How to Stand out From the Crowd: Being a Successful PM in a Competitive Market

Emily Luijbregts, PMP, is a project manager in Breda, Netherlands.

Long gone are the days when project managers were rare commodities. If you look at any LinkedIn search, you'll find thousands of people in any city that call themselves a “project manager.” What can you do to make yourself stand out in a crowd of impressive resumes and unprecedented competition?

1. Understand your strengths. One of the most difficult things for project managers to fully understand are their strengths. There are a lot of different tools that you can use to discover them, or you can ask your peers what they think your strengths are if you’re struggling to decide. Doing an online assessment can also help you learn strengths about yourself that you may not have been aware of—and help you learn how to use them in your daily work.

2. Learn how to market yourself. Once you've identified your strengths, look at how you can market yourself in your online and professional persona. Are you highlighting your achievements to your organisation/management? Are you presenting a professional profile on LinkedIn/social media (this includes public Twitter and Instagram accounts)?

I'd strongly recommend googling yourself, your name and several alternative strings attached to your name (e.g. “John Smith Accounting” or “John Smith PMI”). If you can see what others can find out about you anonymously, then you can look at what could be improved/edited. It’s important to realize that your online persona will matter and will likely be searched by possible employers.

3. Update your resume! This is an easy one, but there are so many CVs (Curriculum Vitae) or online professional profiles that aren't updated on a regular basis. Are your skills up to date? Are your achievements/awards current? These small little updates can make your resume stand out to recruiters, HR departments and other like-minded professionals. I would also recommend that you update a little more information about your job that accurately describes what you do on a daily basis.

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4. Learn your weakness. One of the key areas that will help you become a better project manager is knowing what you can improve. A lot of people look at weakness as a negative thing. I think the opposite and believe that if you can identify what you can improve on, then you give yourself the opportunity to become a stronger all-round PM. Once you’ve understood your weakness, then you can look at how to turn this into a strength. This could be through trainings, online learning/webinars or reading books.

5. Network! This is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to present yourself and your values. You can do this by attending chapter events, networking events for your industry or even social events within your company. Look at what's in your local area and make the most of it. Networking doesn't just need to be in person; you can also market yourself online and network with other like-minded professionals on sites like ProjectManagement.com.

6. Understand your competition. This is part of the psychology of understanding what makes your competition tick. Is everyone certified? Do they all volunteer or have other extracurricular activities to stand out? What makes your competition the competition? Is it just experience, or do they have other skills? If you can see what makes your competition stand out, then you’re able to see how you can make yourself stand out and be unique.

7. Look at the package you offer. You are not just a project manager. You are not just an employee. You have soft skills, experience and a specific skill set that makes you unique. Are you a great team builder? Can you talk to management better than anyone else? What do you offer people that no one else does? When I've done this activity with others, the amount of times that soft skills has been the thing that separates the good from the great project managers is immeasurable.

8. Believe in yourself! I have coached several people who were so utterly beaten by their jobs that they didn't see the worth to value that they gave to their organization—and to the wider community. They were close to being burnt out and couldn't see anything except the next few hours/days. I encouraged them to try and take some time off, log off from work, focus on themselves and “recover” for a while so that they could come back with more self-confidence and energy. You can have the best CV in the world, but if you don't believe in yourself, it'll be useless.

9. Become friends with recruiters. Some people tend to view recruiters as necessary evils or (at best) annoyances, but they do have their place and can really open doors into organizations and roles. Yes, they work on commission—but they also rely on their network to get that commission. It's worth talking to your network to see who is a good recruiter, and then make friends with them! Meet them for lunch and see if they'll be able to help you in the future. Even if you're not looking for a job in the immediate future, they could always open doors for you.

The market for professional project managers will only become more competitive in the next few years, so it’s time to make sure that you’re at the front of the market and representing yourself the best that you can!


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