicable to the types of projects you will want to manage.
If you’ve been managing mega projects within your current industry, you may not wish to start from the bottom when moving to a different domain. At the same time, clients are unlikely to take that leap of faith unless you have sponsorship from a highly influential stakeholder. In such cases, your best bet might be to target a project which spans the two domains. For example, an IT project manager wishing to move into the EPC space may want to look at managing the technology systems related scope within a construction project. At the same time, be willing to take a step back (or down) if it is going to position you well for growth within the new industry.
So can you move from your current industry to a completely different one? As with nearly all project management questions which don’t involve formulae required to be memorized for taking the PMP exam, it depends!