THE NEW-JOB JITTERS

Recently hired project professionals share their experiences adjusting to career shifts and offer some surprising advice to their peers.






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Publication: PM Network
Author: Waxer, Cindy
Date published: September 1, 2011

Most project professionals won't be getting any silver lapel pins and gold-plated pens as tokens of loyalty from their organization. These days, fewer and fewer stick around at a single job long enough to earn such a gift.

While a fast-paced career trajectory can be wonderful for skills development (and your Linkedln connection count), starting a new job is often overwhelming. Acclimating to a new corporate culture, currying favor with senior managers and winning over team members is all part of the adjustment process.

Here's how a few project professionals are easing the transition to their new positions and acclimating to a new work life- without the lapel pin.

Learn to Adapt

Name: Paul Burville

Position: Project manager

Organization: Franklin Templeton Investments, a financial services company

Location: Sacramento, California, USA

Over the years, I've worked as a project manager for a number of organizations. So when I accepted a consulting position at Franklin Templeton in February, I knew what to expect.

The first challenge is getting used to a company's particular project methodology and adapting to it. The truth is, a lot of project managers may be staid in their ways, but you have to be flexible when you start a new job. It doesn't matter if you've been taught to adhere to a very stria and structured process at a previous place of employment. You have to be able to adapt to a new process and be careful you don't step on any toes.

Another approach when starring a new position is putting in a lot of hours. I'll even work weekends to become better accustomed to what a new employer's needs are and to better understand the projects stakeholders. You also have to determine who the senior management players are and what their objectives are.

I also like to ask a lot of questions about my coworkets' roles. People like to be asked questions about themselves. Certainly don't overstep your mark, but at the same time try to get to know everyone on your team. A sense of humor is a great way to ingratiate yourself with your new colleagues, too.

Befriending your colleagues isn't all it takes to succeed in your position, though. The demands companies place on projects are tighter rocky. Sponsors and stakeholders are much more demanding about timelines and budgetary restrictions.

So how can you tell if your new job is right for you? Within two weeks of starting a new position, you should be pretty savvy and confident in your new role. In reality, every job is so different, it may take you as long as two months to really understand a great deal about the corporate culture and your responsibilities. But remember: If you're delivering results and you're still getting frustrated, it doesn't necessarily mean you're in the wrong job. You don't have to be perfect. In the end, its all about getting the job done right in your new role as project manager.

The single most important aspect for success, for both the project manager and the client or company they are working for, is gaining a sense of ownership in the project they are delivering.

Develop Relationships

Name: Anderson Aquino

Position: Director of system analysis, program development and enterprise services

Organization: Even's, an IT and outsourcing consultancy

Location: So Paulo, Brazil

Many project managers underestimate the difficulty of adapting to a new corporate culture. Throughout my 21 years in the IT consulting market, I've worked for U.S., Japanese, Indian, Brazilian and German organizations.

Just like any project, acclimating to a new job requires research, study, planning and defining the scope of the undertaking. To adapt to different corporate cultures, I carefully investigated each company's characteristics, collected market information, and gathered referrals from professionals who worked for these organizations and understood their culture.

With my current job, there was a real mix of personal, political and corporate interests in a diverse environment. At first, that made it very difficult to understand expectations and adapt to them.

Fitting in is one thing. Becoming a valuable member of a new organization is another. To do so, you really need to understand how the company's expectations are aligned with the goals of its executive suite and board of directors. It can be difficult for a new project manager to figure out how to add value to the company.

Making friends is no easier. Employees usually begin by asking a new project manager a lot of demanding questions. If you offer assertive responses and demonstrate your commitment to action, your colleagues will begin to respect your knowledge and skills.

Soon after, your personal characteristics will begin to surface. The trick is to be careful not to rush personal relationships. It takes weeks, sometimes months to forge workplace friendships. Be patient and maintain a bit of distance to let coworkers know that you want to approach them without invading their personal and professional space.

Start Fresh

Name: Daniela Bertin

Position: Program manager

Organization: T-Systems, an information and communications technology company

Location: Sao Paolo, Brazil

T-Systems is headquartered in Germany, so I was moving from a U.S. company to a European one, which was a big shift. Besides getting used to all the new people, I had to get used to the different level of project management maturity.

The company is less mature in that they are not as structured as the U.S. companies I worked for, and I needed to create a more upto-date system. That began with talking to all project managers and understanding where they are in a project, the scope of a project and how they perform their jobs. I wanted to get a better idea of how programs and projects were done at the new company.

It was important for me to start with a dear mind and not ponder the challenges I had faced before. Though I used the skills I had picked up at previous companies, I had to constandy keep in mind that this was a new organization with new objectives - not to mention a new corporate culture, I wanted to make sure I was mentally open to that.

Something that I learned from switching jobs was that talking oneon-one with people really helps. I spoke with my team members individually to understand their backgrounds and points of view. Right away, I asked the executives to explain my responsibilities. I also wanted to present myself to them and let them know my plans and thoughts for the company. And I communicated with the stakeholders and sponsors to make sure that everyone started on the same page. Establishing a personal relationship was very important to me.

I'm still not completely comfortable. People have been working together for a while here, and there are always a few who are unsure about you and are competitive and insecure. This becomes a serious challenge, but as long as I stay secure about my expertise, objectives and ethics, I don't really have to worry about these colleagues.

Even the friendly ones don't really have time to make sure that you are comfortable, since they have their own projects and programs to worry about. Remember that time is money, so acclimating quickly is key. You cannot expect people to get you up to speed. You must have initiative to get the results you need, and you cannot expect people to coach you. You should do your duties with responsibility and stay confident in your abilities and knowledge.

Prove Your Worth

Name: Yonatan Baum

Position: Project manager

Organization: The IDO (The International Development Office), a project management firm

Location: Brussels, Belgium

For me, the hardest part about starting a new job is proving my worth. You see, I'm only 23 years old. The biggest challenge I face personally is convincing people that I'm up to task.

When I applied to work where I am now, I had to prove that I could handle the position of project manager. Being the new guy has its challenges. It's often hard to get senior managers to listen to me. I find an iron fist in a velvet glove is one way to win over colleagues. Prove that you are not interfering with project managers who already have their way of doing things.

Not long ago, I was working with a senior project manager who was intimidated by the fact that he had to work with someone of equal level in the company but who was much younger. To create a bridge between me and the older project manager, I let him act as if he were my superior. Then slowly and progressively, I would introduce my ideas to the project. Once the senior project manager realized this strategy worked in a positive way, he allowed me to have more say sooner.

Another obstacle 1 faced was picking up skills along the way. This particular position involves a lot of contact with European financial institutions. Because it's not an area I'm completely familiar with, I spent a lot of time at the library, acquiring the specific knowledge I needed.

Still, my quest for information is targeted. As a project manager, I don't feel the need to know everything about the industry - just enough to get started. What works best for me is picking up the information I need as I go.

The research my assistant does helps most. I provide her with a general topic, and she gathers information that I then read to gain the necessary knowledge.

Whether it's the state of the economy or a penchant for change, more and more project managers' careers consist of a lengthening string of jobs. Acclimating to a new corporate culture, project management expectations and processes can be challenging, but the right combination of research, patience and diplomacy can vanquish new-job jitters.

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