June 17, 2013

Think Like a Project Manager to Land your Next Job – Part 2

Chart the details

Once you have completed your project outline (see Part 1), you’ll want to create an easy way to assess your progress - make a chart. You can use Microsoft Excel, the table feature in Microsoft Word, or any other software application which allows you to create a chart to stay on track and ultimately reach your goal - landing a new job. Some commonly used project management column headings are: Task Number, Task Name, Percent Completed, Begin Date, End Date, Actual Begin Date, Actual End Date, Predecessor Task, Successor Task, Resource and Notes. 

To download a simple spreadsheet, click here and select Sample Chart from the Documents list.

Copy the task list from your outline under the Task Name column. (It is not necessary to keep the outline numbers you started with, but you should keep the indents for readability.)

By the numbers

Some tasks, such as proofreading, will be used many times during your project. Assigning a Task Number to each task creates an easy way to navigate your chart, allowing you to refer back by number rather than name.

Whatever numbering scheme you use, be sure to disable the auto number feature if you are using Microsoft Word or Excel. If you need to insert a new task or reorder the tasks in your project plan, these programs won’t adjust the numbers; you’ll have to do that manually. Microsoft Project automatically adjusts the task numbers when you alter the plan. 

Next, estimate how much time each of the lowest level tasks will take. Base your estimate on your previous experience doing the same or a similar task. If the task is new to you, make a best guess on how long it task should take. 

Try to think of time in hours or even days. How many hours a day you will spend on your job search? If you are not working, you might have 7 or 8 hours per weekday to devote to your search. If you are currently employed, then 2 to 3 hours per weekday may be all that you can devote to the project. Include Saturdays and Sundays if you are going to work on your project on weekends.

Build in contingency time

Consider how much uncertainty is involved as you set your target goals. If your resume is up to date and in a format you are happy with, you’ll have a fairly good idea of how much time you’ll need to customize it for each application. 

But if you are considering major changes, or are starting from scratch, you may not know how much time you’ll need to decide on the content and format. You will need to add some contingency time to each task’s estimate; project managers typically consider 10 to 15 percent of the original estimate provides a good cushion.

When you have the time estimates, you can fill in the Begin and End Date columns on your chart. If you include Actual Begin and End Dates, they will be filled in when your plan is completed and you start working on the tasks. 

Determine your critical path

Since it’s impossible to do all of the tasks on your list at the same time, you’ll have to determine which, if any, need to be completed before you start another task. The steps that must be done in a particular order comprise the critical path that is made up of predecessor tasks and successor tasks. 

For example, before you start writing your résumé, you’ll need to gather information about your past employers and recall significant accomplishments. These are predecessor tasks. After you have written your résumé, you will review and proofread – successor tasks.

Time to get out your calendar

Start penciling in the tasks you have identified within the number of hours you planned to work that day. Remember to schedule some breaks for yourself!

Add a Begin Date, End Date, and Resource to each low level task. This is called scheduling. (If you wish to see how closely you meet your target dates, add columns for Actual Begin Date and Actual End Date.) 

In most cases, you will be the resource assigned to each task. However, there may be some tasks, such as proofreading your resume, that require the assistance of another person who becomes your Resource. 

The final column – Notes – will allow you to jot down any additional information you want to remember. For example, if your proofreader, Mary is going to be out of town for a few days, you can add a reminder in this space. 

Some of your tasks, such as attending PSGMC meetings every Wednesday, will be recurring tasks. Add a line in your chart for each week you plan to attend, and include travel time in your schedule. Here your Resource might be the presenter, and the Notes a reminder to read handouts or check out the website for more information.

If you roll up the dates to each higher level, you are creating milestones or mini goals. These milestones are at the summary level.

Remember, every person is unique, so each person’s project plan will look different.

Part 3 will continue with monitoring your plan.

-Annette Lange 
Project Manager
Communications Committee