Coping with Unemployment as a Project Manager

01 September, 2014

If you listen to the government, you would get the impression that the recent recession is over and done with and everything is back on track again. However, there are still many people out of work, including, sadly, several Project Managers.

Unemployment can be extremely traumatic, especially if you are someone who identifies closely with your work. Losing your job can mean effectively losing your identity. This is not a new thing. If you consider some of the common surnames around – Farmer, Thatcher, Cooper, Turner, Baker, etc. – in the old days, your work literally was your identity. Although the double-barrelled surname Project-Manager has not been recorded, an out-of-work Project Manager will certainly experience a degree of trauma.

However, being made redundant is not necessarily a bad thing. How much time off have you had since you started work? More than likely you take two or three weeks off every year, but rarely if ever have you had a longer stretch. Considering that time is the most valuable commodity there is, this enforced break could represent a serious opportunity.

For instance, have you got a formal project management qualification? Some of our PMP® exam preparation students never get around to sitting the PMP® exam itself due to pressure of work or domestic commitments. Having a few months off will allow ample time to prepare for the PMP® exam. Being even more ambitious, you might not have a degree and feel that your prospects have suffered because of this. Now is the opportunity to rectify this situation. What is interesting today is that various master’s courses are available for experienced people who do not have primary degrees. Instead of spending a year on the dole watching daytime television, you can keep your mind in shape and boost your future chances.

But what about the people who have their qualifications – degrees, PMPs®, even PgMPs® – what do they do if redundancy strikes? An important thing to be aware of is this question: “What have you been doing since you were laid off?” The longer you are away from the workplace, the sooner this question will be asked in interviews. While not doing anything constructive in the first month or two might be reasonable, a person who does nothing for six, nine or twelve months cannot be regarded as self-starter and potential employers will worry that this person has ossified by now. Unfortunately, enforced idleness can cause individuals to go into a form of hibernation and they find it hard to get back into the swing of things again.

However, Project Managers are in a good position in this regard. They can embark on some sort of project. Are you a gardener? Have you longed for the perfect lawn or the ideal flowerbed? Well now is your chance. Are you good with your hands? Have you always wanted to rip out the kitchen furniture and install a state of the art facility? Have you an old banger in the garage, becoming less viable as a restoration project every year? This is when you can tackle the job.

While time is not an issue for the unemployed, money is. While you might have received a decent redundancy payment, it would be rash to blow the whole lot on a project. But you are a Project Manager, so you know how to manage a budget! You also know how to define the scope of the work. You might divide your project into phases, because you will have identified one big risk associated with your project –actually getting a job! What happens if you get an offer before the kitchen is finished, or the banger has become a venerable classic? Is there someone you can hand the work over to? Or can you continue part-time?

The big thing for the Project Manager is that it does not matter what the project is. The important thing is that you approach it in a professional manner. You need to create a Work Breakdown Structure, develop network diagrams and show how you develop your schedule. You need to determine your budget and record expenditure – comparing actuals with estimates (remember Earned Value Management from your PMP® days?) You need to create stakeholder and risk registers and maintain an issue log to address obstacles along the way. A change log is another useful thing to maintain – good change control demonstrates a professional approach to project management.

While all this project management activity will keep your skills sharp, it also provides you with a portfolio of work. Often, interviews can be quite stilted affairs as you try to explain what you are doing, without giving away your current employer’s secrets. Now, you can bring along your project management artefacts and clearly demonstrate to potential employers how you tackle project work.

Even if you have the ideal kitchen, or the ideal garden, there is scope for a Project Manager to do useful, related work. The voluntary sector is always looking for help. Approach your favourite charity and see if they could use your project management skills. Again, it will keep you active and provide a convincing answer to that question: “What have you been doing since you were laid off?”

If you are in the situation where you do not have a professional certificate in project management, Velopi’s project management training courses will provide you with what you need, no matter where you are in your career. If this is of interest to you, our project management certification courses are held in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. Find out more by visiting our training page or by contacting us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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